Elon Musk is possibly the busiest man on earth right now.
The billionaire founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, usually spends up to 100 hours a week on both companies — whilst plotting to transport humans to mars and chowing down lunch meals within 5 minutes before getting back to his work.
Musk is also a family man who spends up to four days each week with his five children. He also manages to find time for regular exercise two times a week, as well as on his personal hobbies.
How does a mere human being manage their time so effectively to stay highly productive on such a busy, hectic schedule?
Some people would point to Elon Musk’s “superhuman” ability to focus without distractions or his freakish level of genius. But, there’s a better explanation for his highly effective time management.
This is a method called time blocking, which has been used by other CEO’s and productivity experts including Bill Gates and Cal Newport.
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Let’s discuss more about this time blocking method and how you can use this to manage your time better even if your schedule is busy and hectic.
Managing time better with time blocking
From the second Elon Musk’s head lifts off his bedroom pillow at 7 a.m., his day has already been pre-planned in advance. There’s no room for random interruptions — there are no blocks of time left unscheduled.
Using the time blocking method, Musk intentionally plans his day out in five-minute increments or ‘time blocks.’ Each time block is assigned with a specific task or activity.
For example, Musk could use the time blocking method when responding to overdue emails, eating meals or timing work meetings.
Time management expert, Kevin Kruse, also suggests through his research shown within his book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, that top performers organize their day through time blocks instead of to-do lists.
I personally use the time blocking method daily in combination with the ‘2-minute rule’ to stop wasting time by procrastinating and stay productive throughout my day.
For some tasks—like writing the draft of this article — I’d use the time blocking method to create 24, 5-minute blocks (that adds up to 2 hours).
Unfortunately, as simple as this method may seem, it has its fair share of criticism or objections to why you should use this for time management.
One major criticism is that scheduling every time slot in your day will be too robotic and tedious, but this misses the purpose of time blocking.
Time blocking forces you to fill up free time with pre-commitments and a plan of action. In doing so, you would also avoid the effects of the Parkinson’s law which states that work tends to expand to fill the time allotted for it.
In other words, you’re more likely to be productive on a given task the less time you have to get it done.
Another benefit of time blocking is that it reduces the number of choices you’d have to make in any given moment — boosting your willpower for peak productivity.
If you’re somewhat now convinced about the time boxing method, here’s a simple way to apply this in your life today.
How to use the time blocking method
Here are 3 simple and easy steps to apply the time blocking method.
Step 1: Divide a piece of ruled paper into two columns. On the left column allocate every two lines to each hour or 5-minute block of the day (whichever you prefer).
Step 2: Estimate the amount of time each task is going to take to complete, then write these tasks on the left column with their respective time blocks. Optional: add commentary notes in the corresponding right column.
Step 3: Add buffer times or extra room around each time block to allow for adjustments or unexpected activities.
That’s it. It’s that simple.
There are a few concerns or success factors to discuss briefly.
Ideally, to achieve effective time blocking, you should spend up to 10 minutes the previous evening completing your time blocks for the next day.
It’s also important that as much as possible in Step 2 above, you avoid the mental optimistic bias of underestimating how long the completion of a task would require.
When we’re too optimistic about how long a given task is going to take, we fail to completely follow through on what we set out to do.
This bias (also known as the ‘planning fallacy’) can be avoided by simply keeping a timed record of how long your daily activities take to complete.
For example, when I first started to introduce sprint training into my weekly exercise routine, I’d time each of my sessions for a month. On average, I estimated that a full sprint workout would last for 15 minutes. This estimation helped me to effectively time block in my daily schedule.
On another note, as it should go without saying, the bigger your task load, the more difficult it would be to use the time blocking method. Conversely, the smaller the task at hand, the easier it will be to fit into a small 5-minute time block slot.
If you have bigger tasks to complete that may require a long time to complete, simply break these down into smaller subtasks and slot them into your time blocks.
Finally, make sure to ensure that your time blocking plan will help you to manage and deal with interruptions effectively.
The best way to do this is to use the right column of the piece of paper to revise your plan should there be changes or interruptions during the day.
At the same time, designate or create buffer time blocks on your schedule for interruptions as noted in Step 3.
Time blocking for ‘reactive’ work in this way could also help you to avoid overwhelm, reduce stress and stay focused throughout the day.
Block your time or lose it forever
We all have the same 24 hours in any given day. The difference between those who get a lot done, like Elon Musk, versus those who don’t isn’t intellect or genetics — it’s a combination of a mindset that values time and an effective time management method like time blocking.
Time blocking is a simple, flexible and effective way to help you to manage your time better and stay productive on a daily basis.
The purpose of time blocking isn’t to perfectly complete each and every task planned for the day. The purpose is to encourage us to make plans that will help us to take charge of the direction of your lives.
Most importantly, time blocking helps us to take control of our time — which once lost, we can never get back.
Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical self-improvement ideas and proven science for better health, productivity and creativity. To get practical ideas on how to stop procrastinating and build healthy habits, you can join his free weekly newsletter here.
A version of this article originally appeared at mayooshin.com as “Elon Musk’s “Time Blocking” Method: How to Manage Time Effectively Even If Your Schedule Is Hectic.“
- Information on Elon Musk was found at various sources. These include: Musk’s biography by Vance, this interview, Independent article, business insider piece.
- Credit to Cal Newport for some ideas on the time blocking concept.
- Time blocking image credit to Tony Wolski.