10 Lessons on Time Management from Bill Gates

1. Take Your Time Seriously

“Leave it for later” is not a phrase you’ll find in Bill Gate’s vocabulary. During a Charlie Rose interview, the billionaire, along with Warren Buffet, drove home the point that time is the only commodity that money cannot buy. He can buy anything he wants, but he cannot buy more time. With that in mind, he schedules his days meticulously, making sure each moment is used well.

How about you? Do you just do what comes to you off the top of your head, or is your time scheduled so you can get more done in a day? Do you leave everything for later or do you take care of the fleeting time you have on this earth?

Bill Gates and most other successful people make sure their time is being well used. Let’s take a page from their book and cultivate the sense of urgency that comes with understanding that time WILL run out one day. Better make use of the time you have now!

2. Put in the Hours

The founder of Microsoft famously became one of the examples Malcom Gladwell used in his book Outliers on how the most successful individuals put in at least 10,000 hours of work before becoming successful. According to the book, Gates spent countless hours programming and working on the PC before he achieved an ounce of success. In fact, Gates himself stated that he married later in life because he was married to the PC at the beginning of his career.

How do you spend your time? Do you put in serious work, hour after hour? Or are your days bogged down with unnecessary interruptions and social media? How many hours could you say you’ve logged in doing actual work on your goals? Speaking on Gladwell’s book, Gates said: “You do have to be lucky enough, but also fanatical enough to keep going”. How fanatically are you using your time to achieve what you want?

3. Structure your Time

According to an article by The Telegraph, Gates breaks down tasks in small chunks, sometimes in five minute increments. While that may work for him, who will often have to stop for a quick handshake with an important person, the lesson for us is clear: Time needs to be structured.

One of the coolest tools in time management is called Timeboxing, where you will set aside a specific amount of time to get a particular task done. Say, twenty minutes to answer five emails. Or one hour to finish writing an article. The tool of timeboxing keeps you from distractions, from wasting too much time on any one activity and will also ensure your productivity levels are kept high. If it works for Gates, it can certainly work for you!

4. Don’t Waste Time to Make More Time

See if this story seems familiar: A person is busy all day but spends considerate snippets of time socializing, on social media, wasting time etc. At 5 o’clock, this person sees that they aren’t even close to finishing their work for the day. This person then has to work late, or at home, to make up for lost time. Sound like you?

You’ll probably be surprised then to hear that Bill Gates will sit down for family dinner and will even do the dishes whenever he’s at home. He can dedicate himself to this family time because his hours are not wasteful during the day. What distractions could you remove from your day so that you can have more downtime at home, with your family?

The trick to work-life balance is making sure each time is properly being used. When you’re at work — be AT WORK. When you’re at home, be at home. An hour of distraction you get rid of during the day is an hour you can spend during whatever you want at home later at night.

5. Get Sleep

I love looking at those charts that show how many hours of sleep successful people get each night. It’s always surprising to see most of them try for 6–8 hours. Bill Gates is one of them. While he has stated he’s a night owl who can stay awake late into the night, he shoots for a midnight bedtime and 7 a.m. wake-up time. That will put him at 7 hours of sleep. Not bad for the world’s richest man.

Don’t skimp on sleep, kids! Your productivity and well-being depends on it.

6. Take Advantage of Snippets of Time

I have read many a Bill Gates interview where he stated he always has a book in hand and gets a quick read in between meetings or whenever he has an extra minute. We all have these little moments in our day — in between meetings, while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, while in line for anything — that we could take better advantage of. Do you take advantage of those moments to send your husband a nice text message, read a page of a book or promote your business’s Instagram page? Or do you just scroll through Facebook and look at cat videos?

Don’t get me wrong, taking a little mindless break can do wonders for your stress levels. But that one minute on Facebook can (and will) quickly lead to 10–30 minutes that you have just wasted. How about reading that chapter first and then letting yourself mindlessly look at cat videos for a couple of minutes? It’s time to reclaim those minutes we usually waste mindless scrolling through Facebook!

7. Think Long Term and Invest your Time

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.” — Bill Gates

I am for sure a culprit of thinking I can get SO MUCH done in a week and then feeling completely overwhelmed and giving up on doing anything at all, only to look back a year later and wishing I had slowly kept at it. I think we all do this.

Let this quote from Mr. Gates be a lesson to us! Use your time to slowly plug away at that goal. Don’t stop. 10 years from now, you will have accomplished so much. At the same time, don’t try to accomplish it all in a month or a year. Keep at it. Time management is also long-term thinking. Invest your time.

8. Prioritize

Bill has said his emails are filtered by his crew but he’ll get around 100 a day, of which he’ll answer only what is important. It is up to YOU and only you to choose what you work on. Other people will try to take your time. Issues that need your attention will arise. Distractions will occur. There is no one that is immune from this fact. You are the one that needs to choose what you will work on and what you will prioritize. The power to use your time is yours and yours alone. The excuse “I couldn’t, because too many other things came up” will not fly with a successful person that knows the power of prioritization.

You can say no, you can ignore that one ridiculous email, you can delegate things. You can leave unimportant things for later. Again, YOU CAN SAY NO! Don’t take care of everything that comes your way. Don’t say yes to everyone. Schedule your time and prioritize.

9. Chunk your Time Into Topics

To me, this is one of the most interesting time management tricks from Bill. He has talked extensively on the importance of scheduling time for project management and thinking. He will block off two weeks every quarter to work on product design. He will also divide his time between his foundation work and Microsoft work. Pretty different from the idea of a businessman who handles issues all day and spends his times in meetings set up by other people. Rather, Gates is proactive about focusing on specific topics at a time.

If you’re handling different types of projects at once or even having to deal with work + home issues, use this trick! How about scheduling 30 minutes a day to do all of the child-related work (calling doctors, emailing teachers) and chunking a 2-hour time to work on project management where you’ll only focus on that one project? It is extremely tiring and unproductive to shift your focus from one topic to another constantly. Dedicate your time to each thing, as much as you can.

10. Use Software

While Gates personally doesn’t use to-do lists, for some, nothing beats a good old to-do list on paper. However, with the onset of smart phones that sync across devices, your time management can skyrocket with the use of software.

Gates will use an Outlook Calendar and SharePoint to organize ideas, articles and projects across his entire company so that he can quickly have access to others’ ideas and inputs into a specific subject (read here for an idea). He’ll also use desktop search to find info across emails and documents. I personally use Evernote to keep my ideas at the tip of my fingertips. That way I don’t have to look through a notebook whenever I need to remember something. It makes remembering important things so easy and keep your priorities in front of you.

What about you? What do you use? If you haven’t tried any time management software, I recommend you write down the issues you have and then do a quick search online for apps that take care of your problem. I guarantee that there is something out there to make your life easier!

Those are the 10 lessons I’ve learned from our friend Bill. If I took any ONE thing away from my time researching his life, it is the importance of doing steady, scheduled work. It’s so easy to dismiss Bill’s success as the work of a genius — unattainable to the every day man. Make no mistake, he is a genius. But he got to where he is because he manages his time well, with purposeful work! Follow his advice and maybe one day you’ll find yourself close to a billion!

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