I’m beginning this way because starting this article off with his name will probably help me in web search rankings, and I’m a slave to Internet algorithms. I also did it because he’s crazy rich and yet somehow people don’t hate him for it, which is a pretty impressive feat. And I also also did because he’s lazy – so lazy, in fact, that he actually schedules time in his weekly calendar for doing absolutely nothing. No meetings, no conference calls, no stock research, no investor reports – nothing. It’s shameful.
Even worse, Bill Gates does the same thing. And Richard Branson. Google’s founders even codified lazytime into their 2004 IPO when they encouraged their employees to spend 20% of their workday sitting around and thinking up their own projects to work on, so long as they might somehow maybe someday benefit Google. That’s one full day a week of paying people to stare blankly out the window. What are all these people thinking?!
The most obvious answer to that question is that they’re all rich, so they can do whatever they want. But what’s really interesting is that all of these people credit this behavior with helping them get rich. Basically, they argue that all this laziness led to their success, and not the other way around.
Can this possibly be true?
I’d like to argue that it’s almost certainly true. Sitting around and doing nothing is the best way to get rich, make a breakthrough, or solve a seemingly impossible problem, and it should absolutely be a part of your everyday habits.
The reason for that is fairly simple. When you’re engaged in any working behavior, you’re working on something that already exists. You have a project to complete, and so you work on it; your boss told you what to do, and so you go do it. That’s what we spend most of our time doing, and it requires us to know what we’re working toward.
But when we’re sitting around “doing nothing,” we’re actually working on things that either might exist or need to exist but currently don’t. Your project has hit a snag and you don’t know how to fix it, or your boss wants you to figure out how to break into the Chinese market but didn’t give you any guidance as to how that might happen. In these moments, we don’t know what we need to do, and so we need to spend some time thinking about how to get where we want to go. There’s no other way to do it; no amount of doing is going to get us anywhere, because in these moments there’s simply nothing to do.
Which means Warren Buffett can’t know what his next investment is going to be until he sits down and thinks about it for a while. Google can’t know which ideas to pursue until someone conjures up a few ideas to consider.
To be completely fair, sometimes our “doing nothing” is exactly that – we are glassy-eyed, dull, and effectively brain dead. But scheduling some downtime to allow our brains to pick away at problems and opportunities will, in many cases, take us farther than all the busywork in the world.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go for a walk and stare at some trees. Because I have a lot more writing I need to do, and I have no idea what I want to say. Yet.
I started something similar to this with my staff called “Off the Grid” time. While I gave them some direction on how to use this time (project work, professional development, etc.) I like the thought of letting them do nothing as a directive. Or maybe a “Do what you want” hour.