What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "billionaire"? You wouldn't be wrong to imagine the money that Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates or Oprah have in their bank accounts. But, for me, the definition means more.

When I think of billionaires, I see people who aren't just financially wealthy. I look at individuals who dreamed big and worked their tails off to become extremely successful. That doesn't mean they were always working 100-hour weeks. But they did have to put in the effort to develop habits that helped them achieve their goals. Devoting themselves to what mattered most made them feel prosperous.

This approach can be applied to all aspects of your life. This includes not only your finances, but also how you launch and maintain a thriving business. It can even help protect your most valuable asset of all: your time.

With that in mind, here are seven ways you can become a time billionaire -- worth much more than any amount of money you can accumulate.

Start investing today.  

Becoming a billionaire doesn't happen instantaneously. Despite the stories boasting about overnight successes, the truth is that it takes years to make billions, short of a hefty inheritance. Whether it's through investing or starting a business, the sooner you get started, the sooner you'll be on your way to becoming a billionaire.

The same idea is true when it comes to time management. It may not seem like a priority right now -- you have fires to put out. But if not now, when? Make time management a priority today. The longer you put it off, the longer you'll miss out on squeezing the most out of every day. You'll never get those "lost" hours back.

Invest in yourself.

"Ultimately, there's one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself," said Warren Buffett. "Nobody can take away what you've got in yourself, and everybody has potential they haven't used yet."

Added Buffett, "Address whatever you feel your weaknesses are, and do it now. Whatever you want to learn more, start doing it today. Don't put if off to your old age."

When you're young, it's easy to imagine you have endless amounts of time to get to everything on your list. But the reality is that other priorities will always find their way in -- and your time may get away from you. "You'll have a more rewarding life not only in terms of how much money you make, but how much fun you have out of life; you'll make more friends the more interesting person you are," said Buffett. "So go to it, invest in yourself."

To win the time management struggle, invest in courses that teach you how to properly manage your time and work smarter. Additionally, you can turn to content like books, podcasts and articles.

Think like an entrepreneur.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel to be a successful entrepreneur. But you do have to be dedicated, passionate and innovative, as well as willing to dance to your own beat. What worked for the folks on "Shark Tank" won't necessarily work for you.

It's the same thing with time management: Experiment with different techniques, and put your spin on them so they work for you. It will likely take some trial and error, but that's part of being an entrepreneur: You may fail at times. Keep trying until you've unlocked the secret to your success. There are ways to improve your time management -- you just have to find them.

Aim for high productivity.

If there's one common thread among billionaires, it's that they emphasize productivity. Will Chou explains this perfectly at Thrive Global. First, he explains, billionaires keep their calendars simple. They don't fill them with low-hanging fruit or wasteful activities. Their calendars only contain important tasks that help them reach their goals. Billionaires also build their schedules around the times when they're at peak productivity and work in environments that motivate them.

Accordingly, they do what's important first. Billionaires kick off their days by tackling their most important priority first, not busywork. This ensures the important things get done, no matter what else may crop up.

Lower-priority tasks, by contrast, are delegated. They hand these items off to someone else so they can focus on the things only they can do.

Be frugal.

Billionaires aren't cheap. They are, however, mindful about not being careless with their money. This means not living above their means or buying luxurious items just to have them. Looking for the best deals isn't a waste of time when it enables them to spend the time and money savings in better ways.

They're also aware of how they spend their time. They don't overcommit; as Buffett himself said, they're infamous for saying "no." Attending an acquaintance's birthday party on Saturday may sound like a blast. But if you've already made plans to work toward a goal, politely declining the invite will ensure you don't spread yourself too thin.

Surround yourself with the right people.

Apple wouldn't have been created if Steve Jobs didn't have Steve Wozniak. Bill Gates had Steve Ballmer when starting Microsoft. In other words, although they may not have the same name recognition, billionaires surround themselves with the right people to offer advice, challenge them or pick up the slack in their weak areas.

Surrounding yourself with these types of people, along with those who are positive and smarter, can encourage you to develop healthier habits. For example, how well do you think you'll spend your time if you surround yourself with people who aren't ambitious and spend their entire weekend watching TV?

Commit to success...and failure.

Forget passion. Success is an obsession. It's what gets you out of bed each morning and pushes you to go the distance. At the same time, you can't be afraid of failure. It's inevitable. But it's also the best way to learn and grow. It can be easy to label a failed effort as a waste of time, but don't fall into that trap. Each failure brings you one step closer to the success you're seeking.

Becoming a billionaire may seem unattainable, but anyone can become a time billionaire. You may not have the money to throw after every opportunity you'd like, but you can devote a much more valuable asset to the things that matter most: your time.

Published on: Jun 16, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.