One question has fascinated me my entire adult life: what causes some people to become world-class leaders, performers & changemakers, while most others plateau? I have explored the answer to this question by reading thousands of biographies, academic studies & books across dozens of disciplines. Over time, I have noticed a deeper practice of top performers, one so counterintuitive that it's often overlooked. Despite having way more responsibility than anyone else, top performers in the business world often find time to step away from their urgent work, slow down & invest in activities that have a long-term payoff in greater knowledge, creativity & energy. As a result, they may achieve less in a day at first, but drastically more over the course of their lives. I call this compound time because, like compound interest, a small investment now yields surprisingly large returns over time. Warren Edward Buffett, for example, despite owning companies with hundreds of thousands of employees, isn't as busy as you are. By his own estimate, he has spent 80 percent of his career reading & thinking. At the 2016 Daily Journal annual meeting, Charlie Munger, Buffett's 40-year business partner, shared that the only scheduled item on his calendar one week was getting his haircut & that most of his weeks were similar. This is the opposite of most people who are overwhelmed with short-term deadlines, meetings & minutiae. Ben Franklin once wisely said: "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." Perhaps the source of Buffett's true wealth is not just the compounding of his money, but the compounding of his knowledge, which has allowed him to make better decisions. Or as billionaire entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones has eloquently said, "Intellectual capital will always trump financial capital." To build your own intellectual capital, here are six compound time activities that you can start incorporating into your life immediately:

1) Keep a journal. It could damage your life.

Many top performers go beyond open-ended reflection: they often combine specific prompts with a physical journal. Each morning, Benjamin Franklin asked himself, "What good shall I do this day?" & each evening, "What good have I done today?" Steve Jobs stood at the mirror each day & asked, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?" Both billionaire Jean Paul DeJoria & media maven Arianna Huffington takes a few minutes each morning to count their blessings. Oprah Winfrey does the same: she starts each day with her gratitude journal, noting five things for which she's thankful. Billionaire entrepreneur & investor Reid Hoffman asks himself questions about his thinking before bed: What are the kind of key things that might be constraints on a solution, or might be the attributes of a solution? What are the tools or assets I might have? What are the key things that I want to think about? What do I want to solve creatively? Grandmaster chess player & world champion martial artist Josh Waitzkin has a similar process, "My journaling system is based around studying complexity. Reducing the complexity down to what is the most important question. Sleeping on it, and then waking up in the morning first thing and pre-input brainstorming on it. So, I am feeding my unconscious material to work on, releasing it completely & then opening my mind & riffing on it." Whenever legendary management consultant Peter Drucker decided, he wrote down what he expected to happen; several months later, he would compare the results with his expectations. Leonardo da Vincifilled tens of thousands of pages with sketches & musings on his art, inventions, observations & ideas. Albert Einstein amassed more than 80,000 pages of notes in his lifetime. Former President John Adamskept over 51 journals throughout his life. Ever notice that after writing about your thoughts, plans & experiences, you feel clearer & more focused? Researchers call this "writing to learn." It helps us bring order & meaning to our experiences & becomes a potent tool for knowledge & discovery. It also augments our ability to think about complex topics that have dozens of interrelated parts, while our brain, by itself, can only manage three in any given moment. A review of hundreds of studies on writing to learn showed that it also helps with what's called metacognitive thinking, which is our awareness of our own thoughts. Metacognition is a key element in performance.

2) Naps can dramatically increase learning, memory, awareness, creativity & productivity.

