Angle down icon An icon in the shape of an angle pointing down. Elon Musk at a press event on the grounds of the Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin. Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images As the CEO of three companies, Elon Musk has a lot on his plate.
It’s been reported that he breaks his time into five-minute segments in order to get things done. Musk has previously denied he does this. I put the technique to the test, and found I got more done.
It’s not easy running a company — let alone three. Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and brain-chip company Neuralink, as well as being the founder of The Boring Company.
Musk goes to extreme lengths to get everything done. He reportedly works 80 to 100-hour weeks and gets six hours sleep at night. He multi-tasks, forgoes phone calls, and avoids unnecessary meetings. He even told staff to walk out of meetings if they felt like they weren’t contributing.
It’s also been widely reported that he breaks his day into five-minute slots — so widely reported, in fact, that Musk himself took to Twitter to deny it in 2018. The claim appears prominently on a frequently-cited 2016 thread on the blogging site Quora. Other outlets cite a 2012 video from Mashable, the link for which is no longer available.
Putting Eric Schmidt’s email technique to the test helped me tackle my inbox. I wondered if this time-management hack, whether Musk uses it or not, could have the same effect on my ability to organize my time, so I put it to the test for a couple of days.
I decided not to skip breakfast or notch up 16-hour days (which is arguably counterproductive for most people). Instead, I applied the five-minute slots to my usual hours of between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
It took some planning
Blocking out time dedicated to specific tasks is a technique many productivity gurus swear by. But this technique is scheduling on steroids and it took a lot of preparation.
It’s almost impossible to get anything done properly in five minutes, other than the odd source email, or social-media post.
This is something Musk himself pointed to in his refutation of the claim. “Need to have long uninterrupted times to think. Can’t be creative otherwise,” he tweeted.
I still organized days into five-minute slots but for the majority, I bunched my slots together. I dedicated 12 five-minute slots in a row to writing up an interview on Wednesday at 9 a.m., for example. I also scheduled time for breaks and admin tasks.
Finally, I scheduled some time — six five-minute slots — at the end of the day to tie up important but non-essential tasks like reading an article that I stumbled across that day.
I was organized and got a lot more done
Musk is known for being scrupulous with his time. Hannibal Hanschke-Pool/Getty Images
I have a habit of making tasks longer than they need to be — rewriting sentences repeatedly, for example. Limiting how long I had for a specific task meant that I got it done faster. Knowing I only had an hour to do it really focused my mind.
It also helped me cut out the unnecessary distractions that can drain productivity, like regularly checking my inbox or scrolling through social media.
But it required constant adjusting — which was annoying
Sometimes you can’t control when a company responds to a request for comment, or when a colleague comes to you with an unexpected task. In some cases, I also realized that I’d been overly ambitious when planning how quickly I could get certain tasks done.
It meant I had to constantly rethink my schedule, pushing things back or into the next day as tasks seeped into time that I had scheduled for others.
This probably gets easier as you start to understand exactly long things take, but it was initially frustrating. I also started to leave some blank space in my calendar to allow more flexibility.
There are some parts that I’ll stick with
Overall, as daily routines go, it’s probably excessive for most workers.
But I will be continuing with some parts. Scheduling dedicated time, even for the smallest tasks, helped me get them done, and left me feeling more organized at the end of the day.
Correction: The original version of this article said that Tesla CEO Elon Musk scheduled his day in five-minute slots. This has been widely reported — but Musk himself has denied that he uses this technique, and previous reports do not quote him directly as saying he uses it. This article has been updated to reflect this.