Why successful people focus more on Compounding Time?

Top performers usually have an, often overlooked the counterintuitive practice which over time makes them successful. In the business world, they have a lot of responsibilities than most of us. Yet, they will find time to slow down and move away from urgent work to invest in long-term payoff activities such as creativity, energy and greater knowledge. That’s why if you examine those them carefully, you will find that their achievement in the early days is less, but over time, drastically improves.

This phenomenon is what is known as compound time in which a small investment interestingly yield large returns as time goes.

A good example of the top performers who practice this is Warren Buffett. The individual who owns huge companies that employ thousands of people is not as busy as most of us. He even states that he invested almost spent 80 percent of his career in thinking and reading.

Buffett’s 40-year business partner, Charlie Munger, said during  the 2016 Daily Journal annual meeting that all his weeks are usually similar and getting his haircut is the only item that is scheduled in his calendar. It seems to be opposite to what a lot of people do when work often overwhelms them due to the aim to meet short-term meetings, minutiae, and deadlines.

It may be that the true wealth of Buffet did not just emanate from compounding money, but compounding knowledge that enabled him to make better decisions. The analogy ogres well with what Ben Franklin once wisely stated: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Or Paul Tudor Jones, an investor, a billionaire entrepreneur, and philanthropist on said: “Intellectual capital will always trump financial capital.”

There are compound time activities you can incorporate into your life that can enable you build your own intellectual capital:


Habit #1: Maintain a journal. It might change your life.

Most top performers don’t rely only on open-ended reflection but add specific prompts into a physical journal.

For instance, Benjamin Franklin would ask himself “What good shall I do this day?” in the morning and “What good shall I do this day?” each evening. Steve Jobs would stand at the mirror each day and ask himself “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?” Each morning, both media maven Arianna Huffington and billionaire Jean Paul DeJoria would take some few minutes to count their blessings. Likewise, Oprah Winfrey notes five things, in her gratitude journal, she is thankful for as the day starts.

Billionaire investor and entrepreneur Reid Hoffman does a lot of thinking before retiring to bed. He often asks himself the following questions;

  • What key things might be the attributes of a particular solution or might be constraints on a specific solution?
  • What assets or tools are at my disposal? What are the key things to think about?
  • What can I solve creatively?

World champion martial artist and grandmaster chess player, Josh Waitzkin, also uses the same process as he states that;

“My journaling system is based around studying complexity. Reducing the complexity down to what is the most important question. Sleeping on it, and then waking up in the morning first thing and pre-input brainstorming on it. So I’m feeding my unconscious material to work on, releasing it completely, and then opening my mind and riffing on it.”

Peter Drucker, a legendary management consultant, decided to would write the expected happenings and later compare it with the results that occurred several months later.  In his lifetime, Albert Einstein took over 80,000 pages of notes. More than 51 journals were kept by Former President John Adams. While, Leonardo da Vinci filled tens of thousands of pages with inventions, ideas, observations, and musings on his art.

After writing about your plans, thoughts, and experiences, you tend to feel more focused and more precise. Most researchers usually term this as this “writing to learn.” It is a potent tool for discovery and knowledge as it helps us get the meaning and order our experiences. While the brain can only handle three topics at a time, this tool enables people to sort out complex topics with dozen of integrated parts.

There are other several studies that suggest writing to learn aids in metacognitive thinking (own thoughts awareness). Metacognition is very much involved in performance.



Habit #2: Naps can dramatically increase awareness, memory learning, productivity, and creativity.

A nap Sara Mednick, a University of California San Diego researcher, took time to study naps through analyzing results from experiments conducted over a period of more than a decade.

He later on boldly stated that “With naps of an hour to an hour and a half… you get close to the same benefits in learning consolidation that you would from a full eight hour night’s sleep.”

If a person conducts studies during the morning hours and later takes an hour-long nap, when an evening test comes, he will do 30% better.

Thomas Edison took up to three hours per day napping. After working for morning hours at his Princeton office, Albert Einstein would take a break by having lunch at 1:30 p.m, taking some nap and later waking up with a cup of tea to begin the afternoon.

