Bill Gates wishes he learned this lesson from Warren Buffett sooner: The power of an ‘intentionally light’ calendar


By Eleanor Pringle May 28, 2024 at 11:40 AM GMT+1

It’s easy to assume that the names leading the Fortune500 will have their days packed with back-to-back meetings, endless calls and dinner engagements. But Bill Gates wishes he’d learned to free up space in his diary earlier in his career, a trick Warren Buffett is well known for.

The Microsoft co-founder has been open about his work-life balance—or lack thereof—when he was leading the Big Tech giant.

But in a post on Meta platform Threads, Gates said he no longer believes a stacked schedule is a guarantee for productivity. Reposting an article about how being less busy can make a person more happy, he wrote: “It took far too long for me to realize that you don’t have to fill every second of your schedule to be successful.

“(In hindsight, it’s a lesson I could have learned a lot sooner had I taken more peeks at Warren Buffett’s intentionally light calendar.)”

The 68-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist has been open with his reflections about his working life at Microsoft, and the things he would do differently if he had his time over. Last year during an appearance on his own podcast, Unconfuse Me with Bill Gates, alongside guests comedian Seth Rogen and Rogen’s wife, Lauren Miller Rogen, Gates revealed he had once ranked himself against others in terms of how much time he had had seemingly wasted by sleeping.

“In my thirties and forties when there would be a conversation about sleep it would be like ‘Oh,, I only sleep six hours,’” Gates told the couple. “And the other guy says ‘Oh, I only sleep five,’ then ‘Well, sometimes I don’t sleep at all.’ 

“I’d be like ‘Wow, those guys are so good, I have to try harder because sleep is laziness and unnecessary.”

Years later, Gates, now worth $154 billion per the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index, says he has realized good sleep is “super important” for brain health, a topic which has increased in importance for him following the death of his father, Bill Gates Sr., who died at home in September 2020 after a battle with Alzheimer’s.

But Gates didn’t just push himself to the extreme—he expected the same of his staff. Last year Gates told graduates from Northern Arizona University that when he was their age he simply “didn’t believe” in vacations or weekends.

He told the students in May: “I pushed everyone around me to work very long hours. In the early days of Microsoft, my office overlooked the parking lot—and I would keep track of who was leaving early and staying late. But as I got older—and especially once I became a father—I realized there is more to life than work.”

The Buffett method

A turning point at which Gates, a father of three, may have decided to switch up his schedule was after learning how Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett manages his time.

In a Bloomberg interview in 2017 with both Buffett and Gates, who dropped out of Harvard University after three semesters, Gates said one of the lessons he had learned from the Oracle of Omaha was the beauty of a free schedule.

“I remember Warren showing me his calendar. I had every minute packed and I thought that was the only way you could do things,” Gates said. “The fact that he is so careful about his time… he has days that there’s nothing on.”

Business isn’t a “proxy of your seriousness,” Gates added. Before Buffett chimed in: “I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can’t buy time.”

As well as traveling the world for his philanthropic causes, Gates now also dedicates more of his time to hobbies like reading and listening to music—demonstrated in the highlights he often shares on his blog, GatesNotes.

Buffett, meanwhile, seems not to have struggled so much with finding the balance. A 2005 feature in the Wall Street Journal reported Buffett spent a significant proportion of his day “reading and thinking,” with the mogul worth $135 billion adding in 2017 he “likes sleep” and has “no desire to get to work at four in the morning.”

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Eleanor Pringle

Eleanor Pringle is an award-winning reporter at Fortune covering news, the economy, and personal finance. Eleanor previously worked as a business correspondent and news editor in regional news in the U.K. She completed her journalism training with the Press Association after earning a degree from the University of East Anglia.

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