Photo: Flickr via OnInnovation
In a shockingly revealing New York Times interview with Elon Musk this week, the world learned how truly intense the CEO of three companies is as he talked about his 120-hour work week and using Ambien as a frequent sleep aid, alternating “between laughter and tears” to reporters taking notes. The 47-year old CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, and Neuralink also says he hasn’t taken a full week off work since 2001 and that was only because he had malaria.
Musk seems to be aware of what he is doing to himself as he told the Times “from a personal pain standpoint, the worst is yet to come.” This man is the poster boy for the effects of major sleep deprivation and work martyrdom. Let’s look at all the reasons Elon Musk really needs to just go to bed and take a break:
1. He could be having trouble with thinking and concentration
When we do not get the eight hours of sleep science says we need, we become sleep-deprived zombies at work. We need those full eight hours for our cognitive functions to work at their best.
One study found that one sleepless night can have you act like you are legally drunk. Even just getting six hours of sleep makes you slower to respond, and harder for you to interpret words as well, according to one two-week study.
The lack of sleep could explain Musk’s recent controversial decisions to tweet about taking Tesla private, a public statement that has the Securities and Exchange Commission knocking at his company’s door for explanations. It is hard to think straight when you are sleep-deprived. This need does not change whether or not you become a billionaire who wants to colonize Mars and make self-driving cars.
2. Going sleepless makes you moodier
In the Times, reporters noted that Musk had “wrangled with short-sellers and belittled analysts for asking ‘boring, bonehead’ questions.” That moody snappiness is a classic symptom of sleep deprivation. Even Musk acknowledges this. After calling her question “boring,” he later told the analyst he berated on a quarter’s earnings call that his attitude was “impolite” and due to his “110, 120 hour weeks.”
3. Overworking yourself does not lead to better work
Musk said his dedication to his job meant “there were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days —days when I didn’t go outside.” Musk said he has been logging up to 120 hours a week recently at work.
Being a workaholic like Musk is proven to lead to worse performances. Working hard is not the same as good work. Busyness is not the same as accomplishment. One five-year survey study on 5,000 employees and managers found that our job performance plateaus after 50 hours, and if we work more than 65 hours a week, it sharply falls.
4. Everyone needs a week-long vacation for it to work
Vacations are known for helping us recharge and relax for the long haul of our careers. For us to experience their full benefits, they need to be more than a few days for it to work. A study in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that it takes eight days for us to feel the full health, mood, energy and relaxation level benefits of a break.
Musk is definitely not getting those benefits. He said he did not even take a break for his own birthday, saying that he spent the full 24 hours of his special day at work: “All night — no friends, nothing.”
Without the restorative benefits of vacation, everyday workers and even billionaire CEOs like Musk are at greater risk of burnout.
5. Being a work martyr does not work
People who identify as work martyrs believe they cannot take breaks because no one else can do their jobs. Musk recognizes that for the sake of his personal and professional life, this needs to change: “If you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me know,” he told Times reporters. “They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better? They can have the reins right now.”
The Times reported that Tesla is actively searching for a No. 2 executive to help Musk with day-to-day responsibilities. But just getting another person to share the heavy workload is not enough to pull away from being a work martyr. You have to recognize in yourself that productivity does not lead to better performance.
Being the first to come into the office and the last to leave at night until you are burnt out and crying does not make you a better leader. You can just ask all the people evaluating Elon Musk. Following the Times interview, Tesla’s stock fell by 8% on Friday.