How to Manage Your Time Like Elon Musk

Throw procrastination out the window with timeboxing


Matt Stevenson

3 years ago | 4 min read

It’s no secret that every billionaire entrepreneur has an insane work schedule. Elon Musk is no different. Musk works more than double the time of the average person.

Musk has been quoted saying that he works 80–90 hours a week, splitting his time between Tesla, SpaceX, and his other side companies. Not to mention, he devotes four days a week to spending time with his family. So, how does he manage his time so effectively?

The Method Musk Uses to Plan His Day

Elon musk breaks his day into five minute increments and has everything pre-planned in advance. This technique is called timeboxing. It’s a technique used by many other people, like Bill Gates and Cal Newport.

Timeboxing is the practice of setting a fixed amount of time for each task and integrating the resulting time blocks into your schedule.

Why Use Timeboxing?

Some people would say that scheduling your day in advance gives you no room for flexibility, that you essentially become a robot.

Yes, you will have a pre-determined plan and less unstructured free time, but as you might know, having unstructured time leads to procrastination and less-productive activities.

As Parkinson’s Law states, work tends to fill the time allotted.

In short, timeboxing creates limitations to your schedule that actually make you more productive.

Timeboxing removes a lot of the choice out of every moment. As a result, you spend less time thinking about what you’re going to do. And because you have a limited amount of time, you aren’t going to waste it.

In the case of Musk and Bill Gates, they’ve probably adopted this technique of boxing out their time out of necessity. They have so many commitments, meetings, and calls that if they didn’t, they’d be lost.

An example of how timeboxing is used. (Credit: Ashutosh Priyadarshy)

How to Use Timeboxing

If you don’t have a lot of commitments with solid start and stop times, an easy way to start using timeboxing is by writing out your plans for the day and estimating the amount of time you think it will take.

Sometimes it’s easier not to actually put these items in your calendar, but to have list of everything you need to get done and how much time it’s going to take.

If you have a schedule with many pre-determined commitments, you might find it incredibly useful to have a calendar for your timeboxing. In this way, you can see gaps in your schedule and fill those to become more productive.

This method can be incredibly useful for students who have set times for classes and other activities.

How to Use Timeboxing Effectively

The most important key to using timeboxing effectively is learning how to estimate time accordingly.

Humans are terrible at both estimating how much time something will take and using time effectively. We’re all susceptible to the Planning Fallacy, which describes how humans tend to make over-optimistic time estimations for how long tasks will take.

A study out of the University of Waterloo showed this exact phenomenon. They asked students to make a best-case scenario time prediction and an average-case scenario time prediction. The researchers found that predictions for both scenarios were almost identical. This shows that human tends to picture the best-case scenario — where nothing goes wrong — when they’re trying to predict how much time it will take.

This cognitive bug is not conducive to timeboxing well. If you make over-optimistic time predictions, you might end up accomplishing only less than half of what you wanted to get done.

How to get better at estimating time:

The only real way to get better at estimating your time is by actually tracking your time. Over time you’ll start to better understand how much time a certain task takes and will better understand some of the roadblocks that come up and consume your time.

You’ll start to see the discrepancies between how much time you think something takes versus how much time it actually takes. From there, you’ll start recalibrating your brain to make better estimations.

Splitting Up Tasks

It’s incredibly helpful when timeboxing to split up your larger tasks into much smaller tasks. Not only will this make your tasks more action-oriented, it will also help you with your estimations. It’s always easier to estimate how long a small and well-defined task will take, rather than a vague and large one.

The Case Against Timeboxing

The most legitimate argument against timeboxing is how do to deal with interruptions that you couldn’t plan for.

“Planning is everything; plans are nothing.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower

When something unexpected happens, alter your schedule and revise it accordingly. Then, at the end of the day, assess your schedule and figure out whether or not the interruption is something you should account for in the future.

Cal Newport actually sets aside time in his schedule to deal with these uncertain things to pop-up in the day-to-day. If something comes up that you can deal with later, having a time-block set aside later in the day can be very useful.

A Crucial Piece of Closing Advice

Avoid the temptation to over-schedule your day.

Please, do yourself a favor.

Yes, Elon Musk is putting in 90 hours a week with multiple different companies, but he is quite literally a transcendent genius and an alien.

This article was originally published on medium.


Created by

Matt Stevenson







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