We tend to think about success in terms of wealth and accomplishments. That's a fair measurement, but the problem is that when we obsess over the victories, we tend to overlook the sacrifices required in order to get there. In fact, neglecting to account for the inherent sacrifices is one reason why so many of us have a hard time sticking to healthy habits and following up on goals.
Time is a factor when it comes to making sacrifices. As Warren Buffett famously said, "It's the only thing you can't buy. I mean, I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can't buy time."
He's absolutely right. In order to pursue hobbies with high returns when you only have 24 hours in a day, you must must forgo activities with low returns. Should you watch another episode of your favorite Netflix show...or give up TV for two months so you can plant that garden you always dreamed about?
Making the decision isn't easy, but the good news is that we already do this innately. A 2009 study from the University of Adelaide's School of Psychology found that people are "far less willing to keep many options open" when some have bigger rewards than others. If the payoffs are unknown, however, we have a harder time giving them up. That's why doing an activity audit is so important. You have to actually take the time to figure out the opportunity costs and gains of each and what to pursue over the other.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two incredibly successful business moguls, are two prime examples of how strategically giving up some activities to focus on more rewarding ones can help you reach your goals.
While Gates' love for technology helped him build a multi-billion-dollar company, he refuses to let it distract him from the important things.
"I stopped listening to music and watching TV in my 20s. It sounds extreme, but I did it because I thought they would just distract me from thinking about software," the billionaire wrote in a blog post. He applies the same values when it comes to parenting. Gates didn't allow his kids to have cellphones until they were 14 (on average, kids are given their first cellphones at age 10). He also keeps a "no phones" rule during family meals.
Buffett is no fan of the distractions of technology, either. The Berkshire Hathaway CEO doesn't keep a computer in his office. He limits Internet distractions by owning a flip phone — despite the many times Apple CEO Tim Cook tried convincing him to join the iPhone revolution.
Just because an activity is "productive" doesn't mean it can't be fun. The hobbies you do outside of work should always be rooted in what you're passionate about. If you find it truly enjoyable and rewarding, stick with it. Simply sitting still can do wonders for your brain. It increases creativity, improves your decision-making skills and can even force you to come up with innovative solutions to existing problems.
For Buffett, that hobby is playing bridge, a game that requires a lot of patience, strategy and tactics. "It's got to be the best intellectual exercise out there," he claims. "You're seeing new situations every ten minutes. Bridge is about weighing gain-loss ratios. You're doing calculations all the time."
Buffett also has a lifelong hobby of reading. When asked about his secret to success during a Columbia Business School talk, he picked up a big pile of papers and replied, "Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest." Even today, the billionaire investor spends 80 percent of his day reading.
In that vein, Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book "Outliers: the Story of Success" how part of Gates' success was built on the foundation of the "10,000 hour rule." The rule states that world-class mastery of a skill requires 10,000 hours of practice. In Gates' case, it was programming practice.
Obviously, that's a lot of time — and not all of us can afford to commit 10,000 hours into mastering a skill. The takeaway here is that Gates found something he loved, devoted his time to it, mastered the skill and built a business out of it. You can follow in his footsteps (to the best of your abilities, of course) by figuring out what you have the potential to be an expert in, and then selecting activities that will help you grow in that area.
You can still enjoy the mindless joys of life. Go to happy hour. Binge on Netflix for an entire weekend. Go on a shopping spree if it'll make you feel better. Gates' break from TV and music only lasted about five years. It's just a matter of cutting back on the less productive ones. And when you're feeling uninspired, remember the tunes of Kenny Rogers: "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away – and know when to run."
Tom Popomaronis is a commerce expert and proud Baltimore native. Currently, he is the Senior Director of Product Innovation at the Hawkins Group. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named one of the "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal.
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