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Elon Musk_2015

If you were one of the grads at the 2014 USC commencement ceremony, the whole thing would have been a bit…underwhelming.

On the stage, a forty-something man is hunched over the podium. Soft spoken and a bit of a mumbler, he quietly reflects on his life and achievements.

Towards the end of the speech, the man advises the students to take risks. He continues, “Now’s the time, since you don’t have kids…”

Then he freezes. Faint nervous chuckles are heard in the crowd.

“Um, well, you probably don’t have kids.”

He stiffens, and laughs nervously, aware of his remark. He steadies himself a bit and continues with his speech.

As Elon wraps up his speech, he advises the students to, “Do something bold. You won’t regret it.”

Students applaud politely and exchange surprised glances as if to say, “This is the guy that’s sending us to Mars?”

You’d expect Elon Musk, billionaire, potential Mars colonist, and Tesla inventor to be more of a crowdpleaser. The darling of entrepreneurial magazines, podcasts, and, yes, productivity articles, his life and the milestones of his success have been reverse engineered to see if there’s something special that makes people like Elon Musk destined for greatness.

In 2014, on the USC podium, Musk spoke simply, plainly. It was clear. There’s no magic. There are no secrets.

Musk spoke of some basic principles. Gather good people. Build a good product. He may have seemed like he was winging it through his speech, but Musk offered simple, practical advice that echoed the words of so many other successful businesspeople before him.

If you’ve read our blog, or articles about productivity, the rituals of successful people often share similarities. They may come from different backgrounds or, in Musk’s case, a different country (Musk was born in South Africa), but they often share rituals that define their success. Elon Musk is no different.

There are three principles of Asian Efficiency that Elon Musk uses to manage his personal and professional life. They are:

  1. Rituals – He keeps a consistent schedule and practices an extreme work ethic.
  2. Remove Inefficiencies – Strip everything that doesn’t help you move forward.
  3. Create a Personal Ecosystem – He gathers likeminded team members and listens to their feedback.

Elon Musk has other principles that he follows, but we’ll focus on these as they align with principles we talk about at Asian Efficiency. These are rituals that are also easy for any of us to implement.

  1. Form a Daily Ritual

Elon Musk started his career in a no-frills office that served as his apartment. Musk and his brother slept and worked there as they built their business. They showered at the local YMCA. It wasn’t fun to be Elon’s girlfriend back then, because to hang out together meant spending time in a crowded office.

It was early on that Elon Musk developed a routine that would help him conquer various business markets.

  • He wakes up every morning at 7am.
  • He may or may not eat breakfast, but he’s a coffee addict.
  • He favors brief lunch meetings, eating while he works.
  • He exercises twice a week, using a treadmill or weights.
  • He goes to bed late, at 1am.

There’s nothing that unusual about Musk’s schedule. Heck, it might even look like yours right now. What’s apparent here, is the time created during his waking hours. He sleeps less than other people. Long days make sense in the context of Musk’s business life. The one factor in his life that defines him, something he has spoken about many times, is his enormous work week.

Musk worked at least 100 hours a week for years, and he still clocks in 15-hour days now. His reasoning is this: working twice as hard as the usual 40-hour worker will give you twice the knowledge and twice the progress.

Musk is completely aware of how grueling a work week this can be. In interviews, he remains candid that being a business owner isn’t for everyone. For Musk, it seemed inevitable; for what he wanted to achieve, 100-hour work weeks were the only way to get there.

For most of us, working those hours would be out of the question, but establishing a daily routine allows us more time to be productive. Musk could not have worked the long hours that he did for so many years without organizing his schedule. He is able to manage such a punishing schedule, because he is so structured with his time.

So ask yourself: how would your perfect day look? How can you form a daily ritual that aligns perfectly with that “perfect day?”

Now go and implement that perfect day. One day at a time until it becomes a ritual.

  1. Remove Inefficiencies

Musk had no experience in the automotive industry when he began planning the construction of the world’s first “cool” electric car, the Tesla.  At the time, the electric car wasn’t much more than a novelty. Electric cars were about as useful as golf carts or bumper cars for transportation. Not something Americans would want to be seen in, much less drive around in public.

As a complete outsider, Musk would crowdsource feedback from friends and coworkers about electric cars. Musk realized the main problem with electric cars was public perception. Electric cars were seen as powerless and unreliable.

An electric car couldn’t compete on a freeway with the roar and raw power of a Mustang or Corvette. Musk saw through all the things the electric car wasn’t, in order to create the Tesla. It had to be fast. It had to be sleek. It had to be charged.

Musk allocated most of the funds to develop the Tesla into research and development, spending no money on advertising. His team committed themselves to building a superior product, and Musk used his entrepreneurial status to do press about his new project. Instead of endless commercials with expensive aerial shots, Musk hit the press circuit, using his personal story as a launch pad for introducing the Tesla.

