How did Bill Gates get to be the richest person in the world, with a net worth around $80 billion? Being in the right place with the right product at the dawn of the personal computer era certainly had a lot to do with it. But so do some very smart approaches to work and life that all of us can follow.
Personal finance site recently published a list of 10 habits and experiences that make Gates so successful and helped him build his fortune. Here are my favorites. How many of them do you do?
1. He’s always learning.
Gates is famous for being a Harvard dropout, but the only reason he dropped out is that he and Paul Allen saw a window of opportunity to start their own software company. In fact, Gates loves learning and often sat in on classes he wasn’t signed up for. That’s something he had in common with Steve Jobs, who stuck around after dropping out of Reed College, sleeping on floors, so that he could take classes that interested him.
2. He reads everything.
“Just about every kind of book interested him — encyclopedias, science fiction, you name it,” Gates’s father said in an interview. Although his parents were thrilled that their son was such a bookworm, they had to establish a no-reading-at-the-dinner-table rule. That love of reading continues, with Gates publishing an annual list of his favorite books of the year. Reading a lot is a great habit to cultivate. Just don’t do it while having dinner with your family.
3. He gives credit to others.
When asked in an interview to name the best business decisions he’d ever made, Gates replied, “I’d say my best business decisions really have to do with picking people.” Even though he and Allen have had a complicated relationship, he went on to say that choosing Allen as a business partner was at the top of that list. We all need to be good at promoting ourselves, but it’s smart to give the credit to the people you work with whenever possible.
4. He trusts his own judgment.
You can have a really good career if you always listen to other people’s opinions and predictions. But to have a breakout career like Gates or Jobs, you need to listen to yourself first and foremost, even if the entire world is telling you you’re wrong. That’s what happened when Gates and Allen launched Microsoft. In a speech, Gates said the company was “based on this wild idea that nobody else agreed with — that computer chips were going to become so powerful that computers and software would become a tool that would be on every desk and in every home.” Everyone said they were wrong, they launched it anyway, and the rest is history.
5. He’s conservative with cash.
“I wanted to have enough money in the bank to pay a year’s worth of payroll even if we didn’t get any payments coming in, and I’m true to that almost the whole time,” he told an interviewer in 1998. “We have almost $10 billion now, which is pretty much enough for the next year.” How much money do you have set aside to cover payroll just in case something bad happens?
6. He learns from his mistakes.
In an 2008 interview, Gates credited some of Microsoft’s success to his and his leadership team’s ability to quickly recognize a mistake, say, “Oops, this isn’t working,” and try a different approach. He’s certainly made plenty of mistakes over the years that he can learn from. Remember Windows Vista?
7. He gets plenty of sleep.
We all know how important sleep is. Instead of bragging about how late he works and how sleep-deprived he is, Gates makes sure to get seven hours a night, because he says he can’t be creative otherwise. That’s definitely a good habit that everyone should follow.
8. He really concentrates on what he’s doing.
Too many of us are easily distracted and guilty of multitasking, even though we know it’s dreadfully inefficient. Not only does Gates resist the temptation to multitask, he also exhibits really deep concentration while working on tasks. So much so that he’s been known to drift off to sleep while coding, wake up an hour later, and pick up right where he left off.
You don’t have to go that far. But the more you can focus on what you’re doing instead of wandering away to check Facebook or stock prices, the better work you’ll do and the more effective you’ll be.