When you think about someone like Jeff Bezos, it’s easy to assume that the CEO of the world’s largest online retailer–never mind the wealthiest person on the planet–has a lot going on. I’m sure he does. There are, no doubt, plenty of things to keep him busy, from meetings to phone calls to public events.
Still, according to Bezos, the most valuable time every day is the time he spends doing nothing. At least, nothing scheduled.
In a new book called “Invent & Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos,” he says:
“I like to putter in the morning. I get up early. I go to bed early. I like to read the newspaper. I like to have coffee. I like to have breakfast with my kids before they go to school. So my puttering time is very important to me. That’s why I set my first meeting for ten o’clock.”
Think about that for a moment–the CEO of one of the most important companies in the world doesn’t take meetings before 10:00 a.m. because he values having time to just “putter.” Or, said another way, to do nothing.
It’s actually a powerful lesson in a world where every productivity tip aims to help you get more done. Sometimes the best way to be more productive is to schedule time for absolutely nothing at all.
Even more, I think this is a great example of emotional intelligence. Bezos recognizes the value of having unstructured time in his life. He understands how it affects every other area of his life, and–as a result–he’s built it into his routine every day.
There are three reasons that I think this is absolutely brilliant:
1. It Creates Boundaries
At a time when many people are working from home, it can be hard to set boundaries and separate out time for work, and time for everything else. It’s especially difficult when all of those things take place in the same physical space.
By intentionally maintaining time to do nothing, and by not scheduling meetings before 10:00 a.m., Bezos is able to create space for things that are just as important, like having breakfast with his kids. Even more important, by building it into his routine, he protects that time and ensures that it doesn’t get overwhelmed by the flood of incoming information and communications that can easily take over our day.
2. It Increases Margin
Margin, at least as I’ve always tried to think of it, is the difference between the things you’re responsible for, and your total bandwidth. The problem is that most of us operate with very little margin in our lives. Instead, we’re using all of our bandwidth, often on things we could–and probably should–let go of.
The only way to have more margin in your life is to do less than you are. The trick is to be sure you’re prioritizing the things you do so you stop doing the less valuable things, and instead focus on what really matters. Making unstructured time a priority also gives your body and your mind downtime to think or process all of the things that otherwise demand your attention.
3. It Leads to Better Decisions
That last part is important. The human brain is extraordinary in its ability to make connections between different pieces of data or information. The problem is, if you spend all of your time in meetings or in conversations, you never have time for your brain to make those connections. As a result, you end up having to make decisions without the benefit of letting the information marinate in your brain with all of your other experiences and data sets.
“If I make, like, three good decisions a day, that’s enough,” says Bezos, “And they should just be as high quality as I can make them.” Having time to think, even if it’s just while you take a walk in the morning, can help.
There was one other thought Bezos shared, and it’s about sleep:
“I prioritize sleep unless I’m traveling in different time zones. Sometimes getting eight hours is impossible, but I am very focused on it, and I need eight hours. I think better. I have more energy. My mood is better.”
There’s a misperception that in order to be productive, you have to spend more time doing things. For many people that means working longer hours and sacrificing sleep. The problem, as Bezos highlights in the book, is that doing more, especially when your body and mind are drained, is that you don’t do any of those things well.
Instead, recognize that your body needs sleep. Depriving it of that isn’t a badge of honor, it just means that not only are you likely to be less productive, but you’ll also be grumpy and tired at the same time.
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