Warren Buffett is one of the most successful business magnates and philanthropists in history. He has accumulated a net worth in excess of $75 billion, yet unlike his peers, the majority of that time wasn’t spent working in the conventional sense.
No - Mr Buffett estimates that he has spent 80% of his time thinking.
Crazy, right? Almost counter-intuitive you would think. You don’t see other pioneers such as Elon Musk or Tim Cook following the same pattern. But no, there is a lot of method behind this apparent madness.
When do you find yourself having your best ideas? Is it when you are focusing on a task? Having a conversation? Running to a tight deadline that you aren’t going to meet? What about in your downtime, do you find inspiration for how to progress the project you are currently struggling with by watching Netflix or your favourite sports team?
I’m guessing that for the majority of you, the answer is No to all of the above.
That’s not to say that the above actions aren’t important. Far from it, if we are going to be successful and happy, there are times when we need to focus on deep work or chill by watching something we truly enjoy. That’s fine - however, there needs to be time set aside in our week for true thinking. This is the brains opportunity to process. It has room to breathe because it doesn’t need to concentrate on anything else.
How often do you find yourself having a great idea whilst taking a shower? I know I have and it’s because my brain isn’t concentrating on anything other than getting clean! Well, I can do that pretty much without thinking, so my brain then decides to wake up and remind me of things I have upcoming that I may have otherwise forgotten. If I have a worry, then I can process it, massage it, query it further until I’m in a position to take action, or at least write these thoughts down when I emerge, sopping wet!
When I go for my daily walks, the practice used to be that for every walk I took, I would listen to some form of motivational podcast each time. That’s now changed. I alternate between listening to podcasts and just - being. Walking around the neighbourhood, looking at the sights and just taking in what is around me is a great way to decompress. Invariably, when I take this walk now I have ideas coming into my head that I can capture quickly through Siri on my iPhone. I use this time to process problems I’m having.
A brain is a tool of creative brilliance. It’s not designed to hold lots of facts and figures, it’s certainly not wired for multitasking in any way, yet when it’s free of distraction and isn’t processing tasks, it’s capable of some amazing things.
I could give you loads of tips and tricks on how to ensure you have the best thinking time possible but that’s not the point of this post. I like things clean and simple and to give you the chance to develop your own ideas. There’s the opportunity for me to over-complicate this premise so I’m just going to give one tip - the master tip for ensuring you have time to think.
Schedule Your Thinking Time
That’s it, nothing else. Make sure you know when you’re going to take the opportunity to down tools, take a break and just - think. Just - be.
It doesn’t have to be long at first. After all, a good idea can be had in seconds. Imagine what you could do with just ten minutes of peaceful, distraction-free time to yourself. You could solve a problem, work out the next action or have a moment of inspiration that takes your whole life forward. The important thing is to have trust in the fact that this thinking time is going to take place. Then, when you are focusing on a complex task, or just relaxing and switching off completely, you can rest in the knowledge that you will have time to sit back and think.
Maybe, after reading this, use your first block of scheduled thinking time to look at how you may be able to manipulate your environment, or your calendar to sustain this new habit. Where will you go? Do you need quiet music in the background? Will your best ideas come from walking or exercising as the blood flows freely to and from the brain?
Be intentional with your thinking and you could go on to great things.
I’ll finish with one of my favourite ever quotes from Abraham Lincoln:
Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend four hours sharpening the axe
Think about it.