After finishing lunch, John F. Kennedy drew curtains and took a one- to two-hour nap. Taking an afternoon nap was non-negotiable for Winston Churchill. Other renowned personalities that considered taking a nap essential were Ronald Reagan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Apart from being productive, napping makes us creative. This is the reason great people like chess grandmaster Josh Waitzkin, and Edgar Allen Poe and Salvador Dali took naps to induce hypnagogia. It is an awareness state where wakefulness and sleep are thought to help people access deeper creativity levels.


Habit #3: Only taking a walk 15 minutes per day can work wonders.

Most top performers usually in calculate exercises, especially walking, into their daily routine.

For instance, Charles Darwin would walk at noon and one at 4 p.m. daily. Charles Dickens liked to walk a dozen miles each day to a point he decided to write “If I couldn’t walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish.” Beethoven one time to take a long walk after a midday meal and decided to carry some music sheets paper plus a pencil to record any musical thoughts came up. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche eventually stated that “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”

Other influential personalities that had the habit of walking entail: Winston Churchill, Oliver Sacks (neurologist and author), Aristotle, Howard Schultz, Steve Jobs, Gandhi, and Jack Dorsey.

There is substantial scientific data that proves these geniuses benefited from walking as it refreshed their body and mind enabling them to increase creativity. Taking a walk has the ability to extend your life according to a 12-year study that showed a  22% reduction in mortality rate when an adult aged over 65, took 15 minutes a day.


Habit #4: Reading is amongst the most beneficial activities we can invest in.

The most amazing truth is that irrespective of the circumstances, we can access the same medium that is favorite to Bill Gates. The wealthiest individual relies on books like the rest of us.

The medium is not limited to Gates, as Top performers also rely on this low-cost yet high powered way of learning.

The famous president in the world, Winston Churchill, read philosophy, biographies, economics, and history for several hours. Most of the US presidents were voracious readers like Abraham Lincoln, JFK, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. The most notable one was Theodore Roosevelt who on a free evening read about two to three books per day, and at least would read a book on a busy day.

Billionaire entrepreneurs have also invested more time in reading like Dan Gilbert (one to two hours daily), Arthur Blank (two-plus hours daily), and Mark Cuban (three-plus hours daily) and also David Rubenstein, a billionaire investor, managed six books a weekly.

Other notable people who had the passion of reading were CEO of Disney Bob Iger  (waked up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to peruse and read), Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, (a book each two weeks), Elon Musk (at a young age, read two books daily), Jeff Bezos  (at 13, he read hundreds of science fiction novels), and Oprah Winfrey (reading substantially contributed to her success).

Reading books de-stresses us, increases empathy, and improves memory, thus, enabling us to attain our set goals comfortably. With just a few hours of attention to books, someone can get the most impactful knowledge that is worth their lifetime. That’s why Books have a high ROI.


Habit #5: Conversation between partners lead to surprising breakthroughs.

Joshua Shenk, author, and essayist, strongly argues that the foundation of any creativity is not individual but social, in his book In ‘Powers Of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs.’ Academic research on innovation is shown in this book with specific reference to creative duos from John Lennon and Paul McCartney to Pierre Curie and Marie to Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.


Two psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman worked together to develop a new behavioral economics theory that made Kahneman win the Nobel Prize. James Watson and Francis Crick shared an office and daily lunches in Cambridge and more importantly relentlessly batted ideas back and forth that enabled them to co-discoverer the structure of DNA. Crick even recalled that whenever he presented a flawed idea, “Watson would tell me in no uncertain terms this was nonsense, and vice-versa.” C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien worked together and later relaxed at a pub during the Mondays. Artists Pat Hackett and Andy Warhol would “do the diary” together for two hours every morning: recounting in detail the activities that occurred the previous day. These are just some examples of people who took beneficial activities together.

A lot of great people had the habit of conversing in big, ritualized groups. For instance, Theodore Roosevelt kept a “Tennis Cabinet”  that included friends and diplomats who he took daily exercises with and debated on country issues. Benjamin Franklin came up with Junto, a “mutual improvement society,” that gathered every Friday evening to interact and learn from one another. The Vagabonds — a group of four famous friends namely; John Burroughs, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford — took road trips each summer: climbing, camping, and “sitting around the campfire discussing various scientific and business ventures, and debating the pressing issues of the day.”


