There’s hardcore, and then there’s extremely hardcore.
SpaceX founder, Tesla CEO, and Twitter X owner Elon Musk is notorious for his high-intensity and no-holds-barred approach to business management.
As a former employee once said: “You don’t get to where Elon is now by always being a nice guy.”
Or, as it turns out, always attending meetings.
“Meetings are what happens when people aren’t working,” Musk reportedly told GQ in a 2008 profile.
Ten years later, his viewpoint hadn’t changed.
In a leaked email sent to Tesla employees in 2018, Musk shared his recommendations for increasing productivity.
The letter, now commonly referred to as “Elon Musk’s 6 Rules for Productivity,” instantly gained notoriety online for his common sense tips and straightforward (although maybe not socially acceptable) rules about meetings.
Although none of Musk’s meeting rules are particularly groundbreaking, they’re so simple and easy to do that it’s hard to believe more business leaders aren’t following them.
Here are Elon Musk’s 3 Rules for Meetings
1. Avoid Large Meetings
Size matters, especially to Elon Musk. But even he agrees that bigger isn’t always better.
“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time,” he writes in his rules for productivity. “Get rid of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”
As we’ve previously written, people preferring smaller meeting sizes isn’t exactly new.
In 2018, Robert Sutton, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, looked at research on the ideal meeting size.
He determined that each meeting should have at most eight attendees. Any more and the meeting wouldn’t be productive.
Why? Smaller meeting sizes lead to more meaningful and candid discussions.
“Fewer people means more time to listen to and consider the perspective of each team member,” writes Paul Axtell, who studied the findings in the Harvard Business Review. “Clarity and candor emerge. Alignment follows.”
- Think about the goal of the meeting: To make sure you have the right people in the room, you have to know what you’re going to talk about.
- Set a clear agenda. Make sure you’ve allotted each topic of discussion enough time.
- Ask yourself: Who needs to be there? If someone couldn’t attend, would you cancel the meeting? That’s who needs to be there.
Start from there and only add more people if you think they’d add value or benefit from being in the meeting.
2. Get Rid of Frequent Meetings
Before the pandemic, 71% of managers said most meetings were unproductive, and the number of weekly meetings has only increased since then.
Last year, MIT reported that the average knowledge worker typically spends more than 85% of their time in meetings.
Musk’s advice: get rid of them.
“Get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter,” he writes.
Easier said than done, right?
But more companies—like Facebook and Atlassian—are experimenting with meeting-free days, and earlier this year, Shopify used a bot to go into employee’s calendars and purge any recurring meeting with more than four people, restoring 322,000 hours of company time.
The science behind it speaks for itself.
MIT says that 1,000+ person companies that introduced one no-meeting day per week increased autonomy, communication, engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity.
Still not feeling productive?
3. Leave Meetings If You Aren’t Providing Value
“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value,” Musk writes in his final point about Tesla’s meeting rules. “It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
Musk practices what he preaches.
The SpaceX founder famously stormed out of a meeting when a group of Russians thought he wasn’t serious about buying a pair of rockets, and he once ended a meeting a few minutes after it began when he found out a salesman had traveled four hours just to introduce himself.
But, let’s be serious: This one is probably the least socially acceptable of all of Elon Musk’s meeting rules.
Not everyone feels comfortable standing up and walking out of a meeting or hanging up on a Zoom call, even if they feel like they aren’t contributing that much.
That’s why Forbes suggests being a bit more proactive:
- Convert meetings to an asynchronous format for status updates, quick questions, or anything that requires feedback from multiple people
- Decline unnecessary meetings or, if you’re only needed for part of a meeting, let the organizer know you’ll drop out once you’re done contributing
- Get someone to attend on your behalf to keep track of everything that gets discussed
Just don’t forget to ask them to take notes.
Want to learn more? Find out how four tech CEOs famously ran their meetings and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s top productivity tips.