Speaking at a Bloomberg Business Forum, Bill Gates may have surprised the crowd a bit with a confession. No, he's not secretly a fan of The Bachelor.

He fessed up to having a regret.

Yes, sometimes even the richest man in the world regrets things.

Gates wishes IBM engineers could have come up with a better way to reboot computers, something other than the awkward, 3-finger stretched method we've come to know (and not love) as Ctrl-Alt-Del. As Gates said:

"The IBM PC hardware keyboard only had one way that it could get a guaranteed interrupt generated. So, clearly the people involved, they should have put another key on it to make that work. A lot of machines these days do have that as a more obvious function."

There's a lesson in here for us all. And I know what you're thinking. It's something along the lines of "Leaders shouldn't throw people (like engineers) under the bus", "Stand up and own your mistakes, no matter how powerful you are", etc.

Nah.

Let's hang it on those engineers that, as Gates said, "didn't wanna give us our single button".

No, the lesson lies in why Gates wanted the single button solution so bad in the first place--simplicity. Wishing he could have made work life simpler.

Now that's a worthy regret.

And one that I share. For too many years early in my career, I did the opposite of simplification by not saying no often enough. Everything was a priority.

But then I learned a few simple, yet powerful tactics for helping me to prioritize.

Simplifying By Prioritizing

First, I made a pact for impact.

I promised myself I'd only work on what matters most and I articulated what my winning aspiration was (what did winning look like for me?). Then, these things:

  • I kept my "or not's" in front of me. Before I'd take on new work, I asked myself, will this help accomplish my winning aspiration, or not? Will it contribute to the objectives, goals, and strategies, or not? If not, I knew what to do.
  • I worked on having 20/20 vision--meaning, I worked on the first 20 percent of things that added the most value, and kept a line of sight on the next 20 percent that I couldn't get to but that I wanted to migrate above the cut line should the opportunity arise.
  • Finally, I'd ask myself, is this new work warranted and worthy? Lots of work may be warranted, but that doesn't mean you should do it all. Is it also worthy? Would it truly be worthy of my time, effort, and energy? Will it help enable a worthy goal?

If I could hit the Ctrl-Alt-Del button on parts of those early days of my career so that I could simplify and prioritize, I would.

But it would still be a lot better if I only needed one finger and one keystroke to do so.