“Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week… If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”— Elon Musk
Timeboxing is a highly-effective time management technique that divides your time into blocks, or “boxes,” with each block used for a specific task or activity in the day.
Timeboxing can help you break down complex and difficult projects into smaller, bite-sized pieces that are far more manageable by allocating a specific time to each task. This makes it much easier to focus without feeling overwhelmed.
This is ideal for both prioritizing tasks and staying focused on the task at hand, which is likely why Elon Musk uses timeboxing to get more done in less time.
Musk, who runs Twitter, SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Company and Neuralink, has a lot more on his plate than the average entrepreneur.
So how does he do it?
When it comes to managing time, there are many methods people use. But there are none as effective as the timeboxing technique (sometimes referred to as time blocking).
For someone like Musk, who runs multiple companies and has so much to do in a day, most wonder how he not only seems to get it all done, but also makes major advancements and implements changes so quickly.
So how does timeboxing work? And how can you use it to help you make more progress in a day than you normally would in weeks or maybe even months?
Defining Your Goals
Before you can implement timeboxing, you have to understand the target. That means setting meaningful goals for yourself.
When you define your goals, you know what you’re after. This doesn’t mean setting your goals one time per year and then forgetting about them later.
You have to set long term and short-term goals. And it’s those short-term goals that act as milestones toward the bigger, loftier goals.
With timeboxing, you’ll use your milestones as targets to help you knock down the most important tasks that you need to get done that day.
While the long-term goals will have deep-rooted meaning attributed to them, the short-term goals used in timeboxing will help you plow through tasks that will help you get closer to your goals, faster.
That’s how Elon Musk can accomplish more than any other human in a given day, and do this across multiple companies.
If you’ve never set real goals, I’d recommend creating SMARTER goals before doing anything else.
Brain Dumping Your To-Do List
Love them or hate them, you need a to-do list to know what needs to get done for the day. But it’s not just about doing things in sporadic or random order.
You’ll need to do a brain dump of everything you need to do as it relates to your goals. Just sit and think about all the tasks that need to get done and write them down. Musk calls this a brain dump.
You should only take about 5 minutes writing this list out. When you write the list out, you need to ignore the importance and urgency of all the things you need to get done.
At the end, it’s effectively a brain dump. Meaning, it’s just a list of everything you can think of that you need to do in a day.
Defining Your Most Important Tasks (MITs)
Okay, your brain dump is complete. Now what?
Think about it like this. Imagine you have a list of dozens of things to do. You could do any of those things to fill up, or even waste, your time.
However, when you write down all the things you need to do, and carefully read through them, it’s easy to find the ones that are most important. We call these our Most Important Tasks (MITs) of the day.
This concept is important when it comes to timeboxing. You look at your list and choose your MITs and place them in your timebox.
When you strategize like this, it flips a switch in your mind. It helps illuminate what needs to get done first and foremost. And as soon as you focus on the MITs that move you closest to your goals, everything changes.
How Timeboxing Works
To timebox, here’s what you need to do:
- Set meaningful long-term goals
- Break those goals down into milestones
- Defining MITs related to each of those milestones
- Plan your day the night before by timeboxing your MITs
The way Elon Musk does timeboxing is by breaking his day down into 5-minute intervals. This might seem extreme to you, but that’s the reason why Elon Musk gets so much more done in less time than most other entrepreneurs.
Let’s run through an example of this.
Say one of your big goals is to publish a book.
Once you do all of the goal-related details about publishing that book, you’d need to break that down into milestones.
Obviously, the goal of publishing a book is a big one, especially if you’ve never done it before. Clearly, you can self-publish your book by posting it on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This is how I publish all my books by the way.
Now, how would you timebox this?
First, you’d need to set up your MITs of the day. One of those MITs might be to set up a KDP account. But, in order to set up a KDP account in the US, you’d need to decide on how you’ll publish. Will you do it under your individual name or as an LLC or corporation?
If it’s an LLC, then you’d need to set up your business first and get a bank account. So there are numerous steps that come into play.
Clearly, if your goal is to publish a book, we can quickly see what the MITs of the day will be. Is this starting to make sense?
Once you know the MITs, you can easily timebox them into your day by planning it out.
Setting Up Your First Timebox
Now that you have a list of your goals and MITs from your brain dump, all you need to do is set up your first timebox.
Start by deciding how long your timebox is going to be. Will it be several minutes or will it be an hour or more? That decision is solely yours. But the point here is that once you decide, you stick to that.
For me, what I’ve learned works well is to use some sensory deprivation device while I’m working. Meaning, I’ll throw on a pair of noise-canceling headphones when I’m focusing on my task. I’ll also turn off all notifications or put my phone in sleep mode.
It’s also useful to use a timer app so that once the timer is done, you can move on to the next task. That’s the only way you should be using your phone when timeboxing.
As you can see in the image above, this sample sheet, helps to illuminate what timeboxing looks like when drawn out. Of course, these arrows are just there for illustrative purposes, and the timing is entirely up to you.
For example, Musk splits his time into 5-minute intervals. That’s a pretty wild-looking timebox, right? But, not everything is short bursts. It simply means that 5 minutes are the interval that he works off. He puts 100% of his focus into that task for the time allotted. That’s the main point here.
Staying Focused On The Important Things
Timeboxing works because it helps keep you focused. The one thing that most people lack when pursuing their dreams is focus. After all, it’s easy to get sidetracked with bad habits, right?
We tend to get sidetracked with emails, phone calls, or other distractions. That’s why I find it useful to do sensory deprivation using noise-cancelling headphones. Funny enough, that began when I first started this block many, many years ago.
While you might not want to spend a few hundred dollars on noise-canceling headphones, I can tell you flat out that it’s the best investment you can make to help you stay focused.
This leads to far more productivity over time. But the truth is that most of us go in spurts, and we’re unable to stay focused in the long term.
Sure, it’s easy to focus in the short term. Maybe for days, or even weeks. But when it comes to months and years, it’s far harder to stay on track. That’s where habits come into play and understanding what makes your goals meaningful to you.
Is Timeboxing The Best Way To Manage Your Time?
While any answer to this question is subjective, I will tell you this. You should experiment with different time management strategies before you decide for yourself what’s best.
However, I will tell you based on experience that timeboxing is extremely effective. There’s a reason why Elon Musk relies on this strategy to get more done than most other people in a single day.
After trying timeboxing, you should also try other methods. There’s really no one-size-fits-all answer for this. You simply have to do what’s right for you.
But the overall path towards a bright future is clear. And defining your MITs for the day, then going after them, is an effective strategy to move one step closer to your long-term goals. Little by little, over time, that stacks up. This much is clear, right?