Habit #6: Success is a direct result of the number of experiments you perform

Jeff Bezos once stated a powerful statement “Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day….”

He also said in a recent SEC filing that all losing experiments are covered by one big win. He noted the following:

“Take that bet every time there is a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff. You might go wrong nine times out of ten. If you choose to you swing for the fences, you will definitely strike out a lot, and possibly hit some home runs. Baseball and business differ in that a baseball has a truncated outcome distribution. Regardless of how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get when you swing is four. In business, when you step up to the plate, you can occasionally score 1,000 runs.”

Irrespective of the amount of reading and discussing you do, you still have to spend some time on your own mistakes. If you find that discouraging, just recall what Thomas Edison did. He conducted more than 9,000 to perfect the light bulb and over 50,000 botched experiments to come up with an alkaline storage cell battery. But, he had dealt with around 1,100 U.S. patents at his death.

In the “real” world, experiments don’t just happen! The ability our brain possess is incredible in the way that it can simulate reality and explore various possibilities at a cost-effective and a much faster rate.

Einstein used to construct breakthrough scientific theories through thought experiments, for instance, imagining himself chasing a light beam through space. It is possible to free your imagination on slightly smaller conundrums using these theories. If you check the journals of most luminaries like Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison, you will realize that not only writing fills them but also mind maps and sketches.

Although Standup comedy is worlds apart from inventing, experimentation is just an important element in the arts like the way it is in sciences. For instance Chris Rock, a star comedian, normally prepares for huge comedy shows in large venues like Madison Square Garden by trying out new material in small clubs for months and obtaining useful feedback from audiences; testing whether they laugh or don’t.

Other people used experiments to make them break unhealthy habits or adopt new ones.  Iconic writer and producer Shonda Rhimes decided to deal with her extreme introversion and workaholism by conducting the Year of Yes experiment where she said yes to everything that scared her in life. Filmmaker Sheena Matheiken decided to wear the same black dress daily for almost a year as a form of sustainability exercise. Jia Jang launched 100 Days of Rejection project to confront the universal fear of rejection, and later on, cataloged on YouTube. College grad Megan Gebhart took one person out for coffee each week during the initial year of her career; you can find the lessons gained in her 52 Cups of Coffee book.

All the above agree with what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.”


Go Ahead, Take That Hour Now

In a world where everybody is on speed, trying to cram and get ahead of their schedule, a knowledgeable modern worker ought to act in an opposite way: slow down, work less, learn more, and think long-term.

In a world where the focus is on frantic work, any aspiring top performers ought to focus deliberately on learning and rest. In a world where more and more work is being automated by artificial intelligence, it is an opportunity to unleash our creativity. Working more will not unleash creativity, but by working less.

Most of us tell ourselves, “Sure! Warren Buffett can do it because… well…. he’s Warren Buffett.” But what we forget is that before Warren Buffett became whom we know today, he had engaged in a learning ritual in his entire career.

The constant “busy-ness,” trap could have easily caught Warren Buffett, but instead, he chose to make the following three crucial decisions:

  • Ruthlessly eliminate busy work so as to rise above ceaseless urgent minutiae, meetings, and deadlines.
  • Spend a substantial amount of his time in compound time, doing things that generate the most long-term value.
  • Tap dance his work as he leverages his unique passions and strengths.

Such kind of lifestyle cannot be part of you overnight; to leverage compound time, you will have to believe that a lifestyle where you can work less but achieve more is possible and beneficial.

Such a kind of lifestyle is not only feasible but necessary as it allows you to focus on your passions and strengths ruthlessly.

It is easy to get started. Just, follow this 5-hour rule: each hour a day, invest in compound time: when necessary, take a nap, enjoy a walk, read a book, have a conversation.

You might have doubts, feel guilty or worry that you’re “wasting” time… You’re not! For just for an hour, step away from your typical to-do list, and invest in your future.

Know that: If such an approach did wonders for some of the world’s greatest minds, it can work for you, too.

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