Bill Gates 'didn't believe in vacations' and worked on the weekends while building Microsoft—but regretted it. Here are his 3 tips for success

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Exactly 49 years ago today, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft—a company that’s had a lasting impression and impact on the software industry, and big tech itself. To build such a successful company, which now boasts a whopping $3.125 trillion market capitalization, Gates rarely took breaks. In fact, he said that in the early days of Microsoft he really didn’t even believe in them, Gates told Northern Arizona University’s graduating class in 2023.

“When I was your age, I didn’t believe in vacations. I didn’t even believe in weekends,” said Gates, who was about 20 years old when he started Microsoft. “I pushed everyone around me to work very long hours.” 

In fact, he recalls overlooking Microsoft’s parking lot each day to “keep track of who is leaving early and who is staying late.” It took Gates decades to realize that this level of scrutiny wasn’t appropriate—nor sustainable.

“As I got older—and especially once I became a father—I realized that both in terms of doing your best work and having a great life, that that intensity was not always appropriate. Don’t wait as long as I did to learn this lesson.”

Indeed, Gates emphasized the value of being easy on yourself. 

“You are not a slacker if you’ve cut yourself some slack,” he said. “It took me a long time to learn [that].”

A little over a decade ago, Gates launched his own blog, Gates Notes, sharing about the people he meets, the books he’s reading, and what he’s learning. But over the years, he’s shared some other advice about life and success. Here are three insightful things we can learn from Gates, who is now worth about $153 billion.

Ask questions when problem solving

Business leaders are consistently tasked with problem solving—whether it’s something with long-term or short-term implications. Gates says he always starts his problem-solving process by asking two questions: Who has dealt with this problem well? And what can we learn from them?

“Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve tackled every big new problem the same way: by starting off with two questions,” Gates wrote in a 2020 blog post. I used this technique at Microsoft, and I still use it today.”

While they’re seemingly simple questions, they can serve as good starting points for research about how best to address a challenge.

“They seem like obvious questions,” Gates said. “But sometimes it’s surprisingly hard to find the answers.”

Manage your time wisely

An unlikely character taught Gates the value of effective time management: billionaire buddy Warren Buffett. While Buffett is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and wealthy people in business, he takes a very lenient approach to his calendar. 

“I also remember Warren showing me his calendar,” Gates said in a 2017 interview with Charlie Rose. “There’s nothing on it.”

Gates, on the other hand, used to have “every minute packed” on his calendar, and “thought that was the only way you could do things,” Gates said. But Buffett taught him the value in saving time to let yourself just think.

“You control your time,” Gates said. “Sitting and thinking may be a much higher priority than a normal CEO, where there [are] all these demands and you feel like you need to go and see all these people.”

And having every second marked off in your calendar doesn’t make you any better of a business leader, Gates said.

“It’s not a proxy of your seriousness that you fill every minute in your schedule,” he said.

Be understanding and patient

While it took Gates a while to realize the implications of his intensity during the early days of Microsoft, he came away with one key takeaway about being a fruitful leader—and it has nothing to do with managing money—and all to do with time and people.

“Patience is a key element of success,” Gates said. 

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