Daily Routines is a series by Balance the Grind, profiling successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and business executives to explore their routines, habits and rituals.
When it comes to the daily routines we’ve written about so far, I’ve found that there’s two ends of the spectrum, Jason Fried with his 40-hour workweeks (32 hours in the summer), and Elon Musk’s seemingly endless hours, often reaching over 100 hours a week. Both are extremely successful founder-CEOs and both have their own unique approach to work-life balance.
There’s no denying that Musk’s workaholic habits have had a huge impact on the world and yielded tremendous results. In a statement, Tesla’s board said, “Over the past 15 years, Elon’s leadership of the Tesla team has caused Tesla to grow from a small start-up to having hundreds of thousands of cars on the road that customers love, employing tens of thousands of people around the world, and creating significant shareholder value in the process.”
Elon Musk’s daily routine can be summed up as work, eat, sleep, with work taking up a bulk of that time.
With a bedtime of around 1am, Musk typically wakes up at 7am, getting 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep, which, he discovered over the years is his sweet spot. “Sleep is really great. I find if I don’t get enough sleep I’m quite grumpy. I could drop below a certain threshold of sleep, although I would be awake more hours I would get less done because my mental acuity would be affected,” Musk said in a 2015 reddit AMA.
While Musk will usually skip breakfast to save time — although he will occassionally grab a coffee and an omelette — there’s one daily habit that he’ll always find time for; showering, which he attributes to the source of many ideas.
In terms of fitness, Musk confessed to Joe Rogan, “I wouldn’t exercise at all if I could,” although he does spend some time lifting weights and running on the treadmill while watching TV. He also dabbles in Taekwondo, karate, judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The majority of Musk’s work hours (at least 90% according to Quartz) are split between Telsa and SpaceX, while the rest of the time he spends on other ventures, where he is a co-founder, investor, or executive. In a December 2019 tweet, Musk said that 90% of his time at SpaceX and 60% of his time at Tesla is spent on design and engineering.
When it comes to productivity for himself and employees, Musk is well-known for his ruthless efficiency. In a 2018 email sent out to Tesla employees, Musk outlined some of his “recommendations” for conducting efficient meetings:
Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.
Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.
Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.
In the same email, Musk also told employees to avoid using “acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla” and encouraged the “free flow of information between all levels,” no matter the employee’s role or department.
While Musk has seemingly embraced his workaholic habits and long hours, everyone has a breaking point, and in 2018, it appeared that breaking point was getting dangerously close for him. In a New York Times profile, Musk detailed work weeks of up to 120 hours, “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside,” he said. “This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
In a Recode Decode inteview with Kara Swisher, Musk talked about the difficult times in more detail, “I would just sort of sleep for a few hours, work, sleep for a few hours, work, seven days a week. Some of those days must have been 120 hours, or something nutty.” Fortunately for Musk, the days of 120 hour workweeks are over (for now), and he’s back to 80 or 90 hours, which he says is “pretty sustainable.”
More recently, it seems that Musk is in a much better place, work-life balance-wise. In a conversation with Maureen Dowd for The New York Times, he spoke about spending time with his partner, Grimes, catching up on anime (Death Note and Evangelion) and listening to history audiobooks and podcasts.
When asked about how he managed to find time to spend with his children, given his immense working hours, Musk replied, “Right now there’s not much I can do. Grimes has a much bigger role than me right now. When the kid gets older, there will be more of a role for me.”
“I think just doing what I’ve done with my other kids. If I have a trip for Tesla to China, for example, I’ll bring the kids with me and we’ll go see the Great Wall or we took the bullet train from Beijing to Xian and saw the Terracotta Warriors.”
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