Elon Musk is the person most directly responsible for the electric vehicle revolution. He turned Tesla from an unknown startup into a global disruptor that forced the auto industry to change or die.
Thanks to SpaceX and the Boring Company, he also has access both underground and in outer space. The man with Mars on his mind has not only three major companies to run but a huge family and a schedule that most mortals couldn’t manage for a single week, much less a lifetime.
In order to keep all those balls in the air, Musk must squeeze every possible drop of productivity out of his life, work, and schedule. Here are 10 lessons he’s taught the world along the way about how to get big things done.
Avoid avoidable meetings.
Elon Musk has villainized the traditional workplace meeting as a sap on productivity that robs precious time from people with better things to do.
“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value,” Inc. quotes Musk as saying.
Although he’s talking about group discussions in corporate boardrooms, countless regular people squander their time on unnecessary Zoom calls, text threads, and other multiparty work or personal obligations that they’re neither benefiting from nor contributing to. The reason is often misplaced politeness.
“It is not rude to leave,” Musk said. “It is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
Use Real-Person Language When You Speak and Write
In 2010, Musk sent a company-wide email to all SpaceX employees. In it, he revealed that he hates acronyms as much as he hates meetings.
“There is a creeping tendency to use made-up acronyms at SpaceX,” he wrote. “Excessive use of made-up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication, and keeping communication good as we grow is incredibly important.”
Although you don’t work at SpaceX, it’s no less important that your own communication isn’t cluttered with initialisms, jargon, and other clumsy language that requires an explanation. Focus on using plain language that is clear, precise, and concise, and productivity will follow.
Communicate on your own time and let others do the same.
Elon Musk is quoted as saying, “I do love email. Wherever possible, I try to communicate asynchronously. I’m really good at email.” OK, so meetings and acronyms are out, but email is in—and what’s all this asynchronous stuff?
The term deals with things happening at different times. Basically, email lets the sender send when the sender wants, while the recipient can respond when the recipient wants.
When you request a Zoom meetup or a phone call, you’re boxing someone into a time that’s almost certainly not ideal for them. If your request to communicate can be asynchronous, make it so — and request that the people in your life make it so for you, too.
On second thought, yes to multitasking.
“Multitasking” was long a staple of resumes across all industries. But then one day, the idea of doing several things at the same time went out of vogue, and multitasking became a synonym for “likes to work while distracted.”
With two ex-wives (one of whom was twice divorced), a set of twins, a set of triplets, a new baby with his current girlfriend, and three companies to run, Musk doesn’t have a lot of good options except to multitask, and chances are good that you don’t either.
According to Business Insider, he said, “What I find is that 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.”
Go Big, but Plan Big, Too
To say that Elon Musk shoots for the moon would be to sell the South African-born visionary short. The goal for Musk has always been Mars.
During a 2013 keynote address at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Musk joked-not-joked: “I’d like to die on Mars, just not on impact.” Quite literally, he meant that he’d like to accomplish his goal of visiting Mars, but only if he was well enough prepared that he didn’t crash land.
The moral of the story is that the bigger your dreams get, the higher the stakes become, the more dire the consequences of failure will be, and the more meticulous attention to detail your planning will require.
Eliminate variables wherever possible.
The old adage tells you never to put all your eggs in one basket. If you invest everything — all your money, energy, or both — into one endeavor, and that endeavor crashes, you crash with it.
Musk disagrees. “It’s OK to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket,” Musk tweeted.
If you find a thing worth doing, do it all the way. But unless you’re dedicated to identifying and eliminating — or at least mitigating — the variables that you can’t control, you should expect the hidden flaw to win the day.
Keep Your People in the Loop
Whether it’s your spouse, your children, or your employees, groups of people only function as a cohesive unit when everyone involved understands the stakes, the endgame, and the plan.
The Guardian quotes Musk as saying, “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.”
If you’re going for something big that requires the help of others, make sure they’re on board and up to speed so they can feel like they have skin in the game; it’s the only way they’ll be able to help you along.
Musk has talked a lot about the power of optimism and the direct link between being positive and getting things done. “I’d rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right,” Musk has been quoted as saying.
No matter the venture — be it business, family, relationships, or whatever life throws at you — it’s going to get tough. When it does, negative thinking looks for hidden cracks to slither through; it’s your job to plug those cracks with optimism. When the going gets tough, those who think they can’t, won’t.
Know Your Limits
One of the keys to productivity is setting goals, but those goals have to be reasonable and attainable. In an interview posted to YouTube in 2014, Musk said, “Starting a business is not for everyone.” Starting a business, I’d say, “No. 1 is having a high pain threshold.”
He went on to say that in the beginning, when optimism is high, entrepreneurialism is fun, but that wears off quickly, happiness fades, and the lonely and stressful reality of starting a company sets in.
Musk is big on optimism — and you should be, too — but optimism is only helpful when it’s tempered with hard truths about what you realistically can and can’t accomplish. No amount of positive thinking is going to make you pitch for the Yankees, lose weight without exercising, or take over Tesla.
Remember What’s Important
One of the richest billionaires on Earth, Elon Musk runs three giant companies. A rock star CEO, he can sink the entire cryptocurrency market with a single tweet. But in the end, all of that is secondary. Musk has always been open about what he craves the most: quality human relationships.
“I will never be happy without having someone,” Musk told Rolling Stone after breaking up with his then-girlfriend, movie star Amber Heard. “Going to sleep alone kills me.” He went on to say, “I’m looking for a long-term relationship. I’m not looking for a one-night stand. I’m looking for a serious companion or soulmate, that kind of thing.”
Now that he’s a new father with his girlfriend, the Canadian musician Grimes, it looks like he finally might have found it.