Elon Musk Says This Is A ‘Terrible Habit.’ What Science Says You Should Do Instead


In a recent appearance on the Full Send podcast, Elon Musk revealed what he says is a terrible habit. “I have a bad habit–which I suspect a lot of people do–of immediately checking my phone,” Musk said. “It’s a terrible habit, actually.”

Musk is referring to when he first wakes up in the morning and he’s right, of course. He isn’t unique in waking up and immediately reaching for his phone. If he’s like most people, he probably doesn’t even get out of bed first. 

He’s also right that it’s a bad habit. There are a few reasons why, but the most important is that your brain literally has a boot-up process. As you go from sleep through the sort of fogginess of opening your eyes, your brain waves change. They continue to change as you become fully awake, but the in-between stage is important.

When you pick up your phone first thing, you skip past important stages of the process and instead prime your brain for distraction. Not only that, but when you disrupt the alpha wave stage, science has shown it can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and even depression. That’s about the worst thing you can do if your goal is to be productive. 

Musk, who is the richest man on earth and runs Tesla and SpaceX, clearly has a lot going on. He definitely doesn’t need any more distractions. 

Musk suggests that a better use of his time is working out. “I [need] to work out and be in better shape,” Musk said. “So, I’m going to switch from immediately looking at my phone as soon as I wake up to working out for at least 20 minutes–then I’ll look at my phone.”

Whether you feel like working out is the thing you should be doing first thing in the morning, you should definitely do something before you dive into work. In fact, in all of the reading I’ve done about the morning routines of highly productive and successful people, one thing stands out–they don’t reach for their phone first. They do something else first. 

Certainly, exercise is one of those things. Block CEO Jack Dorsey says he meditates for 30 minutes and then works out first thing in the morning. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he likes to go cycling. Bill Gates famously says he walks on a treadmill while watching educational DVDs. 

It’s definitely not easy. We’re so conditioned to check our phones that for many people it’s literally the first thing they reach for when they wake up. It’s as though there are messages or emails or notifications that are so important they can’t wait any longer so you have to check them immediately. 

Except, if you had slept another half hour, anything that was on your phone would have waited. Just because you’re awake, doesn’t make anything more urgent. 

The point is that before you grab your phone to dive into emails and Slack, do something else. Maybe that’s exercise, as Musk suggests. If exercise isn’t your thing, find something else. 

Read a book, go for a walk, or just take a shower and get ready for your day. All of those things help your body and brain prepare for the day more intentionally than just picking up your phone and tapping through whatever apps have the most red dots. 

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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