On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
Daniel Ek, the Swedish co-founder and CEO of Spotify, is focused on one thing: speed. When he was asked in a 2018 interview with Fast Company about how he plans to stay ahead of the competition, Ek replied, “I think long term, we at Spotify have some defensible moats, but success for us will be determined by our ability to move faster than everyone else in the space. And just keep on innovating.”
That focus on speed and constant innovation is what has pushed Spotify to become one of the biggest music streaming services in the world, and positioned Ek as one of the most powerful people in the industry.
To ensure Spotify always stays one step in front of its competitors, Ek sits down with his leadership team at the end of each year to reflect on their performance; an annual routine which, he admits, can be quite tough of people:
“Very few people at Spotify last more than two or three of these rounds. Which is not to say that they’re bad people. They’re phenomenal people, and many times I’m their reference and help them get their next thing. It’s not personal. It’s not because of poor performance. At this level, it’s never about that. It’s about future performance.”
My firm view is that the best talent in the world is at least 10 times better, if not 50 times better, than the average person. I’m incredibly fortunate to come in and learn from some of the smartest people in the world.Exclusive: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek on Apple, Facebook, Netflix–and the future | Fast Company
With 48 office locations across 25 countries, Ek is usually travelling non-stop around the world. In 2012, he was on the road for 100 days out of the day, flying between Europe, New York and California. When he is home in Stockholm, where Spotify’s main headquarters are based, he usually wakes up at 8.30am and spends an hour answering emails, before making the 5-minute walk over to the office.
In a 2020 interview with Sriram Krishnan, Ek described his (slightly updated) morning routine:
So, this will sound incredibly lazy compared to some leaders. I wake up at around 6:30 in the morning and spend some time with my kids and wife. At 7:30, I go work out. At 8:30, I go for a walk – even in the winter. I’ve found this is often where I do my best thinking. At 9:30, I read for thirty minutes to an hour. Sometimes I read the news, but you’ll also find an ever-rotating stack of books in my office, next to my bed, on tables around the house. Books on history, leadership, biographies. It’s a pretty eclectic mix – much like my taste in music. Finally, my “work” day really starts at 10:30.Daniel Ek | The Observer Effect
When it come to his time management, Ek is extremely focused on efficiency. “If I have a call or another meeting, I’ll just block it out if I’m in the zone,” he told Fast Company. “That’s unorthodox because it means that you’re breaking social contracts, you’re disappointing someone because you didn’t show up. But if you’re really, really focused, those are the times when the breakthroughs come.”
This ruthlessness is also evident in his personal life. “I don’t do social calls,” he confessed.” For so many people, you’re beholden to this social thing, if I don’t show up, someone is going to be sad. I’m just pretty ruthless in prioritizing. What I tell my friends is, I like to be invited, but I probably won’t come.”
Ek also has a habit of writing out his daily, weekly, and monthly goals and tracking their progress every evening. From there, he’ll allocate time accordingly to each goal. “People think that creativity is this free spirit that has no boundaries,” he told Fast Company. “No, actually the most creative people in the world schedule their creativity. That’s the irony. So I try to do the same.”
A 2012 Forbes profile revealed that Ek usually leaves the Spotify offices at around 8pm, “eats dinner out and then returns home to unwind, either by playing guitar for a few hours or juggling a rotating trio of books.” After that, he’ll jump back online to do some emails, then go to sleep at around 2am.
I’m always thinking about what’s next. It comes back to my psyche. I’m never content with where I am now.EXCLUSIVE: SPOTIFY CEO DANIEL EK ON APPLE, FACEBOOK, NETFLIX–AND THE FUTURE | FAST COMPANY
Before you go…
Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.