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How Do You Feel About Your Time?

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have more in common than their wealth. Since their first contact in 1991, the two have cultivated an intense friendship in which they learned a lot from each other. Bill Gates for instance learned the art of time management from Warren Buffet. This doesn’t mean meticulously filling the very last gaps in the calendar, but rather saying no and focusing on the important things. Both of them see great value in regularly using part of their time to sit around, read and reflect. An hour a day (five hours a week) is said to be worth it to the two (and to some other very successful people). And now the crucial question at the start of a new year: How do you feel about your time?

In this clip of a longer interview at Charlie Rose, Bill Gates is still impressed by how carefully Warren Buffet handles his time and how empty his calendar was and still is, which Charlie Rose immediately checks. Busyness isn’t necessarily productivity and mere utilization doesn’t necessarily generate outcomes or impact. Idleness, sitting around, thinking, reading, all this is far too often neglected in the frantic hustle and bustle.

He who has not two thirds of his day for himself is a slave.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Sometimes this insight requires small disruptions. In February last year the flu put me out of action for two weeks. Unlike the usual colds, I spent most of my time lying around and was really unable to work. So I was forced to go through my calendar for the next two weeks and cancel meetings. And you know what: it was easy for me. Much too easy! Sometimes I was even glad to be able to cancel unimportant appointments that I had accepted out of politeness or vanity. Only a handful of appointments remained that deserved to be rescheduled.

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

Greg McKeown

In hindsight, I would like to say that this was an instructive experience. A look at my calendar of the past weeks and months unfortunately tells a different story. As if lined up on a string of pearls, one appointment follows the next. I don’t want to brag about it and I’m not proud of it either. In the rapid passage through the daily columns I rather feel reminded of the panther in the famous German poem by Rainer Maria Rilke: “His gaze against the sweeping of the bars has grown so weary, it can hold no more. To him, there seem to be a thousand bars and back behind those thousand bars no world.”

And then you have to have time to just sit there and look at yourself!

Astrid Lindgren

In spite of this experience, and despite the fact that I had already set myself more focus, mindfulness and leisure for 2018, I was still sitting in too many meetings to which I could contribute little to nothing or from which I could profit only little. Exactly at what Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who are presumably more busy than me, succeed, i.e. spend time sitting around and thinking, I failed more often than not.

If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.

Greg McKeown

It would now be easy to blame others or the circumstances, my children, the open-plan offices (and Christopher Avery describes a few more such excuses in his book “The Responsibility Process”), but the responsibility for my time was and remains solely with me. And I will take on this responsibility even more in 2019. My appointments and engagements will be put to the test more often and I will repeatedly ask myself in advance which one I would cancel with regret in case of illness and which one I would cancel with equanimity or even pleasure. And how do you feel about your time in the new year?

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Filed under: Leadership


Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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