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Why You Should Walk Out of a Meeting: 3 Productivity Tips from Elon Musk

Have better meetings, communicate directly, and use common sense

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BY Tanya Mariano - 24 Apr 2018

Why You Should Walk Out of a Meeting: 3 Productivity Tips from Elon Musk

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In a recent email to Tesla employees, CEO Elon Musk writes about the production of the Tesla Model 3. Before concluding his letter, a copy of which was obtained by electric transportation news site Electrek, Musk lists a few productivity tips.

Here’s what the Tesla CEO has to say about making meetings more effective, improving communication within the organization, and the importance of common sense.

Avoid large, long, and overly frequent meetings

Musk makes this bold statement: “Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

And while it’s debatable if you could do this in more conservative cultures or if only the Elon Musks of the world can get away with something like this, there’s certainly something to be said about knowing when a meeting has ceased to be fruitful or meaningful.

A good rule of thumb, according to Musk, would be to keep meetings small, short, and not-too-frequent.

In his letter, he writes, “Please get off all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short… [and] get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter.”

Ashwin Jeyapalasingam, co-founder and COO of CatchThatBus, agrees that large meetings, except for the occasional townhall-type gatherings, should generally be avoided, but thinks that frequent meetings can be helpful.

He says, “If there is a status update meeting being held every week or month, it spurs teams to ensure there is 'something to report' by the time of the meeting, that things get resolved, closed, ‘actioned on’ or ‘status updated’ prior to the meeting.”

If you’re having frequent meetings without anything new or significant being reported, “it either means a) the meeting purpose or objective was not correctly set in the first place and the meetings shouldn't be happening, or b) someone isn't doing their job. If it's the latter, it's time to kick some butt,” says Jeyapalasingam.

Communicate clearly and directly

Musk is a fan of clear and direct communication, and argues against hierarchical structures and the use of jargon. Good communication, he says, entails a “free flow of information between all levels.”

“If, in order to get something done between [departments], an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen,” writes Musk.

Open communication is something that has also worked for VC firm Golden Gate Ventures, which, says principal Justin Hall, has managed to remain a very flat organization.

“We don't like a so-called chain of command because we think it inhibits communication, which in turn causes inaction. We emphasize direct communication, and make sure that employees' responsibilities are made clear throughout the organization,” says Hall.

“In other words, everyone knows precisely who is responsible for what, which in turn facilitates direct communication between the most relevant parties. Adding additional layers between people only causes unnecessary headaches and delays,” Hall adds.

Common sense should sometimes trump company rule

“In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change,” writes Musk.

But what’s that saying about common sense not exactly being so common?

Cautions Jeyapalasingam, “…sometimes common sense isn't as common as it should be. Sometimes staff may not realize the reason for a ‘company rule’ which management has set for a reason. If it goes against your ‘common sense’ by all means raise it up to management and challenge it, but it should not be ever unilaterally overruled.”

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