The Six Productivity Hacks Elon Musk Sent To His Staff

In a leaked memo, Elon Musk sent every employee in Tesla his six rules for productivity. Unsurprisingly, they are good. I had to laugh when I compared it to what we did in the police — and I bet they are still doing it.


Malky McEwan

2 years ago | 8 min read

I had to laugh when I compared it to what we did in the police

Photo by Shuniya Studios on Unsplash
Photo by Shuniya Studios on Unsplash

In a leaked memo, Elon Musk sent every employee in Tesla his six rules for productivity. Unsurprisingly, they are good.

I had to laugh when I compared it to what we did in the police — and I bet they are still doing it.

#1. Leave a meeting if you are not contributing.

Walk out of a meeting or hang up the phone the moment you realise you are not contributing. If you are not adding value — get the hell out of there. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to waste other people’s time.

I once got up to walk out of a meeting — Chief Inspector Chumley wasn’t pleased:

“Wait,” said Chumley, “one more thing. What if we could get the horsey section to attend the town fair too?”
“If you mean the mounted police, that is what they are for,” I replied.
“See if they can supply two horses and riders. That should do it.”

I toddled off. Later, I contacted the mounted section, they couldn’t have been more helpful; they’d supply two horses and two riders, no problem. Town fairs were just the thing they were good at.

The next day I sat in on the hindsight meeting, and at the end, Chief Inspector Chumley asked,

“How did you get on with the horsey section?”
“The mounted division is more than happy to assist. They put the event in their diary and will send two horses and riders for high viz patrols through the town.”

It was in mid-sentence the little mischievous imp that lives in my brain had some fun.

“The only thing is, Chief Inspector, they require a sweeper supplied by our division.”
“A sweeper?”
“Yes. Someone to follow the horses with a brush and shovel to pick up the horse manure. They can’t supply one on that day.”
“You are kidding!”
“I know it is an imposition, but according to them, they can’t do it for us unless we supply a sweeper. Too many complaints from the public if they don’t.”
“Do you have someone in mind?”
“No, sir. Everyone has a job. I could ask the resource management unit to see if they can get someone.”
“Good, we won’t get if we don’t ask.”

The next morning, at the end of the hindsight meeting Chumley asked,

“How did you get on with arranging the sweeper?”
“Ah! We have a problem. Resource management says they can’t get anyone for that. It is not the best of jobs, and nobody will do it.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Well, we could offer it to someone as an overtime shift, sir.”
“Well, just do that. I suppose they deserve the overtime pay for such a job.”

The following morning it was the first thing he asked,

“Did you get a sweeper for the horsey section?”

“It is against the overtime policy, sir; Resource Management has strict guidelines about what they can ask the cops to do on overtime and sweeping up horse dung all day doesn’t fall into that category.”
“Oh, for God’s sake! That is unbelievable. You know what I’ll bloody well go down there and do it myself!”

I stood up and made my way to the door, trying not to laugh.

“Where are you going?” Chumley asked.
“I’m just heading down to the garage to see if we have a pair of wellies that will fit you, sir!”

#2 Avoid large meetings.

Is Elon Musk copying Jeff Bezos?

“The ‘two pizza rule’ is the secret to productive meetings that helped Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos become one of the world’s richest men.” — Business Insider.

According to the article, Jeff Bezos meets with Amazon investors for just six hours every year. And he avoids early morning meetings at all costs.

Personally, I wondered how he put up with the investors for six hours, but the next bit of his strategy had me confused. The ‘two pizza rule’, is simple. The theory is the more people you pack into a meeting, the less productive the meeting will be. Bezos’ solution: Never hold a meeting where two pizzas couldn’t feed the entire group.

I bet you are doing what I did at first, nod your head in agreement, right? It makes sense, doesn’t it? Maybe that is just one of the little bits of wisdom we all need to do our jobs better. Using that one little gem could see us propel ourselves from mediocre to meritorious.

Ahem! Can I stop you there? The two pizza rule is absolute bonkers.

What does it even mean? Are they big pizzas or small pizzas? Can you cut them into twelve slices (12 slices x 2 = 24 people) or do we get one each (1 x 2 = 2 one for me and one for you)?

Let’s be honest — I could eat two pizzas on my own (and I have). That would make meetings more productive. My meeting would only last as long as it took for me to eat the two pizzas. I’d eat them in front of the TV and have them with a beer while I watch repeats of Friends.

Maybe the ‘two pizza rule’ means just ‘two people’, like having a romantic dinner and a nice glass of wine. I mean, c’mon the ‘two pizza rule?’ Does it mean two, four, six or twenty-four people? Just tell us and stop dicking around with pizza metaphors.

Why not consider the flavour of the pizza? If it is covered in pineapple or anchovies, I’d stuff them back in the box and get on with some proper work.

