Bill Gates took solo 'think weeks' in a cabin in the woods—why it's a great strategy
It was what he called his "Think Week."
Gates would arrive by helicopter or sea plane, and spend the week reading papers written by Microsoft employees pitching new innovations or potential investments. He read as many papers as possible, sometimes doing so 18 hours a day, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, according to The Wall Street Journal.
"...I would literally take boxes out to a beach place and sit there for a week reading them day and night and scribbling on them to putting it entirely online," Gates said in 2008 video of of Microsoft's CEO Summit.
Work done during one Think Week eventually led to Microsoft to launching Internet Explorer in 1995. And in 2005, Gates was reading a paper called "Virtual Earth" that described building a virtual map with information on traffic and live images of final destinations.
Gates' Think Weeks started in the 1980s; the first ones were quiet visits to his grandmother's house. As they evolved, no visitors were allowed to the cabin during Gates' Think Week (other than someone who dropped off two meals a day at the cabin, and on year a Wall Street Journal reporter) and Gates' cabin was stocked with Diet Orange Crush and Diet Coke.
Gates' "week in the woods" idea is smart, says Laura Stack, president and CEO of consulting firm The Productivity Pro.
"I would recommend this approach," Stack tells CNBC Make It.
"People should have a 'third place' that isn't work or home, where they can find focused time to think and create and clarify your strategic thinking," Stack says. "We must create an environment that gives us the ability to focus our minds without interruption from coworkers, spouses, children, pets and technology, or we'll never be able to concentrate on higher-order activities."
Leadership coach Ellen Faye agrees: "While exercise, yoga, and meditation are great solutions to managing the stress of every day, there's nothing like disconnecting for a longer period of time to create the space for important decisions and objective creative thought," she tells CNBC Make It.
"I think of it as a one week long shower. Because we know that in the shower we have these really great thought processes, but those are flashes and moments, and when you go away for a period of time alone you're able to get more significant results," she says.
Stack and Faye both employ the technique in their own careers.
"I check myself into my third space — a local hotel up the road — every quarter to write for 48 hours. I've published eight books in 14 years using this approach," Stack says.
Faye says she spends at least four or five days alone at a yoga retreat every year "for deeper creative thought."
But your "third place" doesn't have to be far away or fancy. it could be "Starbucks, the library, or the gazebo in your garden. I recommend at least eight hours, but it's best to take several days to 'clear the decks,'" Stack says.
As for Gates, his Think Week eventually expanded from just him reading about ideas and providing feedback, to later Microsoft's top 50 engineering "thinkers" throughout the company doing so.
In the 2008 summit video, Gates said, "We have institutionalized it as kind of a grassroots process and this is a way that somebody who is even just a year or two into the company and has ideas that may or may not relate to the group they are in can write something up."
Representatives for Gates did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.
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