Elon Musk: Prioritizing Time for Reading

30.01.2019 |

Episode #8 of the course Productivity hacks: Lessons from top leaders and billionaires by John Robin


Welcome back! We’re nearing the end, but I’ve left the best for last!

What would a productivity course be without Elon Musk?

Despite criticism for his overworking lifestyle and sometimes unpredictable choices, Musk’s success and impact cannot be denied. After all, it’s a rocket ship through his SpaceX company that Day 6’s billionaire Yusaku Maezawa paid for as important inspiration for artists.

We won’t focus on the work habits or lifestyle of Musk, but rather on one of the things that makes him stand out: wildly creative innovations that reflect vision, one rooted in a deep knowledge of the world, reality, and the true nature of its challenges. With it, he founded:

• PayPal (originally a startup called X.com)

• SpaceX

• Tesla

• The Boring Company (which is far more interesting than it sounds!)

• most recently, Neuralink, a leading-edge company exploring the future of brain-computer interfaces

His life ambition is to die (of natural causes) on Mars, inside the flourishing new colonies that will carry humanity into an extraplanetary existence for centuries to come.

Elon Musk is working nonstop on problems relating to how to advance humanity to a bright future. He has success to back that. Despite problems relating to his role with Tesla, Musk was still valued at $22.8 billion as of October 2018.

We can learn many lessons from Musk, but there is one critical aspect of his routine without which he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere at all.


Reading: A Simple Habit That Will Never Die

We live in a world where information is everywhere. Many people feel they need to read less and less because they can just look up what they need to know.

This is a mistake.

As Musk puts it, when describing the critical importance of reading:

“You don’t know what you don’t know. You realize there are all these things out there.”

When asked who raised him, Musk said, “Books, and then my parents.” He claims to have read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica from front to back by age nine and would also read science fiction books for ten hours a day. When he was exploring the idea of how to get humans on other worlds, he read the seminal work, Aerodynamics of Gas Turbine and Rocket Propulsion, to better appreciate the field he would have to innovate.

Without exception, almost every pioneer innovator or leader has a disciplined reading practice. In a study of 1,200 wealthy individuals, all of them had a reading habit in common. Warren Buffett, our Day 2 champion, claims to spend six hours a day reading. (There’s that six-hour work day again: 20% of his time, spent on what gets him his top results.)

Why read, though? Why not stream videos or listen to podcasts?

There’s science to it, in fact. Neuroscience, to be precise.

In a 2013 study, Gregory Burns of Emery’s Center for Neuropolicy led a team of neuroscientists who used fMRI scans of subjects who were to read 30 pages from the same novel over a nine-day period. The results of the study showed signs that the reading itself increased brain connectivity, both in the short term and in the long term.

The fMRI study showed an even more interesting result: The changes to the brain compared to the activity seen in someone performing the same activity. In short, if you read about doing something, you are transported virtually into that activity and retain the experience the same as doing it.

If you are an innovator or have aspirations to do something great, there’s no more central place to be connected than to materials that will reveal more about knowledge.

It doesn’t have to just be novels. It can be anything you discipline yourself to read with single-focused attention, so you get the effect of imagining that it’s actually happening inside your head.

This course, for example!



When deciding what you can do with your time to improve, prioritize time for reading. The more you read, the better. Want more advice on reading? There’s a Highbrow course all about it (and I’ve read it, and it changed me inside out): “How to Read and Retain More.”

Your homework is to try to read a certain amount in the coming week. It can be small, like ten minutes a day. Make sure you can do it. Then in the weeks to come, try increasing a bit more and more.

On that note: You now have so many new things to do! How do you keep it all together? How do you stay on track so you’re always successful? Stay stoked—that’s for tomorrow’s lesson.


Recommended reading

The original study on the effects of reading on long-term and short-term connectivity in the brain


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