93-year-old Warren Buffett, the most famous investor alive, has a remarkably healthy work-life balance
When America’s most famous CEOs make headlines for waking up before dawn and cultivating “extremely hardcore” work environments, it’s refreshing to read about a CEO like Warren Buffett, who embraces a less frenetic brand of deal making: no computer, minimal meetings, and plenty of rest.
Buffett is, of course, no slouch. The 93-year-old, celebrating his birthday on August 30, is revered as one of the most successful investors of all time and is currently worth around $120 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, making him the seventh-richest person in the world (though his net worth and rank vary depending on the day). He runs a complex business in Berkshire Hathaway, which ranked number seven on the Fortune 500 this year and operates close to 70 subsidiaries, ranging from insurance companies to jewelers to ice cream chains. He’s made investors a lot of money over the years.
But reading through a 2005 feature in the Wall Street Journal, I couldn’t help but envy his hours spent “reading and thinking,” his ability to stay offline and skirt meetings he has no interest in attending. That allows him to do the type of deep work many people, including myself, aspire to do without the constant interruptions (emails, Slack messages, meetings that could have been emails, etc.) omnipresent in the modern office job. All this clear mental space allows him to trust his own gut. “I’ve created a good environment,” he told the Journal. “All I have to do is think and not be influenced by others.”
For someone as well known as Buffett is, his routines are surprisingly low-key. There is also no 4 a.m. cryotherapy routine, supplement regimen, or daily body fat scan here. Buffett has said he wakes up at a reasonable 6:45 a.m., reads the news, and gets to the office, sometimes after the market opens, even. His diet famously consists of nothing like the nutrient-packed smoothies or mountains of broccoli beloved by other CEOs, but McDonald’s, Dairy Queen and cans of Coke. In his spare time, he reads, plays bridge to keep his mind sharp, and strums the ukulele.
“I get quite a bit of sleep. I like to sleep,” Buffett said in a widely quoted 2017 interview with PBS NewsHour. “I will usually sleep eight hours a night, and that—no, I have no desire to get to work at four in the morning.”
He doesn’t sound like a half-bad boss, either, especially for those who disdain micromanagement. “He makes swift investment decisions, steers clear of meetings and advisers, eschews set procedures and doesn’t require frequent reports from managers,” the Journal‘s report reads.
“Mr. Buffett tells the chiefs of his business units not to produce any special reports for him,” the story continues. Other publications have detailed his decentralized, hands-off management approach, unique among the largest companies in the U.S. “We delegate almost to the point of abdication,” Buffett has said. He likes to keep his people happy, the longtime Fortune reporter, and friend of Buffett’s, Carol Loomis wrote in 1988. “‘Wonderful businesses run by wonderful people’ is his description of the scene he wants to look down on as a chief executive,” she wrote.
It’s been almost 20 years since the Journal published its report, so it seems likely that some things have changed in the interim (is it possible Buffett has not emailed a single person since then?). But Buffett is a creature of habit, Microsoft co-founder and close friend Bill Gates wrote in 1996. He’s long kept the same routine.
“One habit of Warren’s that I admire is that he keeps his schedule free of meetings,” Gates wrote. “He’s good at saying no to things … He likes to sit in his office and read and think. There are a few things he’ll do beyond that, but not many.”
As a millennial who came of age as Slack took over workplace communications and hyper-connectivity was already the norm, Buffett’s analog approach to his work is appealing to this author for myriad reasons. Of course, as a journalist I need to make calls and ensure that I’m up to date on the latest news and world events (indeed, Buffett keeps abreast of the news throughout his work day). And it’s also true that few people can be as regularly unplugged as Buffett without the security of his billions to fall back on.
But his approach is a reminder of what many of us aspire to: Doing meaningful work at a job we find fulfilling, and limiting the noise that increasingly demands ever more of our attention—if our jobs allow it.
“I tell the students, look for the job that you would take if you didn’t need a job,” Buffett told PBS in the 2017 interview. “I mean, it’s that simple.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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