How Melinda Gates Tackles Huge Problems Without Burning Out

“When I worked at Microsoft for nine years and didn’t have kids, I would often stay late, polishing some presentation for the next day. My best friend had two kids at the time, and she had to go home for dinner—she didn’t have a choice. If you have to be home, you squeeze a lot into the last hour. Being a parent taught me to task-shift very quickly. But it also taught me to take pauses.

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“Six or seven years ago, I felt like I loved the philanthropy work, but I was going trip to trip and meeting to meeting and then I would rush home and be with my kids, and I’d rush back and get on email at night and then back to the office. I finally just thought, ‘I don’t want to live this way. And I’m not sure I’m doing my best work.’ I stopped trying to clear out my inbox every day. Some of those emails needed to gel for a while before I replied, and some maybe didn’t need a reply. So now it’s only on select evenings that I go back to my computer. These are big issues we’re trying to tackle, whether it’s malaria or reproductive health. Our cotrustee, Warren Buffett, said to me, ‘Remember, Melinda. You’re taking on the problems that society has left behind, and they’ve left them behind because they’re hard problems.’ And it just reminded me that I have to take that time to fill my own joy bucket if I’m going to be good at this work. I build in 15-minute breaks so that I can take some quiet time and close on one meeting before I go to the next. I’m a big believer in taking time to pause and reflect, particularly when you’re working on some of the big challenges in the world.”

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Related Video: How Melinda Gates’s First Job Programmed The Rest Of Her Career

A version of this article appeared in the December 2016 / January 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.


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