“It has struck me that all men’s misfortunes spring from the single cause that they are unable to stay quietly in one room.” -Blaise Pascal
On Charlie Rose last night, there was an exchange between Rose, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates that once again reminded me of the importance of keeping some free time (or "white space") in one's schedule; and making sure to leave plenty of time for reading and thinking. After a discussion about Buffett's relatively open schedule being something Gates learned from him earlier in their relationship, here was the exchange (my transcription, and slightly edited for clarity):
Gates: I also remember Warren showing me his calendar. [For me], I had every minute packed [and thought] that was the only way you could do things....The fact that he is so careful about his time. He has days that there's nothing on it.
Rose: That taught you what? Not to crowd yourself? Give yourself time to read and think?
Gates: Right. You control your time. And sitting and thinking may be of much higher priority than a normal CEO who, you know, there's all this demand, and you feel like you need to go and see all these people. It's not a proxy of your seriousness that you filled every minute in your schedule.
Buffett: People are going to want your time. That's the only thing you can't buy. I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can't buy time.
Rose: So to have time is the most precious thing you can have.
Buffett: It is. I better be careful with it. There's no way I will be able to buy more time.
Rose: And living in Omaha makes that easier?
Buffett: That makes it a lot easier. For 54 years, I've spent 5 minutes going each way [his commute to the office]. Just imagine if that was a half an hour each way. I'd know the words to a lot more songs, and that's about it.
Rose: It adds up, doesn't it?
Buffett: It really adds up.
This last point was also similar to advice Mr. Buffett recently gave to a group of students. As described in an article by a student that was attending from Dartmouth:
Live where you want to live, then build your business around that. Buffett lived in New York for many years, where he had a thirty-minute commute to the office. In Omaha, his commute is five minutes. “I’m more productive when I’m happy. I have a better life in Omaha than I did in New York.”
And the importance of keeping an open schedule was also discussed by Charlie Munger at the 2016 Daily Journal Meeting:
There’re two things that Warren and I have done and Rick Guerin has done, too, to a considerable extent. One is that we spend a lot of time thinking. Our schedules are not that crowded. We look like academics more than we look like businessmen.
Our system has been to sift life for a few opportunities and seize a few of them. We don’t mind long periods in which nothing happens. Warren is exactly the same way. Warren’s sitting on top of an empire now. You look at his schedule sometime and there’s a haircut.
Tuesday, haircut day.
That’s what created [one of the] world’s most successful business records in history. He has a lot of time to think.