The Secret To Spending More Time With Your Kids

Warren Buffet is justly famous for several things, most notably becoming the world’s sixth wealthiest person through his market-defying prowess as an investor. But the Oracle of Omaha has another, less well-known, claim to fame. And that, somewhat surprisingly, is the emptiness of his diary.

It came to light in a joint interview he once did with Bill Gates. It turns out that billionaires like nothing better than having a good old natter, and Bill and Warren would regularly hook up and compare notes on what each other was up to. And on the subject of diaries, Warren discovered that Bill’s was perpetually full. Meeting after meeting and appointment after appointment filled its pages with barely a gap. There were simply not enough hours in the day.

But Warren’s diary told an altogether different story. A modest pocket affair, Bill asked Warren to hand it to the interviewer, who discovered that Warren had just a handful of appointments in the current month. How come there was such a stark contrast? Surely everyone would be clamouring to meet with the wily stock market speculator and legendary CEO of Berkshire Hathaway? It turned out to be the most important lesson Bill ever learned from Warren. You see, Warren could afford to buy almost anything he wanted. Virtually nothing was beyond his means. But the one thing he couldn’t buy was time. It turns out that, to billionaires, time is the most valuable commodity there is. So, Warren Buffet always makes sure he keeps his diary as empty as possible.

This is all very well for billionaires, but what about us mere mortals who still need to earn a crust to keep the wolf from the door? How can we value our time better and spend more of it doing the things we love, such as spending quality time with our kids when we’ve got so much else on the go? You could, of course, try out various time-saving tips and tricks in an attempt to free up as much time as possible. This will work to some degree, but I’m afraid it doesn’t tackle the root of the problem. Instead, I would recommend doing something much more significant that will do a lot more than free up a few minutes here and there; it will fundamentally change your life. Which, as claims go, is quite a bold one, so let’s see what you make of it. Here goes:

If we ignore the time we spend doing non-negotiable stuff such as eating, sleeping, and performing essential bodily functions, life typically presents us with only two types of calls on our time. The first category is what I call ‘ME’ tasks. This is the good stuff – the time spent exclusively doing things YOU want to do. Whether that’s pursuing a hobby, dream, or aspiration, spending time with your children or other loved ones, or simply having some quality downtime, the point is that ME time is spent doing exactly what YOU want to do, and you’re not accountable to anyone else for how you spend it.

Then there’s the second category, which I call ‘THEM’ tasks. This is where you spend your time on activities that benefit other people. It’s quite a big category since it includes working for an employer or a business, running your household, paying bills, and dealing with all those essential minutiae of life that individually take no time at all yet collectively seem to be like painting the Forth Bridge. Now, you might be thinking that working for an employer isn’t THEM time since you’re getting paid to do it. But the point about THEM tasks is NOT that there’s no benefit to you in doing them, because more often than not, there is. No, the big problem with THEM tasks is that you’ll experience some pain if you don’t do them. What sort of pain are we talking about?

Well, if you decide not to go to work, then your boss will moan, and ultimately you could lose your job (or, if you’re the boss, your business will go bust). If you don’t pay your bills, then all sorts of things could get cut off, and you could end up in court. And if you don’t go shopping, you won’t have anything to eat. It’s all very ‘cause and effect’, with the effect nearly always being something rather bad happening to you. And, because we humans will do almost anything to avoid pain, we naturally focus on getting our THEM tasks done as a matter of priority.

So, if you want to spend more time with your family, it means you’ll need to increase your ME time. But that’s where you encounter a snag. The problem with ME tasks is that no one complains if they don’t get done. You might reflect ruefully on yet another day when you didn’t spend any quality time with the kids, but otherwise, no big boss is berating you for not putting in a ME shift (other than your kids, who didn’t get to see you). And this is a big problem. We tend to do ME tasks only after all the THEM tasks are out of the way. We actively prioritise THEM tasks because we get some grief if we don’t do them. And if there’s no time left after we’ve completed the THEM tasks, then not only do the ME tasks not get done, but no one gives us any grief either.

Hopefully, you can see that this is a major own goal. How can spending time with your kids (or whatever ME task you have in mind) be relegated to last place in your priorities? Surely, it should be first? Your THEM tasks can’t really be more important than seeing your kids, can they? So, what’s the solution?

The answer is straightforward, but it requires a bit of a mindset shift and some good, old-fashioned discipline. Essentially you have to start prioritising ME tasks over THEM tasks. You shouldn’t have a problem rationalising WHY your ME tasks are more important to you than THEM tasks. However, your instinctive reaction will be to start worrying about all the grief you’ll get from all quarters if you spend less time on your THEM tasks. After all, you can’t simply give up the day job and spend time with your children instead, can you?

But here’s the thing; have you ever noticed what happens at work the day before you go on holiday? It’s usually manically busy because you’re ensuring that all the super-important jobs get done, the not-so-important jobs get done by someone else while you’re away, and the rest will just have to stay undone until you get back. Yet not once have you NOT gone on holiday. There hasn’t been a single occasion when your workload meant you had to cancel your holiday plans, nor did you get fired when you returned for recklessly abandoning your station. In fact, you’re usually quite pleasantly surprised to find that no disasters occurred while you were away AND, miraculously, you’re back up to date within half a day of returning. This should tell you something very important, namely that when you put an immovable object in your diary, you will always manage all the THEM tasks in your life to accommodate it.

So, if you want to spend more time with your kids, you simply need to make it an immovable object. It needs to become a sacred event that always happens no matter what. It must never get cancelled, and it must never get foreshortened (after all, you’ve never come back from holiday early because some filing needed doing, have you?). When you do this, several things will happen. Firstly, you will become much more efficient at doing THEM tasks. Your ability to prioritise, delegate and defer tasks that you somehow manage to do so admirably the day before each holiday will now become a daily practice. You won’t need to think about it because it will automatically happen, just like any other immovable object in your diary.

Secondly, you will realise that for most tasks, no one will die if you don’t do them today. Sure, you might be worried that someone could be mildly peeved or even lightly stroppy, but most of the time, it’s all in your head. And even if they were, let’s work out what’s more important. A colleague being a bit miffed versus you seeing your kids – it’s something of a no-brainer.

And it doesn’t need to stop with seeing your kids. Want to spend time in the gym getting back into shape, but you’re too busy? Just make it an immovable object in your diary and watch the pounds fall off. Or perhaps you fancied setting up a little side hustle or writing a book, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. Again, just make it an immovable object, and everything else will happen around it.

Clearly, there’s a limit to the number of immovable objects you can accommodate in your diary, but it’s easy to implement it for one or two daily activities that you want to prioritise. And it usually comes at little cost because it simply forces you to become more efficient and effective, something that we all do automatically when there’s a deadline. The trick is to make sure you never compromise. Just as your holiday flight won’t sit on the tarmac waiting for you to finish work, so you’ll need to apply the same principle here. If you need to leave work at 5 pm to go see your kids, you MUST leave work at 5 pm no matter what. This is where the self-discipline comes in. Just because there’s no plane waiting on the runway doesn’t mean you can ‘just finish what you were doing’ and leave at 5.15 pm.

Because the reality is that there IS a metaphorical plane waiting to take off, and all the seats are taken by your ME tasks. Up in first class is your family waiting expectantly for you to arrive, and sitting behind them are all the other things you want to do in your life if only you had the time. And the best news of all is that you’re the pilot.