Elon Musk is worth $20 billion. He turned 47 on June 28, and he said he spent the full 24 hours of his birthday at work. “All night — no friends, nothing,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. Two days later, he was scheduled to be the best man at his brother’s wedding. Mr. Musk said he flew directly there from the factory, arriving just two hours before the ceremony. Immediately afterward, he got back on the plane and returned straight to Tesla headquarters. He said he had been working up to 120 hours a week recently — echoing the reason he cited in a recent public apology to an analyst whom he had berated. In the interview, Mr. Musk said he had not taken more than a week off since 2001, when he was bedridden with malaria. “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside,” he said. “This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
Donald Trump is worth $3 billion. In extolling his own work ethic, President Donald Trump notes: “Don’t sleep any more than you have to. I usually sleep about four hours per night.”
Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo and employee number 20 at Google is worth $600 million. In an interview with Bloomberg, she states, “Could you work 130 hours in a week?” The answer is yes, if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom. The nap rooms at Google were there because it was safer to stay in the office than walk to your car at 3 a.m. For my first five years, I did at least one all-nighter a week, except when I was on vacation—and the vacations were few and far between.
I don’t think anyone would doubt that hard work, and long hours are required to be successful.
But at what point does a person go too far? Musk claims to occasionally work 120 hours per week, Mayer talks about 130 hour work weeks, and if Trump sleeps four hours per day, that leaves 140 hours available to work.
Would 150 hours per week be too much? Where do you draw the line?
And just how effective are these people at the end of one of these long days?
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, sleepy leaders are less effective leaders. When leaders trade away sleep in order to work more, they become more abusive toward subordinates, have less effective working relationships with their employees, are less able to inspire others, and see engagement rates drop on the teams they manage. And, of course, sleep deprivation leads to impulsiveness, disrupts decision making, and undermines creativity and innovation. It is probably not a coincidence both Trump and Musk talk about how much sleep they trade away for extra work time, and that they have both also displayed some impulsive Tweeting.
While there is no magic answer for what the upper limit is for the number of hours a person should work since everyone has different sleep needs, I think we can at least use some basic guidelines and common sense. If we go with the recommended number of hours of sleep of between 6-10 hours per night, and use an average of 8 hours, that is 56 hours per week. There are a total of 168 hours per week. That leaves 112 hours for other activities; if you take out an hour a day for eating and a hour a day for physical activity, that leaves 98 hours available for work, commuting, family, friends, and other commitments/recreation.
So it seems like working over 100 hours per week is unreasonable, unhealthy, and unproductive.
Rather than idolize people like Musk, Trump, and Mayer because of their long hours, I’d rather use Jeff Bezos as a role model. As CEO of Amazon, Bezos has a packed schedule. But you’ll hardly ever catch the e-commerce mogul burning the midnight oil. Bezos makes it a point to get a good night’s sleep.”Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority,” he told Thrive Global. “For me, that’s the needed amount to feel energized and excited.”
And it must work. Bezos is worth $157 million, over six times more than Musk, Trump, and Mayer combined.
Now if only eight hours of sleep had the same effect on me as it seems to have on Bezos…