Elon Musk's Productivity Secret: Time Blocking
Who is the most impactful person on earth right now?
I would argue that it's Elon Musk.
Musk has revolutionized two large and slow-moving industries: automobile and space. How does he manage several large companies while still finding time for his 7 children?
One answer is that he has an extreme work ethic. In Liftoff, a recently published book about SpaceX's origins, Musk is described as working day and night.
But there are plenty of other hard-working people walking this earth. None of them have had an impact comparable to Musk.
The differentiator I believe is how Elon Musk values his time.
Musk uses a technique called time blocking. It is universal amongst high performers and Musk is taking it to the extreme. He plans out his day in 5-minute intervals.
That sounds crazy, right?
Time is our most valuable asset. Most people waste it like there is no tomorrow. Many of us watch money and possessions very carefully. But we give away time to social media and news outlets without a second thought.
Elon Musk realized that if he wants to achieve his grandiose goals of making humanity an interplanetary species and transitioning the world to green energy he needs to keep his most valuable asset in check.
To get value out of time blocking you don't have to start with 5-minute intervals. Most of our days are not as busy as Musk's. You could start with focusing in on a part of your day and breaking it out into 30-minute intervals. Make sure to account for breaks as well.
When you start time-blocking your day you will most likely notice big differences on how you perceive time and focus.
It's hard to keep your focus deeply on one task even for 30 minutes. Most of us drift off into notifications and other distractions. When you budget your time you become aware of how diffuse your days have become.
Counter-intuitively, you will also notice that you have way more time in your days than you imagined before. When you remove only some of social media browsing or news reading every day, suddenly there is much more time!
Another strategy around time blocking is to theme your days. Musk has clearly defined days to work on Tesla and others on SpaceX. He can focus entirely on one of the ventures while still maintaining high velocity in the other.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, uses themes not only to split time between companies but also within different areas of responsibilities. You can devote one day to product, marketing, finance, etc.
Would your days benefit from clear responsibilities? Could you stack the majority of your meetings in one day, while working on deep work the rest of the week?
One natural objection to time blocking is that days cannot always be executed according to plan. Unplanned calls and messages arrive. Emergencies appear out of nowhere. Why would you try to plan your day if you already know it's going to be one big mess?
Time blocking helps you focus on your most important tasks. It helps you reduce the noise and get the important stuff done. If your work is constantly interrupted, it's time to set up systems so you can start to have longer stretches of time without distractions.
Some days will not turn out at all as you planned. But it's still great to compare those days to a baseline. You can actively compare what happened that made your day not as successful.
Time blocking out your most important priorities means also blocking out time for yourself and your relationships. How often have you checked work emails while playing with your kids or taking time off to read a book that interests you personally? Think about how many hours you want to spend each day on work vs your personal interests and responsibilities. You won’t hit every day with a perfect budget but in the long run your mean hours spent should match your goals.
It's time to give your most valuable asset in life the attention it deserves. Start planning a couple of hours of your day. It might not make you manage the next Tesla tomorrow, but you will clearly see where your time is going and how you can prioritize the things that are most important for you to focus on every day.
Image Attribution: Daniel Oberhaus (2018)