Pulling from the results of more than a decade of experiments, nap researcher Sara Mednick of the University of California, San Diego, boldly states: "With naps of an hour to an hour and a half… you get close to the same benefits in learning consolidation that you would from a full eight-hour night's sleep." People who study in the morning do about 30 percent better on an evening test if they have had an hour-long nap than if they haven't. Albert Einstein broke up his day by returning home from his Princeton office at 1:30 p.m., having lunch, taking a nap & then waking with a cup of tea to start the afternoon. Thomas Edison napped for up to three hours per day. Winston Churchill considered his late afternoon nap non-negotiable. John F. Kennedy ate his lunch in bed before drawing the curtains for a one- to two-hour nap. Others who swore by daily naps include Leonardo Da Vinci (up to a dozen 10-minute naps a day), Napoleon Bonaparte (before battles), Ronald Reagan (every afternoon), Lyndon B. Johnson (30 minutes a day), John D. Rockefeller (every day after lunch), Margaret Thatcher (one hour a day), Arnold Schwarzenegger(every afternoon) & Bill Clinton (15–60 minutes a day). Modern science confirms that napping makes us not only more productive, but also more creative. Maybe that's why greats such as Salvador Dali, chess grandmaster Josh Waitzkin, & Edgar Allen Poe used naps to induce hypnagogia, a state of awareness between sleep and wakefulness that helped them access a deeper level of creativity.

3) Only 15 minutes of walking per day can work wonders.

Top performers also build exercise into their daily routine. The most common form is walking. Charles Darwin went on two walks daily: one at noon & one at 4 p.m. After a midday meal, Beethoven embarked on a long, vigorous walk,carrying a pencil & sheets of music paper to record chance musical thoughts. Charles Dickens walked a dozen miles a day & found writing so mentally agitating that he once wrote, "If I couldn't walk fast & far, I should just explode & perish." Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche concluded, "It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth." Others who made a habit of walking include Gandhi (took a long walk every day), Jack Dorsey (takes a five-mile walk each morning), Steve Jobs (took a long walk when he had a serious talk), Tory Burch (45 minutes a day), Howard Schultz (walks every morning), Aristotle (gave lectures while walking), neurologist & author Oliver Sacks (walked after lunch), and Winston Churchill (walked every morning upon waking). Now we have scientific data proving what these geniuses intuited: taking a walk refreshes the mind & body & increases creativity. It can even extend your life. In one 12-year study of adults over 65, walking for 15 minutes a day reduced mortality by 22%.

4) Reading is one of the most beneficial activities we can invest in.

Here's an amazing truth: no matter our circumstances, we all have equal access to the favourite learning medium of Bill Gates, the richest person in the world: books. Top performers in all areas take advantage of this high-powered, low-cost way to learn. Winston Churchill spent several hours a day reading biographies, history, philosophy, & economics. Likewise, the list of U.S. presidents who loved books is long: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, & JFK were all voracious readers. Theodore Roosevelt read one book a day when busy & two to three a day when he had a free evening. Other lumineer readers include billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban (three-plus hours a day), billionaire entrepreneur Arthur Blank (two-plus hours a day), billionaire investor David Rubenstein (six books a week), billionaire entrepreneur Dan Gilbert (one to two hours a day), Oprah Winfrey (credits reading for much of her success), Elon Musk (read two books a day when he was younger), Mark Zuckerberg (a book every two weeks), Jeff Bezos (read hundreds of science fiction novels by the time he was 13) & CEO of Disney Bob Iger (gets up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to read). Reading books improves memory, increases empathy & de-stresses us, all of which can help us achieve our goals. Books compress a lifetime's worth of someone's most impactful knowledge into a format that demands just a few hours of our time. They provide the ultimate ROI. Interested in reading more? I recorded a webinar to help you to find the time to read & double your return on learning.

5) Conversation partners lead to surprising breakthroughs

In Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs, author & essayist, Joshua Shenk, makes the case that the foundation of creativity is social, not individual. The book reviews the academic research on innovation, highlighting creative duos from John Lennon & Paul McCartney to Marie & Pierre Curie to Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak. During long daily walks, psychologists Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tverskydeveloped a new theory of behavioral economics that won Kahneman the Nobel Prize. J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis shared their work with each other & set aside Mondays to meet at a pub. Francis Crick & James Watson, the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, batted ideas back & forth relentlessly, both in their shared office & during daily lunches in Cambridge. Crick recalled that if he presented a flawed idea, "Watson would tell me in no uncertain terms this was nonsense & vice-versa." Artists Andy Warhol & Pat Hackett took two hours each morning to "do the diary" together: recounting the previous day's activities in detail. Many greats made a habit of conversing in large, ritualized groups. Theodore Roosevelt's "Tennis Cabinet" included friends & diplomats who exercised together daily & debated the issues facing the country. Benjamin Franklin created a "mutual improvement society" called the Junto that gathered each Friday evening to learn from each other. The Vagabonds were a group of four famous friends — Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone & John Burroughs — who took road trips each summer: camping, climbing, and "sitting around the campfire discussing their various scientific & business ventures & debating the pressing issues of the day."

