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Here's why Bill Gates stopped listening to music and watching TV for 5 years in his 20s

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates
Doug Wilson | Getty Images
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates

Self-made billionaire Bill Gates got a lot done in his 20s: After taking a leave of absence from Harvard, the young tech whiz formed a computer software company with his high school friend Paul Allen. That company became Microsoft, the most valuable publicly traded company in the world.

For half of that decade, he stopped listening to music and watching TV, he writes on his blog, Gates Notes: "It sounds extreme, but I did it because I thought they would just distract me from thinking about software."

His strategy seems to have worked. In November 1976, when Gates was just 21, he and Allen officially registered their company name "Microsoft" in New Mexico. Three years later, the company left New Mexico and build its headquarters outside of Seattle, where Microsoft grew from a scrappy start-up into the behemoth it is today.

It's no secret that cutting back on entertainment can boost productivity. As educator and entrepreneur Zdravko Cvijetic tells CNBC Make It, if you want to be more successful, limiting social media and television is a great start: "Impulsive web browsing and television watching are diseases of today's society. … Unless your goals depend on either, you should minimize (or even eliminate) your dependency on them, and direct that time towards things that can enrich your life."

You don't have to quit entertainment altogether to be successful, though, Cvijetic points out. Even Gates, who remained CEO of Microsoft until 2000 and now helps run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, now makes time for Netflix. "That [entertainment] blackout period lasted only about five years," he writes, "and these days I'm a huge fan of TV shows like Narcos and listen to a lot of U2, Willie Nelson, and the Beatles."

He does have a new productivity hack, though: Meditation, which he and his wife Melinda now do two to three times a week for 10 minutes each time.

"I'm not sure how much meditation would have helped me concentrate in my early Microsoft days, because I was monomaniacally focused without it," Gates says. "But now that I'm married, have three children, and have a broader set of professional and personal interests, it's a great tool for improving my focus.

"It's also helped me step back and get some ease with whatever thoughts or emotions are present. I like what I'm getting from my 10 minutes every few days."

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