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The days and nights of Elon Musk: How he spends his time at work and play

CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk attends an environmental conference at Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, Norway April 21, 2016. NTB Scanpix/Heiko Junge/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NORWAY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NORWAY. NO COMMERCIAL SALES. - RTX2B1W3
NTB Scanpix/Heiko Junge/via REUTERS
You work how many hours?
  • Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

If you’re Elon Musk, you may have spent your week running two multi-billion dollar companies, three side hustles, daydreaming about Mars, carving out time to see five sons, and perhaps even a romantic dinner. On June 6 at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO took a moment to explain how he spends his week.

Musk’s schedule has been the subject of fascination for years. How, precisely, does one person run so many enterprises while planning to retire on Mars and extolling the virtues of the video game Overwatch on Twitter? Quartz reviewed years of interviews and articles, as well as his most recent comments, to estimate the CEO’s weekly schedule.

Work, work, work. But just enough sleep

Unsurprisingly, the head of Tesla and SpaceX spends most of his time running companies. Musk has reportedly scaled back his workweek from a grueling 100 hours after launching his companies to a more tolerable “80 to 90 hours per week.” To sustain the pace, caffeine has been his co-pilot. At its peak, Inc. reports, Musk’s habit consisted of eight cans of Diet Coke and several large cups of coffee daily. “I got so freaking jacked that I seriously started to feel like I was losing my peripheral vision,” he says. Musk claims he has cut back: “Now, the office has caffeine-free Diet Coke.”

Sleep, however, proved essential. Musk found cutting back on sleep diminished how much he could accomplish during the day. Rather than skimp, Musk settled into a schedule rising around 7AM and going to bed after 1AM. “The right number for me is around 6 to 6.5 hours per night,” he said in a 2013 interview at Mountain View’s Computer History Museum and confirmed in a more recent reddit AMA . “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.” That period is within the “appropriate” range, according to the National Sleep Foundation

So how does all this compare to the average American? For one thing, it’s about twice as many working hours. The average employed 25- to 54-year-old in the US works 6.3 hours per day (or 8.8 hours excluding weekends), according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Musk, ostensibly, logs about 12 hours per day, every day. His sleep and “off-time” (he warns he multi-tasks email, even when spending time with his children) are about 20% and 40% off the average, respectively.

On the clock at five companies

Musk said on June 6 he splits the bulk of his work hours (at least 90%) between his two biggest companies, Tesla and SpaceX. Three other initiatives, where he juggles roles as a co-founder, investor or executive, consume the rest of his time. In 2013, Musk described a harried schedule of working at SpaceX in Los Angeles on Monday, then flying to the Bay Area on Tuesday night to start work at Tesla on Wednesday and Thursday before returning to SpaceX on Friday and the weekend (or splitting some time at Tesla). On June 6, he said 1 he now spends slightly more time at Tesla, a “drama magnet,” relative to SpaceX.

1
So how do I allocate my time across my companies?

Yes, so I think it’s very important to appreciate that tweet frequency does not – there is no correlation with what I actually do for work basis. It’s like I might tweet a lot of like boring company which is basically a hobby. So I would when you pull out a real company at this point, it’s like three people, some interns and some part-time people. So we are making a pretty good progress for all of that. But that’s just kind of like a fun thing to do.

Where there is like no pressure, everything is going to fail, so it’s like okay, look I want to go up from there. So that’s like low expectations are great. But the boring company is maybe 2% of my time, Neuralink is 3% to 5% of my time, OpenAI is going to be a couple of percent and then 90% plus is divided between SpaceX and Tesla. So depending upon – and it’s probably slightly more Tesla, Tesla is more like a drama magnet, so it’s like so have to do with Tesla drama.

So but on average, it’s probably about half of my time is between SpaceX and Tesla and there is a lot to be gained knowing how rockets are done, and how cars are done. And rockets you had to do work on the very best mass materials, make things super-light and being able to translate some of that to automotive, I think it’s been very helpful.

So it does do some good there, but I just want to reemphasize very clearly 90% plus of my time is divided between SpaceX and Tesla and this remaining less than 10% is everything else.

Family time

It’s not clear how much time Musk spends at home, but his five sons reportedly spend about four days per week 2 with their father according to interviews in Ashlee Vance’s book on Elon Musk. The boys regularly visit Musk’s California factories, as well as go on an annual camping trip. “I’m a pretty good dad,” Musk said. “I have the kids for slightly more than half the week and spend a fair bit of time with them. I also take them with me when I go out of town.”

2
According to Riley, Elon is kind of cheeky and funny. He is very loving. He is devoted to his children. He tries to come home early for family dinners with me and the kids and maybe play some computer games with the boys.

They will tell us about their day, and we’ll put them to bed. Then we’ll chat and watch something together on the laptop like The Colbert Report. On the weekends, we’re traveling. The kids are good travelers. There were billions of nannies before. There was even a nanny manager. Things are a bit more normal now. We try and do stuff just as a family when we can.

We have the kids four days a week. I like to say that I am the disciplinarian. I want them to have the sense of an ordinary life, but they live a very odd life. They were just on a trip with Justin Bieber. They go to the rocket factory and are like, ‘Oh no, not again.’ It’s not cool if your dad does it. They’re used to it.

- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

He’s had less flattering coverage about the time he devotes to his romantic interests. After his first divorce with Justine Musk in 2008, and splitting with his second wife actress Talulah Riley (for the first time), he mentioned a “10-hour dating” plan.

“I think the time allocated to the businesses and the kids is going fine,” Musk said according to Vance’s book. “I would like to allocate more time to dating, though. I need to find a girlfriend. That’s why I need to carve out just a little more time. I think maybe even another five to ten—how much time does a woman want a week? Maybe ten hours? That’s kind of the minimum? I don’t know.” He and Riley reconciled and remarried in 2013, but the pair is parting amicably for the second time. Musk is now spending time, possibly more than 10 hours per week, with actress Amber Heard.

All work, and some play

Musk, who once spent “10 hours per day” devouring books, 3 does have a few leisure pursuits. Video games are a common theme in his Twitter feed. Musk also rattled off his hobbies on June 6. “I listen to music in the car,” he said, before stopping to recall other diversions. “I do watch movies, although less these days,” he said. “Hang out with kids, see friends, normal stuff. Sometimes go crazy on Twitter. But usually it’s work more.”

3
It was not unusual for him to read ten hours a day,” said [Musk's cousin] Kimbal. “If it was the weekend, he could go through two books in a day.” The family went on numerous shopping excursions in which they realized mid-trip that Elon had gone missing.

- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Afterwards, he took to Twitter to share one more routine.

Read next: Simple math is why Elon Musk’s companies keep doing what others don’t even consider possible

Correction: A previous version of this post stated the incorrect location of the Computer Science Museum. It is in Mountain View, not San Jose. 

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