Elon Musk seems to get most of his sleep under his desk. Richard Branson recommends getting up at 5 a.m. Apple's Tim Cook takes being an early riser even further, getting up at the ungodly hour of 3:45 a.m. And once these and other titans of industry are up, they're usually busy with productivity-boosting activities like exercise, journaling, and meditation, reports time-use expert Laura Vanderkam.

Not Jeff Bezos.

As you can see in the interview below (hat tip to Signal v. Noise), he insists on a full night's sleep and spends his leisurely mornings ... puttering? Yes, that's right. The world's richest man skips heroic productivity rituals for breakfast with his kids and a slow morning warm up. He doesn't get fully up to speed mentally until 10 a.m.  

Why you might want to follow Bezos's lead

This approach has instant appeal (assuming you're not an insomniac or a relaxation-hating masochist), but there are reasons beyond simple pleasure that more people should consider remaking their mornings to resemble Bezos's more than Branson's.

While designing a morning ritual that suits you and gets you in a good head space for what's ahead is certainly a great thing to do, trying to squeeze every moment of productivity you can out of your day tends to backfire. Not only does a constant awareness of time make people feel frantic, but rushing from task to task is also a great way to lose sight of the bigger picture.

It's no help running 100 mph if you're going in the wrong direction. Bezos clearly understands this as he reminds himself regularly that he needs to make only three high-quality decisions a day. Quality, in other words, generally trumps quantity when it comes to great achievement (just ask the world's greatest investor, Warren Buffett, who makes only a handful of investments a year).

Finally, a bucket load of science shows that when it comes to knowledge work, our brains have about four hours a day of good work in them. Which means you can get up at 5 a.m. and start beavering away at your hardest tasks if that suits your personal rhythm, but chances are excellent your brain will be pretty well spent by the time most folks are arriving at the office.

And that's not even going into how you'll feel come 9 o'clock at night.

The lesson here isn't that everyone should get up at some particular time. The best time to set your alarm is the time that works with your particular body and work rhythms. The lesson is that chasing productivity to extremes is actually often unproductive (as Musk's recent sleep deprivation linked freak outs suggest).

Puttering might feel like an indulgence. But just ask Jeff Bezos -- it can actually be a key part of getting your best work done.

Published on: Oct 22, 2018