Neuroscience Helps Explain Why Warren Buffett’s Weird Calendar Habit Is So Effective

Bill Gates says he learned a lot from looking at Buffett’s calendar.

Warren Buffett keeps some days on his calendar completely free of appointments. Bill Gates learned this a few years ago when the Oracle of Omaha showed the Microsoft co-founder his calendar. At the time, Buffett was teaching Gates one of his most important lessons, namely to be more protective of his own time.

In those days, Gates said in an interview with Charlie Rose, he would fill his schedule with appointments, believing that was how to use his time most effectively. Buffett made him see that saying no to most things and giving himself more free time was a more successful approach.

Gates marveled at Buffett’s practice of leaving some days completely empty of appointments. I don’t know whether Gates adopted the habit for himself. But I do know it’s a habit we should all copy if we possibly can. 

There are a lot of benefits to keeping appointment-free days on your schedule, once in a while, once a month, or even once a week if possible.

1. It will help you find flow.

Neuroscientist Josh Davis says that we only have about two hours of peak productivity on most days. Just which hours those are can differ from one person to the next (I’m a night owl, so mine tend to come in the late afternoon or evening). 

How you spend those hours is hugely important to your productivity and success, so no appointment should go in that time slot unless it’s something vitally important that requires you to be performing at your best.

Most of the time, you can best use those hours for planning, extended research — which is what Buffett spends a lot of his time doing — or creative work. A day with no appointments is ideal for taking full advantage of your highest productivity times. (There’s a lot more about how to use brain science to make your workday dramatically more productive in my book Career Self-Care: Find Your Happiness, Success, and Fulfillment at Work.)

2. You can work on important initiatives.

For most entrepreneurs and business leaders, the work week can be a struggle between the urgent and the important. You would like to work on designing a plan that might help you reach a whole new market, but instead you have invoices that have to go out, or a meeting about next quarter’s budget.

A day that’s free of appointments with other people is the perfect day to make an appointment with yourself to spend an hour or two working on that new marketing plan, for example. Productivity experts recommend actually writing the appointment into your calendar to make sure you don’t forget and spend that time doing something else.

3. You can be spontaneous.

Have you ever come across an opportunity that you wanted to pursue but your schedule was already too packed for you to take action on it? Leaving a free day on your calendar can help because, if something is truly important to pursue, you can use your free day to follow up on it. 

Perhaps even more important, if there’s a problem in your business that you haven’t had the time to address, you can devote your free day to solving that problem. 

4. You can take time for thought.

Brain experts have often called attention to the need for mental down time, which is when our brains make new connections and when we can best engage our own creativity. This is why people so often report having their best ideas in the shower, or while taking a walk. 

An appointment-free day gives you the chance to stretch those creative muscles and make those connections. That’s the important lesson Gates said he learned when Buffett showed him his calendar. Compared to having multiple meetings every day, Gates said, “Sitting and thinking may be a much higher priority.”

As an entrepreneur or business leader, your expertise and ideas are among your company’s most valuable assets. So give yourself an appointment-free day. It just might lead to your next million-dollar idea.

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