I have always been fascinated by learning about the habits of some of the world’s most successful individuals such as Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Elon Musk. Like what makes them tick? What did they do in the past that helped them to get that first taste of success? What do they do so differently now that makes them as successful as they are?
When it comes to Elon Musk, there’s no question that he has a one-of-a-kind mind. The man not only designs and builds electric cars, but now he is designing and building rockets that are being launched into space.
So, I began to wonder ‘How is Elon Musk so productive? What are some of the habits that he implements into his daily life that allows him to get things done?’
Now, Musk is a smarter than the average individual and has a great deal of drive and ambition, but I think that we can all incorporate some of his productivity secrets into our daily lives – tips that will help us to become just as, or close to just as productive as Musk.
After doing some research and watching a few interviews on Musk talk about his life, I have come up with 5 practices that help Musk to remain as productive as he is. The good news is that these are things we can all start implementing into our life.
#1. Start your day with meaningful work
As the CEO of three companies — Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink — Musk has a lot of things to stay on top of on a day to day basis. Most of us struggle to remain productive and efficient at our one job. Now just imagine being the CEO of three large companies.
This is why Musk starts his day with his most critical work. For Musk, this means dealing with important emails that he needs to address so that he can delegate a good amount of work to other executives.
Musk states that he generally wakes up at 7 a.m. and replies to critical emails for at least half an hour. This seems to be a common practice among other CEOs as well. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the job of a CEO should be the least stressful position as you just need to know who to delegate the extra work to. As the CEO, it isn’t your job to do everything, but to find someone how can do it more effectively and efficiently than you can.
Back to Musk… he says to “Focus on signal over noise. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.”
Find your most important task for the day and tackle it first thing in the morning when your mind is clear and your energy is high. This task should be the one thing that makes everything else easier or unnecessary.
My most important task is exercising first thing in the morning and just getting it done with.That’s why I choose to start my mornings out with at least 30 minutes of exercise. It leaves me feeling accomplished, and oddly enough, I feel as though I have more energy than I did before exercising. This energy helps prepare me for the rest of the day.
What’s your most important task? Don’t do something that is prioritizing the goals and dreams of others. Do one single thing that is going to help get you from where you are today to where you want to be.
#2. Communicate effectively
When Musk is not building rockets or creating what are probably the coolest cars in the automobile industry, there’s one place you can always find him: responding to emails. He joked at a conference: “I do a lot of email — very good at email. That’s my core competency”.
As the CEO of three successful companies, he needs to be good at emailing. He is extremely clear, concise, and direct on his emails.
He frequently emails his entire company with earnings updates, how to communicate effectively with one another, company visions and goals, and strategies to help employees be more productive at work.
As Musk puts it, the reason for this is because “People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.”
I, for one, agree with this. It is so much easier to work for a CEO when they communicate effectively. Even if it’s not tips on how to remain productive at work, I have found it more motivating to actually work when the CEO is willing to share updates on the company and where the company is headed. You might think that it’s normal for CEO’s to communicate effectively, but unfortunately it’s not.
Musk is also amazing at public speaking (just as long as you can get past his awkward pauses as he tried to convert his very complex concepts into easy to understand language). He is constantly headlining events where he will share insight into his life and how he managed to grow the companies he is now the CEO of.
#3. Batch tasks together
Musk multi-tasks strategically. Whenever possible, he combines several tasks together in a productivity hack known as batching. For example, he answers emails while eating or having a meeting over lunch. For me, I like to write during company-wide meetings where nothing too important is being discussed. It’s how I’m able to put out so much awesome and insightful content 😉
Some people may call it batching tasks, but I just think of it as using your time as efficiently as possible. If you have time to get more stuff done, why not do it? It will leave you feeling less stressed at the end of the day.
Here’s a quote from Elon on the subject: “What I find is I’m able to be with [my kids] and still be on email. I can be with them and still be working at the same time… If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to get my job done.”
Another example is going through emails and invoices while on phone meetings or interviews, reading a book while you’re going to the bathroom, or anything else for that matte. Get creative and just try to optimize your time as efficiently as possible.
#4. Always try to improve
This might be one of the best pieces of advice ever, and the fact that it came from Musk makes it all that much better. Musk says, “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
Musk’s success is truly incredible, but the fact that he is never satisfied with where he is now speaks volume to his success; while he may be proud of what he and his companies have been able to achieve so far, he knows that there’s always room for improvement – in every area. There’s always a better, faster, cheaper, or cooler way to do it, and he is on look for how to find it.
Having a mindset like this is what one would call a growth mindset, and it’s a determining factor that can separate successful individuals from their less successful counterparts.
A growth-minded person thinks:
“I can learn anything if I put enough effort into it. If I fail, I’ll just get up and try again – this time with new knowledge of what not to do. My potential is only limited by my willingness to work hard and try new approaches.”
People who don’t think in this way have a fixed mindset. They believe that things are the way they are, that people are born certain ways and that there’s nothing they can do to change that, and that they themselves aren’t the “type of person” to get better.
It’s a crippling mindset to have really, and one that’s not going to lead to you becoming successful, or even happy for that matter.
A good book to read regarding this topic is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.
#5. Embrace stretch goals
This final tip seems to be one that is overly important to Musk.
Arguably one of Musk’s most notorious character traits is his tendency to set incredibly ambitious goals and deadlines for his companies’ projects.
When asked why he sets such ambitious goals and deadlines, Musk says it’s because “The first step is to establish that something is possible; then it will probably occur.”
Here’s a story from a former SpaceX executive:
“It’s like he has everyone working on this car that is meant to get from Los Angeles to New York on one tank of gas. They will work on the car for a year and test all of its parts. Then, when they set off for New York after that year, all the vice presidents think privately that the car will be lucky to get to Las Vegas. What ends up happening is that the car gets to New Mexico — twice as far as they ever expected — and Elon is still mad. He gets twice as much as anyone else out of people.”
This is the prime example of a stretch goal.
Essentially, a stretch goal is a goal that is beyond your current capabilities, or, rather, what you perceive as to be beyond your current capabilities.
Often, a seemingly impossible stretch goal is what’s needed for us to push past our preconceived limits. David Goggins suggests that when you think you are at your maximum output, you are actually only 40% of the way there – you just have to find the strength to tap into the additional 60%. You have to have the guts to aim for something you think you can’t currently achieve, and in the pursuit of it, you grow your skills to where they need to be in order to get it done.
This kind of growth doesn’t happen when you keep aiming for things that are just as doable as what you’ve already done in the past. And Musk knows this well.
The initial plan of Tesla was to start shipping the Roadster in 2006. The company pushed that deadline back several times until the car actually became available in 2008. Even though they released its car almost two years after the deadline, Tesla delivered the first completely battery-powered electric car.
In his own words: “I say something, and then it usually happens. Maybe not on schedule, but it usually happens.”
Musk’s stretch goals have given us a world where one of the best cars you can buy is electric, and where we have reusable rockets: “When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars, people said, ‘Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet he made, and it worked.” says Musk.
Setting goals that maintain the status quo isn’t going to lead to you becoming successful, and it’s definitely not going to lead to more electric cars or reusable rockets.
Musk isn’t any better than you or I, he just uses his time wisely. Learn from some of the habits that he has laid forth so that you can do the same. Who knows, if you keep with it and develop some of these habits, maybe you too will be building electric cars and reusable spaceships in the near future.