Elon Musk is possibly the busiest man on earth right now.
The billionaire founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, 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 finds time for regular exercise, two times a week, as well as his personal hobbies.
How does a mere human being manage their time so effectively on such a busy, hectic schedule?
Many people point to Elon Musks’ ‘superhuman’ ability to focus without distractions, or his freakish level of genius. But, there’s a better explanation for his effective time management. It’s called time blocking, a time management method used by highly successful CEOs, entrepreneurs and productivity experts, including Bill Gates and Cal Newport.
Let’s discuss more about the time blocking method and how you can use this to manage your time better, even if your schedule is 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 would use the time blocking method when responding to overdue emails, eating meals or timing work meetings.
I personally use the time blocking method daily in combination with the ‘2-minute rule’ to stop 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).
Time management expert, Kevin Kruse, also suggests through research in his book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management (audiobook), that top performers in various fields, organize their day through time blocks instead of to-do lists. Time blocking forces you to fill up free time with pre-commitments and a plan of action. By doing so, you avoid wasting precious time on a task that could be finished quicker.  Another benefit of time blocking is that it reduces the number of choices you’d have to make in any given day — preserving your willpower to tackle your most important tasks. Now that we’ve covered the benefits of the time boxing method, here are three simple steps to apply this in your life today.
How to Use the Time Blocking Method
Here are 3 simple and easy steps to quickly 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.
The image below is a quick reference on the three steps above.
Here are four quick tips to make the most out of the time blocking method:
- Spend at least 10 minutes filling your time blocks. Ideally, this should be done the day before your plans are due.
- Accurately estimate how long it takes to complete a given task. When we’re overly optimistic about how long a given task will take to complete, we’ll fail to follow through on what we set out to do. This bias (also known as the ‘planning fallacy’) can be avoided, if you keep a timed record of your tasks.
- Breakdown big tasks into small chunks. If you have big tasks that require a long period to finish, break these down into small sub-tasks and slot them into your daily time blocks.
- Plan for unexpected interruptions. Use the right column of the piece of paper, to revise your original time blocks, should disruptions pop up during the day. Time blocking for ‘reactive’ work in this way will 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 high performers who get a lot of stuff done, like Elon Musk, versus those who don’t, isn’t intellect, skill or genetics — it’s the combination of a mindset that values time and the use of 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, even when your life is hectic. Most importantly, time blocking helps us to take control of our time — which once lost, we can never get back.
- Parkinson’s law states that work tends to expand to fill the time allotted for it. By restricting time, the task gets done quicker.
- Information on Elon Musk was found at various sources. These include: Musk’s biography by Vance and this interview.
- Credit to Cal Newport for some ideas on the time blocking concept.
- Time blocking image credit to Tony Wolski.
This post was written by Mayo Oshin and first appeared on his blog.