Bill Gates gave up TV for 5 years in his 20s—now he watches 'Narcos,' 'Billions,' 'This is Us' and more

Scene from NBC's "This is Us," featuring Chrissy Metz as Kate and Chris Sullivan as Toby.
Ron Batzdorff | NBC

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, the self-made billionaire 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 well for him. 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 built 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 TV is a great start.

Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates
Doug Wilson | Corbis Historical | Getty Images

"Impulsive web browsing and television watching are diseases of today's society," Cvijetic says. "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, he points out. The key is to prioritize what truly matters to you.

Even Gates, who remained CEO of Microsoft until 2000 and now helps run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, makes time for television these days. "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."

During his seventh "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, which took place this week, the billionaire shared more of his favorite shows: "Melinda and I watch things like 'Silicon Valley,' 'This is Us,' 'A Million Little Things.' ... I watched 'Narcos' by myself. 'Billions,' 'Lie to Me,' 'Friday Night Lights,' 'American Vandal,' 'Black Mirror.'

"There are so many good shows — people tell me about them but I can't watch them all!"

Bill Gates, Mark Cuban and Alexis Ohanian all limit their kids' tech use–just like Steve Jobs did

Gates has also recently turned to meditation, which he has called "exercise for the mind." Both he and his wife Melinda recently started meditating 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."

Don't miss: Tech-free dinners and no smartphones past 10 pm — how Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Cuban limited their kids' screen time

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