Get Ahead

2 time-management tricks Microsoft's CMO learned from working with Bill Gates—and how they can help you be more successful

Source: Chris Capossela

Early in his career, Chris Capossela was given a rare opportunity that other 20-somethings would dream of.

Six years after joining Microsoft, one of Capossela's bosses recommended him for an unusual job: being the speechwriter for then-CEO Bill Gates. 

"It almost fell into my lap," Capossela, 53, tells CNBC Make It. "Bill had sent an email to the executive team describing what he was looking for, and someone forwarded it to me and said, 'This has your name written all over it, you should apply' … it was very serendipitous, not something I planned for at all." 

Capossela spent 1997 through 1999 traveling the world with Gates, watching the dot-com revolution unfold alongside one of tech's richest, most powerful CEOs, editing speeches together in fast food drive-thrus and assisting Gates with live Windows product demonstrations. 

Today, Capossela is Microsoft's chief marketing officer, working under Satya Nadella, who became CEO in 2014. He recently celebrated his 31st anniversary at the tech giant.

One of the most valuable lessons Capossela learned from Gates — and also one of his secrets for success, he shares — is the importance of time management. 

Gates is meticulous about planning out his schedule, Capossela explains. "He's amazing at it," he continues. "The time management techniques I've picked up from him have allowed me to achieve the work-life balance I've always wanted."

Here are two of the time-management techniques Capossela says he learned from Gates and swears by: 

Plan your calendar a year in advance 

Instead of just thinking about your schedule in weeks and months, it's important to map out the year ahead. 

Capossela watched Gates plan his schedule a year in advance, mostly around Microsoft's fiscal year, which runs from July to June of the following year. 

Planning as much as possible in advance can help you create a rhythm to your schedule, break year-end goals down into smaller, more manageable tasks, boost your productivity and improve your work-life balance, among other benefits. 

You don't have to have every goal or project for the next 12 months penciled in for this tactic to work, Capossela adds, but it's helpful to have a rough outline of annual goals, important dates, vacations and other major events to reference throughout the year.

This strategy has helped Capossela plan his work around longer vacations he wants to take during the year and visits with family.

"When I go through my day, I'm not stressed about what's next or what I'm not doing enough of, because I've proactively planned my calendar for the next year," he says. "Time is our most precious resource, you can't get it back once it's gone … so it's important to ask yourself, 'How do I want to spend the next year of my life?'" 

Organize your time into different buckets 

Do you ever feel like you're wasting time in back-to-back meetings or responding to hundreds of emails? 

It's a pitfall that has even plagued one of the world's most successful CEOs. Gates told TV host Charlie Rose in a 2017 interview that he sometimes felt he had to pack "every minute" of his schedule to prove his "seriousness" as a business leader. 

But Gates figured out a creative solution to this problem: He organized his time into different buckets, Caposella says, looked at how much time he spent on each bucket and adjusted his schedule accordingly.

Capossela has mirrored this technique and organized his time into four buckets: people (hiring, recruiting and team management), company strategy, the craft of marketing and customers. 

Start with four buckets and dedicate 25% of your workday to each category, Capossela recommends. Give the bucket method a 3-4 month trial period and see if you feel more productive and in control of your work by the end of it. 

"I found it to be very freeing," Capossela says. "It's helped me be more strategic about my time management and ratchet down the tasks that were eating up my time."

Check out:

Microsoft's head of recruiting on her No. 1 resume red flag: 'We're not looking for know-it-alls'

Bill Gates swears by this daily Wordle strategy—and it's not what the game recommends

Former monk Jay Shetty's best advice for building a career 'that's successful by any measure'

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

We bought an apartment in a 400-year-old building in Portugal for $534,000—here's a look inside
We bought an apartment in a 400-year-old Lisbon building—here's a look inside