How to Adopt Warren Buffett's 'Learner's Lifestyle'


Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

For knowledge workers in the 21st century, efficiency and productivity are still integral to being seen as a “success.” We value writers who can produce 10 pieces of content each day, and we look to investing personalities for advice on what 10 trades to make to maximize our portfolios. But what if we could reframe that perspective? What if instead of prioritizing action and production, we emphasized learning, insight and quality? In other words, what if we were all a little more like Warren Buffett?

Naturally, we’d all like to be a little more like Buffett, or at least have access to his bank account. That’s not going to happen, but by adopting some of his habits and insights, like a Learner’s Lifestyle, we might be able to improve our own work and lives.

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As Michael Simmons, an author, writes on Medium, “in a knowledge economy, learning and thinking are the single best long-term investments you can make in your career. Learning and thinking determine our decisions. Then, decisions determine our results.” This is true for a range of professions, like investors, designers, writers, entrepreneurs, etc., where time to think and analyze is critical to success and enriched work.

This is in contrast to a manager’s schedule, which is the traditional schedule broken down into hour-long chunks of time, or a maker’s schedule, which emphasizes working on something for half-day increments. “The Learner’s Lifestyle optimizes for insight over coordination and output. Whereas the manager’s schedule is primarily about coordination and the maker’s schedule is about output, the Learner’s Lifestyle is primarily about insight.”

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That means having a flexible schedule with plenty of “free” time for thinking. It’s the opposite of this 30-minute per task approach. You’re not focused on completing something tangible, of checking something off of your list. Instead, you’re prioritizing freedom from distraction and perspective, effectiveness over efficiency.

Warren Buffett is the perfect illustration of the success of this approach because 1) He’s, well, incredibly successful, and 2) He prioritizes learning and thinking over simply doing to get something sone. Simmons notes that there are some years in which Buffett has made zero investments. “The trick in investing is just to sit there and watch pitch after pitch go by and wait for the one right in your sweet spot,” he’s quoted as saying. “And if people are yelling, ‘Swing, you bum!,’ ignore them.”

Obviously, few people have the time, literally, to do this. It wouldn’t go over particularly well if I told my editors I was going to wait around for the next year or so until a particularly compelling article idea came my way. You have to work for your money, even in the so-called knowledge economy.

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But in order to lead the kind of life that gives you the time and space to adopt the Learner’s Lifestyle, you can look for jobs and industries that value insight over the bottom line, and prioritize learning and introspection in your daily life.

That means making time for reading and digesting the information, and learning new skills and practicing them.

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Again, not everyone will have the opportunity or ability to pursue those flexible jobs and careers, and there will be sacrifices for anyone who does, just as this are with any job. But adopting a Learner’s Lifestyle will mean you’re prioritizing value over production, insight over action for action’s sake. That’s not a bad way to make a living.

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