Opinion: I tried the Elizabeth Holmes schedule, and here is how it went

Among the documents to emerge from the trial of Theranos founder and noted turtleneck aficionado Elizabeth Holmes is a handwritten, one-page schedule full of notes and guidance.

Whatever you think about Holmes — villain, victim or both — she was very successful for a brief time, at least at going up to people such as Henry Kissinger and getting them to hand her large sums of money. I thought this would be a useful skill to acquire, and maybe her schedule would help. So Friday morning I set out to replicate what Holmes apparently thought was a productive start to the day.

I scramble to turn off my alarm. I have two goals this morning: replicate Elizabeth Holmes’s schedule down to the minute (“I am never a minute late” is among the mantras that appear later in the document) and avoid disturbing my husband while I do so, because he did not sign up to be awakened at 4 a.m.. Already (after thanking God that most things are not logical), I am beginning to regret staying up last night to watch “Below Deck” and “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.”

I lumber to the bathroom. I have 15 whole minutes to wash my face and change, which feels like a long time. Usually what I do during this stage of the morning is make a lot of inarticulate grunts and visit the bathroom immediately — something I now am realizing with horror is not listed anywhere on the Holmes schedule. I can survive without the grunting, but I am not sure I can hold out on the bathroom. By 4:06 a.m., I give in to my bladder. I could brush my teeth, but this is yet another normal element of a morning routine that is not listed on the schedule, and I have already taken one liberty.

I find a YouTube meditation that is 30 minutes; my mind is concentrated and empty of everything for six of them. I use the remaining 24 to copy out each of the rules for living that appear elsewhere on the paper, which feels like clearing my mind:

“I do everything I say, word for word. I am never a minute late. I show no excitement. Calm, direct, pointed, non-emotional. ALL ABOUT BUSINESS. I am not impulsive. I do not react. I am always proactive. I know the outcome of every encounter. I do not hesitate. I constantly make decisions & change them as needed. I give IMMEDIATE feedback, non-emotionally. I speak rarely. When I do — crisp and concise. I call bulls--- immediately. My hands are always in my pockets or gesturing. I am fully present.”


There is a cat in the house, and I try to think of how I will encounter her without hesitating or reacting, and what the outcomes of these encounters will be. This seems unknowable, but maybe I am not trying hard enough.

I am already exhausted from the effort of knowing the outcome of every encounter, but I unroll my yoga mat and dutifully go through 35 minutes of back bends, mostly following the guy in the back of the video doing gentle modifications with the aid of a chair. I know that next I will be expected to “change, shower, shave, perfect,” and I can only assume that “perfect” means “attain as closely as possible the standard Elizabeth Holmes herself set with her appearance.” This obviously requires a turtleneck, but I own just one, and it is somewhere in the dark room where my husband is still asleep.

I decide to grandfather in some toothbrushing under the heading of “perfect” and hope, once again, that I am not overstepping. While I shower, I mutter the word “business” to myself, for inspiration. On my way downstairs, I almost trip over the cat — an encounter I have not anticipated.

I don’t have any eyeliner, so instead I just put too much mascara on and sort of rub it over my eyelid, which makes me resemble a raccoon who also doesn’t know how to apply eye makeup. Next I work on my bun. I duplicate the Holmes side part and artfully pluck out a few strands.

I am Episcopalian, which means I feel uncomfortable engaging in free-flowing prayer without a liturgy of some sort in hand, so I look something up. I should be expressing more gratitude for the lack of logic in the universe, but I am drooping and losing my élan. I am starting to feel a strange sympathy for anyone who had to do this multiple days!

A problem presents itself: I have neither a “bannanna” nor a banana, and I have whey even less. (“You know,” my husband said the night before, “maybe this is the sort of thing you should have thought about in advance.”) At the time I insisted it was actually more authentically Theranos not to have a viable plan, and just sort of assume that some whey and a banana would manifest themselves as long as I told enough people they would be there.

Then inspiration strikes. Years ago, I made the ill-advised New Year’s resolution to eat a fruit every day, which rapidly devolved into a daily scramble to find a banana before midnight, so I know Starbucks sells individual bananas, if you want to spend way too much money on a banana. Also, it is only a two-minute drive away. Having discovered this banana workaround, I start seeing loopholes everywhere. For instance, “I am never a minute late” could be “I am always multiple minutes late!” I get excited about this, which is expressly forbidden.

I hasten to Starbucks, where I hope there is whey. I immediately seize a banana, then turn to an employee for assistance. Since I am holding the banana in my hand, I cannot put my hand into my pocket, so I have no option but to gesture with the banana as I ask, “Do you have anything with whey in it?”

She asks if I can ask someone else. I ask a person making drinks, who requests that I spell “whey,” which the banana and I do. She says she doesn’t know. I apologetically purchase the banana and a snack bar that seems like the sort of thing that could possibly have whey in it, but according to its ingredients, doesn’t.

It is at this point I realize that I have been across from a Safeway this whole time. At 6:44 a.m., I begin to nibble the banana so as to stay in the time window. By 6:50 a.m., I am lurching around a grocery store holding a half-eaten banana in one hand, muttering “whey.” (Crisp and concise.) I do not hesitate. Where is the whey aisle?

I return to the car. Fortunately, I cannot drive to Theranos because it is no longer a company that exists because it was full of fraud, and instead of having realistic ideas and executing them successfully, everyone there was concocting half-baked solutions and convincing investors with mumbo-jumbo that they knew what they were doing. Based on this morning, they were very possibly sleep-deprived, too.

Instead, I sit in the car with a bag of whey and eat a few unhappy bites while I finish the banana. At home, I write up my morning. I lie on the couch barely keeping my eyes open, and the cat looks at me with concern.

I am emotionally and physically exhausted. I am all about business.

About this story

Elizabeth Holmes photo by Glenn Chapman/AFP via Getty Images; text by Elizabeth Holmes.

The handwritten notes are excerpts from court documents.

Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of the new essay collection "Nothing Is Wrong And Here Is Why."