Entrepreneurs

Charlie Munger uses this simple productivity hack — and anyone can do it

Charles Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., left, and Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Nelson Ching | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Charles Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., left, and Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Charlie Munger has been working alongside Warren Buffett for almost 60 years. Together, the business partners, billionaires and friends transformed Berkshire Hathaway from a once failing textile manufacturer into a $490 billion conglomerate.

Buffett, the 87-year-old CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and Munger, the 94-year-old vice chairman, have dealt with more responsibility than most over their decades long careers.

To be as efficient as possible, Munger developed a simple productivity hack: using any available downtime to read.

"As long as I have a book in my hand, I don't feel like I'm wasting time," Munger said, according to his close friend and the founder of Himalaya Capital, Li Lu.

Lu, who has known Munger for over a decade and wrote an introduction to Munger's book, "Poor Charlie's Almanack," said the billionaire would carry around a book or a newspaper just in case he might be delayed.

For example, Munger once missed a commercial flight out of the airport.

"When he passed through the security detector, it repeatedly set off," Lu remembered in the introduction. "Charlie returned again and again for the security check. He finally passed through the security checkpoint after along and laborious effort, but by then, his plane had already departed.

"Charlie did not seem upset," Lu writes. "He took out a book he carried with him and sat down to read while he waited for the next flight."

The investing legend also uses the same strategy while waiting to take meetings. When Lu first met Munger, Munger had already finished reading several newspapers.

"Charlie likes to meet people for breakfast, usually starting at 7:30 a.m.," Lu writes in the introduction. "I arrived on time and found Charlie sitting there, finished with the day's newspapers. It was only a few short minutes before 7:30, but I felt bad letting an older man I respected wait for me."

So, the next time Lu and Munger arranged to meet, Lu got there 15 minutes earlier.

"[I] still found Charlie sitting there, reading the newspaper," Lu says. "For our third meeting, I arrived 30 minutes earlier and Charlie was still reading the newspaper, as if he had been waiting there all year round and had never left the seat."

The morning reading was intentional: "I came to understand that Charlie always arrives early for meetings," Lu writes. "However, he does not waste time either, because he reads the newspapers he brought along."

The papers he reads include "The Wall Street Journal," "The New York Times," "The Financial Times" and "Los Angeles Times," according to Munger. He's also a weekly reader of "The Economist."

For Munger, the simple habit is the key to wisdom and success. "In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn't read all the time — none, zero," Munger says in author David Clark's "The Tao of Charlie Munger." "If you want wisdom, you'll get it sitting on your a--. That's the way it comes."

Indeed, Buffett also reveres reading, and spends up to six hours at it each day. And one of Buffett and Munger's proteges at Berkshire, Todd Combs, says he spends nearly 12 hours each day reading.

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