Have you been following the federal criminal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former CEO of Theranos?

Recently, trial observers got to see four handwritten pages of notes that Holmes and Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, her second-in-command at Theranos and longtime romantic partner, had apparently written back in 2005 to 2009.

Not that they were intended this way, but the pages are now a gift to the world. We write a lot about the extreme daily routines of some of America's top business leaders; I just never expected to see one introduced as evidence in a federal criminal trial.

The notes fall into two categories (you can read both court exhibits here and here):

  • Three of the four pages are apparently about Balwani's theories of business and leadership. (Holmes said Balwani told her that "even if I didn't have a natural instinct for business, that I could be taught to overcome that through a formula for success.")
  • The remaining page explains Holmes's morning routine in her own words, at least as she envisioned it, 10 or 15 years ago.

There's no other way to put this: Her daily schedule might just be the most insane and ultimately tragic time-accounting by a CEO that most of us will ever come across.

Scrawled on letterhead from a Singapore hotel (Raffles: The Plaza, where the cheapest room available for a sample stay next month run the equivalent of about $634 a night), Holmes wrote what appears to have been her ideal: 

  • "4:00 A.M. rise & thank God. most things are not logical."
  • "4:00 - 4:15 - wash face, change."
  • "4:15 - 4:45 - meditate, clear mind."
  • "4:45 - 5:20 - work out."
  • "5:20 - 6:20 - change, shower, shave, perfect."
  • "6:20 - 6:30 - pray"
  • "6:30 - 6:45 - bfast (bannana [sic], whey)"
  • "6:45 - drive to [Theranos]"

I marvel at the specificity. I pause at the spirituality. I recognize the difficulty. 

I absolutely cringe at the starting time.

Holmes isn't the only CEO (sorry, former CEO) to claim to start her day at 4 a.m. or before. Tim Cook of Apple supposedly does this. Jack Dorsey did. My Inc.com colleague Jeff Haden put a few of them in perspective a while back.

Because, it's not just how early you start your day and how revved up and disciplined you are that leads to success. More important it's also whether you're even working in the right direction. 

Holmes's schedule might have been especially challenging. Columnist Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post tried it for a few days. It went off the rails when she remembered that she didn't have any bananas or whey for breakfast, as Holmes ate.

"At the time I insisted it was actually more authentically Theranos not to have a viable plan," Petri writes, "and just sort of assume that some whey and a banana would manifest themselves as long as I told enough people they would be there."

We can laugh. We should laugh. I think it was Mark Twain who originally said comedy is just tragedy plus time. 

And, this is surely tragic. We haven't even gotten yet to the nearly robotic personal standards Holmes listed for herself just below the schedule. Things like:

  • "I do everything I say - word for word."
  • "I am never a minute late." 
  • "I show no excitement ... calm, direct, pointed, non-emotive."
  • "I speak rarely. When I do - CRISP and CONCISE."
  • "My hands are always in my pockets or gesturing."

Imagine putting extreme effort into living this way, day after day after day, with the alarm going off at 4 a.m. each morning. Imagine the discipline, and the dedication -- and the outcome. 

I can't predict whether Holmes's actions or those of Balwani (he's facing a separate trial) will be found to have amounted to criminal conduct -- especially having read about Holmes's testimony last week claiming Balwani controlled her and even sexually assaulted her. 

Balwani has denied this through his lawyers. The government is set to continue cross-examining Holmes on Tuesday.

But, back when she wrote this, Holmes claims, she believed what she was saying. Now, she's facing the possibility of as much as 20 years in prison. 

It's insane. It's pitiful. It's a tragedy worthy of the ancient Greeks--perhaps fitting, since the very name "Theranos" sounds as if it were intended to evoke a god or a philosopher or a playwright.

But in retrospect? She probably should have just slept in.