The myth behind the CEO lifestyle

tech recap
Rooftop view Spaces Hofplein, Rotterdam, the Netherlands | Photography Jeroen van Dam

There has been a pervading myth in recent media and popular culture that a CEO-esque lifestyle is something we should all aspire to if we want to be successful. But what is a CEO lifestyle, and is it even something we should want?

Apparently waking up before even God’s alarm has gone off is the way to go in order to become super successful. Apple’s Tim Cook wakes up at 3:45am every day. Every day. At 3:45am. Cook has said that he likes to get a head start on the day by going through emails, and to be fair, as he’s the CEO of one of the biggest tech companies in the world, he probably gets a lot of emails. Late riser, Richard Branson, sets his alarm for 5:00am, before starting a cheeky game of tennis at 6:00am.

The other is the amount of working hours CEOs put in. Tim Cook is notoriously private, but as he wakes up to read emails at 3:45, and is reportedly often one of the last to leave the office, it’s probably over the standard of 8 hours. Elon Musk famously worked about 100 hours a week, often going up to 120 when it was crunch time. To achieve this, he went through a phase of sleeping at headquarters, often waking up at intervals to continue working. He recently announced that it was cut down to 80 to 90 hours a week, but that’s still roughly 17 hours a day.

But what do these rigorous regimes highlight? Does it say a lot about CEOs, or about the state of things in general? We appear to be geared towards a working culture that favours the early birds, and shuns the night owls.

Our internal body clocks differ from person to person. Whether someone is an early riser or prefers hitting the snooze button ten times before getting out of bed, it’s actually down to that person’s DNA. In other words, we can’t help it. But it’s not just when we feel like going to bed. People’s brains go through waves of being tired and alert. So people feel productive at different points in the day. Yet the 4am start is something we reportedly ought to “aspire to”.

The other side of the CEO lifestyle is practicality. The ungodly schedules and excessive pampering treatments to counteract the damage are a necessity of a rigorous and stressful lifestyle that more or less pertains to only that scenario. Tim Cook, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson have unforgiving work schedules because they need to. Cook wakes up to go through an estimated 800 to 900 emails a day. Musk worked 120 hour work weeks because Tesla was going through a difficult year, and he needed to put the hours in to catch up on production for the Model 3. The CEO lifestyle isn’t the key to success. It’s a byproduct of success. Or a side effect, depending on how you look at it.

There are of course a few CEO lifestyle recommendations that wouldn’t go amiss in anyone’s life. For example, practising proper sleep hygiene to get the most out of a night’s rest. This entails dimming the lights, limiting phone use (even going as far as charging your phone in a separate room while you sleep), and wearing pyjamas that do not get used for anything other than going to bed in – all things Arianna Huffington swears by. The goal is to make your brain associate all of this with the idea that it will be time to go to sleep so you get the right amount of shut eye.

Overall, you do you. Your body clock and amount of work is something only you know, and is determined by you, rather than an unattainable ideal – that isn’t actually that ideal. Your body still needs time to rest and play. And a high workload and unsociable hours can negatively impact your social life, family life, mental health, and physical health.


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