Spotify’s CEO and co-founder Daniel Ek started his first business at age 13. He built a homepage for $100. Two decades later, the Swedish entrepreneur and technologist is in the three comma club.
How did he get there? Certainly not overnight. But he does have a few habits that contribute to the success of his company and his personal development.
Ek isn’t typically keen on giving interviews. But he did recently to sit down with Fast Company for six hours to talk about Spotify, their processes and his approach to growing the streaming music company, which went public in spring 2018. “A lot of leaders are way more charismatic than I am,” Ek explains. “I’m an introvert.”
As the CEO of one of the world’s most valuable music companies, Ek is extremely focused in how he spends his time. Here’s how he structures his days for his own productivity and creativity.
He skips many social commitments
Ek doesn’t attend many social functions. He also makes a point to politely decline so that people won’t be disappointed when he doesn’t show.
He tells his friends he appreciates the invite, but he probably won’t come. He tries to be transparent and make clear that his absence isn’t personal. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy your company,” he explains. “It’s just means that I’m focusing on something.”
He’s obsessive about prioritization and self-reflection
To prioritize his time, Ek makes lists. He writes out his goals for the day, week and month. Every evening, he checks in to re-asses. Then he re-allocates his time to map to his goals. “I’m just pretty ruthless in prioritizing,” he says.
At the end of every year, he gathers his leadership team together to discuss what went well and what didn’t. Then he asks every single one of them to reflect on their purpose within the company. Are they still motivated? He forces an honest conversation.
If they’re not feeling passionate about their work or where the company is going, Ek is supportive of them pursuing something else. He understands when someone’s ready for a new challenge. “They’re phenomenal people,” he says of his leadership team, “and many times I’m their reference and help them get their next thing.”
He schedules his creativity
Ek doesn’t believe that creativity is a wild untamable beast that appears in sudden bursts. He believes creativity is nurtured by focused thinking. So he schedules time to make room for creativity to show up. “I just don’t have as many meetings as you think,” he tells Fast Company. “Instead I have a lot of me time where I’m just thinking; I’m at a whiteboard drawing by myself.”
If that means he has to skip a call or a meeting, so be it. He doesn’t want to break his concentration. Ek acknowledges that this can be perceived as rude, since he may end up skipping a previous commitment. “But if you’re really, really focused, those are the times when the breakthroughs come.”