Musk would describe the challenges he faced in developing a viable electric car. He shared the concerns of the public about designing a car that had power. Musk wasn’t just building a car, he was creating a new form of transportation with sustainable energy.

In a 2015 BBC interview Musk reassured the reporter that not only would Tesla charging stations sprout up throughout the UK, the stations would also feature solar panels. Even during a promotion for his vehicle, he was promoting another energy source.

By looking at what didn’t work in electric cars, and honestly assessing the public opinion, Musk moved forward to develop the Model S, a hugely successful electric car. Musk removed the inefficiencies he witnessed in traditional automotive companies — from top to bottom. He focused on the product first.

Removing inefficiencies is something we can implement in our professional or personal life. Like Musk, we can identify roadblocks in our goals, and remove them.

Are you spending too long on certain tasks? What about automating or outsourcing these tasks?

Not enough time in the day? Maybe it’s time to look at cutting down social media usage or anything else that is not important (even if it might seem important).

Whether it’s external or internal forces in your life slowing you down, taking an inventory and working to remove those blocks will improve your productivity. We often don’t step back and look at our lives objectively. We’re so close to everything that it’s difficult to see where all the roadblocks and inefficiencies are in our lives.

That’s why we always recommend you journal. A journaling ritual will help you document everything, and when it’s time to review your life, you have something you can look through. I can’t tell you how much this one ritual has helped me — especially when it comes to removing obstacles and inefficiencies from my life.

If you’ve ever reread a journal, you know that feeling of “I can’t believe I was doing that or thinking that!” That’s usually when a lightbulb goes off and you start eliminating everything that doesn’t help you move forward.

There are other strategies you can use too. If you’re not sure to where to begin, we have a training library of productivity courses inside the Dojo. It’s a great way to target areas of your life where you can improve productivity.

  1. Creating a Personal Ecosystem

The ups and downs in the many projects Elon Musk has tackled can be traced to the people and environments around him. It was years before the business world started to view Musk as the visionary he is seen as now.

Musk has little illusions about the trials of being a business owner, which he has referred to in interviews as “painful.” His first two companies, Zip2 and X.com were marked by interpersonal issues.

Musk was denied the role of CEO of his previous company Zip2, a company that he started with his brother, Kimbal. When he became the CEO of PayPal, a company formed out of a merger with Musk’s smaller startup X.com, he was eventually ousted by board members due to personal disagreements.

Even though the success of these companies proved Musk to be a savvy entrepreneur, the conflicts within the organizations often made it impossible for Musk to stay at the very companies he created.

Public criticism and naysayers were painful to Musk, but these setbacks stressed the importance of finding his own tribe. Musk is not only a team player, but he also speaks about the power of collaboration. He understands that his ideas cannot be implemented without a team of people with a similar mindset.

Where most visionaries talk about dismissing the opinions of others, Elon Musk is different. He looks to his colleagues for open, transparent communication and feedback.

When Musk formed his company SpaceX, a company dedicated to space exploration and launching reusable rockets, a friend of his sent him a video mashup of rockets exploding. The message was clear: as a novice, Musk was entering a world where the stakes were dangerously high.

The video would be prophetic — SpaceX rocket launches would fail on multiple occasions until their first orbital rocket landed successfully in 2015. Musk had persevered, and he attributed his success to the tireless work of the people he recruited to work at SpaceX.

What’s remarkable about the success of SpaceX is how it has changed the perception of space exploration. Musk’s commitment to Mars colonization is now something discussed as a future possibility, rather than the musings of a billionaire with too much time or money on his hands. It’s a different mindset than what Musk faced in the early 2000s; when he traveled to Moscow to seek recruits for his project he was literally spat on by a Russian chief designer.

Musk was able to temper the skepticism of the scientific community by creating a personal ecosystem of skilled, dedicated employees. He had no illusions about the challenges he was to face, and he took criticism from those close to him to keep a healthy perspective.

It’s important to create a personal environment, or ecosystem, that has a positive effect on your life and productivity. It’s a simple litmus test — do the people in our lives improve or take away from our daily experience?

When we take inventory of all the components that comprise our ecosystem, we can determine what things make us more productive or what elements are causing static in our lives.

This is probably why Musk emphasizes good people as a the key to success. He describes a company as just a group of people coming together to work on ideas they are interested in. For Musk, a group of talented people form a part of not only his company, but a part of his personal ecosystem.

This is something we talked about a lot in our recent Lifestyle Productivity podcast episode. We see this as the next evolution in personal productivity, where you build your own ecosystem so it’s inevitable that you’ll be happy and productive.

Musk dreams big, works long hours, and takes many risks. The tools he uses to stay productive — daily rituals, removing inefficiencies, and creating a personal ecosystem — allow him to do that. Not all of us can design a rocket or work 100 hours a week, but we can use these tools to see how our dreams and lives can become more productive.

Photo credit: By Steve Jurvetson – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/18659265152/, CC BY 2.0

Source: Vance, A. (2015). Elon Musk [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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