The basic message without all the pizza metaphors is if you want to have a productive meeting, keep the attendees down to those who need to be there. Anyone who doesn’t need to be there is wasting their time and will ultimately waste everyone else’s time.

The smaller the meeting, the more productive it will be.

#3 Communicate directly, irrespective of hierarchy.

Communication should travel via the path necessary to get the job done, not through the chain of command.

Elon is strict about this and instructed,

Any manager who attempts to enforce communication through the chain of command will find themselves working elsewhere.

Chief Inspector Chumley didn’t take a leaf out of Elon Musk’s book. He had this thing when he wanted to give a person a telling off he would tell everyone else in the office he was going to give So-And-So a bollocking. They would pass the message on to So-And-So — job done.

I was told several times Chief Inspector Chumley was gunning for me, but he never ever gave me a row face to face.

#4 Quit using nonsense words and technical jargon.

Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything requiring an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorise a glossary just to function at Tesla.

I once sat in a meeting for three hours. It was jam-packed with people full of their own importance, each with a fondness for hearing the sound of their own voice, and those voices said nothing but management-speak. We accomplished nothing, not a jot.

The only notes I made were definitions for some management-speak they used:

“In terms of…” means, “I don’t know what to say, so I will just repeat what someone else has said, so it looks as if I know what I am talking about.”

We need to drill down the figures, means, “We need to pretend that we will look at the figures and draw some conclusions, but I will do nothing until I get promoted or transferred and then it will all get forgotten about.”

The crux of the matter is,” means, “I don’t know what to say, but what I say next will not be the crux of the matter.”

Obviously, means, “This isn’t obvious unless you listened to my management-speak at some other obscure meeting.”

We need to link in with our partners, means, “I need to speak to someone at the Social Work Department, but I won’t because I am waiting to get promoted or transferred then I won’t need to speak to anyone.”

There is a piece of work ongoing at present, means, “We agreed I would do some work after the last meeting, but I did nothing and will continue to avoid doing the work I agreed to do until I get promoted or transferred.”

“In terms of drilling down on the figures, the crux of the matter is that obviously, we need to link in with our partners to drill down the figures in terms of the piece of work that is ongoing at the present…..” means, “I definitely think I should be promoted.”

#5 Ditch frequent meetings.

Get rid of those regular meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

So what did the police do?

We had a morning meeting at each station. Chaired by the local chief inspector, we’d sit around the table with everyone above the rank of a cop. Then technology came along and fucked it all up.

We linked up to a TV conference call.

Instead of a chief inspector running a meeting for their area, a superintendent ran the meeting for the entire force. It meant three chief inspectors piping their meetings electronically to everyone else, with the superintendent as chair.

I groaned when I heard the news.

A morning meeting that took half an hour to forty-five minutes would now take three times as long.

When my chief inspector was on holiday, it became my responsibility to run the morning meeting. I started our meeting half an hour early, sped through our business for our area and dismissed everyone so they could get back to work.

When the TV conference began, I looked at my split screens and saw the superintendent sitting with the F division chief inspector and all his entourage, the C division chief inspector and all his entourage. They looked at their screens and saw little old me, all on my own.

“Where is everyone, Inspector McEwan?” the superintendent asked.
“Sir, we have concluded our business, I have tasked them all up, and I have dismissed them to get on with those jobs. I can answer any questions you have.”
“Right, okay, um, let’s get on with it then.”

I suspect the superintendent wasn’t happy about it, but I stuck to my guns. It made sense. Why have ten officers sit for an hour listening to things they didn’t need to listen to?

Progress isn’t about being able to crowd forty or fifty people into a meeting via TV conferencing. Progress is about freeing up those forty or fifty people to get on with some work. Meetings drag the life and soul out of people.

You watch the next time you leave a large meeting; everyone scurries off as fast as they can, not to get on with the jobs tasked to them but to get caffeine into their system.

It is a good forty-five minutes before people can function again.

#6 Always pick common sense as your guide.

I had a common-sense approach to policing. I remember being told policing is all about common sense. Police officers should have common sense in abundance.

A rational, reasonable, and logical approach to things worked for me. I didn’t always come up with the best solutions, but if someone else did and it made sense, I was always happy to change my decision or take the appropriate action because that was the common sense thing to do.

I’ll give you an example:

If you have thirteen heavy boxes on the ground floor of a building and you have to get them up to the twentieth floor. Because the boxes are so heavy, you can only lift two at a time. You take twenty minutes to carry two boxes up twenty flights of stairs, but only nine minutes to carry one box up twenty flights of stairs.

What do you do?

The common-sense answer is: take the elevator.


Created by

Malky McEwan

Leadership author sharing outstanding performance through stories and humor.







Related Articles