6) Success is a direct result of the number of experiments you perform.

There's a reason that Jeff Bezos says, "Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day…." One big winner pays for all the losing experiments. In a recent SEC filing, he explains why: "Given a 10% chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time. But you are still going to be wrong nine times out of ten. We all know that if you swing for the fences, you are going to strike out a lot, but you are also going to hit some home runs. The difference between baseball & business, however, is that baseball has a truncated outcome distribution. When you swing, no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs." No matter how much you read & discuss, you are still going to have to spend some time making your own mistakes. If that discourages you, just remember Thomas Edison. It took him more than 50,000 botched experiments to invent the alkaline storage cell battery & 9,000 to perfect the light bulb. But at his death, he held nearly 1,100 U.S. patents. Experiments don't just happen in the "real" world. Our brain has an incredible ability to simulate reality & explore possibilities at a much faster rate & lower cost. Einstein used thought experiments (imagining himself chasing a light beam through space, for instance) to help construct breakthrough scientific theories; you can use them to set your imagination free on slightly smaller conundrums. The journals of Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci & other luminaries aren't just filled with writing, they are also filled with sketches & mind maps. Stand-up comedy is a far cry from inventing, but experimentation is just as key in the arts as it is in science. Take a star comedian like Chris Rock, for instance. Rock prepares for huge shows in venues such as Madison Square Garden by piecing his routine together in small clubs for months on end, trying out new material & getting instant feedback from audiences (they either laugh or they don't). Others use experiments to force them to take on new habits or break unhealthy ones. Iconic producer & writer Shonda Rhimes decided to take on her workaholism & extreme introversion and say yes to everything that scared her in an experiment she called the Year of Yes. Jia Jang confronted the universal fear of rejection with his 100 Days of Rejection project, which he then catalogued on YouTube. College grad Megan Gebhart spent the first year of her career taking one person a week out for coffee; she compiled the lessons she learned in a book called 52 Cups of Coffee. Filmmaker Sheena Matheiken wore the same black dress every day for a year as an exercise in sustainability. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better."

7) Go ahead, take that hour now.

In a world where everyone is speeding up & cramming their schedule to get ahead, the modern knowledge worker should do the opposite: slow down, work less, learn more & think long-term. In a world where frantic work is the focus, top performers should focus deliberately on learning & rest. In a world where artificial intelligence is automating more & more of our work, we should unleash our creativity. Creativity is not unleashed by working more, but by working less. It's easy to say to yourself, "Sure! Warren Edward Buffett can do it because… well…. he's Warren Edward Buffett." But don't forget that Warren Edward Buffett has had his learning ritual for his entire career, way before he was the Warren Buffett we know today. He could have easily fallen into the trap of the constant "busy-ness," but instead, he made three crucial decisions:

a. Ruthlessly remove the busy work to rise above incessant urgent deadlines, meetings & minutiae.
b. Spend almost all his time on compound time, things that create the most long-term value.
c. Tap dance the work because he leverages his unique strengths and passions.

This lifestyle may not happen for you overnight, but to leverage compound time, you first need to believe that a lifestyle where you work less but accomplish more is possible & beneficial; that a lifestyle where you ruthlessly focus on your strengths & passions is not only feasible, but necessary. To get started, follow the 5-hour rule: for an hour a day, invest in compound time: take that nap, enjoy that walk, read that book, have that conversation. You may doubt yourself, feel guilty or even worry you are "wasting" time… You are not! Step away from your to-do list, just for an hour & invest in your future. This approach has worked for some of the world's greatest minds. It can work for you, too.

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