I’m sure you’ll all agree that Elon Musk is probably the most productive CEO in modern times.
Not only because he managed to successfully fire two astronauts into space and bring the rocket booster back to earth safely. But because he runs Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity – three pioneering, world-changing, history-making companies, as CEO, all at the same time.
Elon Musk is not the only productivity stalwart out there. There are various other examples of mind-blowing CEO productivity as well – Steve Jobs ran Apple and Pixar simultaneously; Jack Dorsey ran Twitter and Square, both unicorns many times over, at the same time.
What is the secret behind Elon Musk’s productivity?
While some CEOs or entrepreneurs struggle in prioritising between different areas of our business, and even among family and work, CEOs like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Jack Dorsey somehow manage multiple companies successfully.
Let’s revisit Elon Musk’s productivity again – Where does his focus lie? Tesla, Solar City, or SpaceX? Marketing or Customer Service? Product or Technology? Hiring or Fund Raising? As a husband and a father, what is more important – time with his family or working on his business?
When you look at a to-do list that includes tasks from across the spectrum of all areas of your work and life, it is almost impossible to prioritise. Trying to prioritise tasks from across multiple projects is guaranteed to overwhelm you.
I, myself, grappled with this for years.
My eureka! moment came when I was reading Steve Jobs’ biography. Steve Jobs would spend one day with the product team, one day with the marketing team, one day at Pixar etc. Elon Musk shared in his biography that he spends two days a week at Tesla, two days at Solar City, and a day at SpaceX. (and although he didn’t mention it, I’m pretty sure he works throughout the weekend too). Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey splits his day in half, spending his mornings at Twitter and afternoons at Square.
The exact facts aren’t important. And the secret has little to do with drive and motivation, as most may think. It’s the concept of ‘Time Allocation before Task Prioritisation’ which enable Elon Musk’s productivity. And entrepreneurs, CEOs or anyone who has to manage multiple projects or departments who want be a lot more productive need to embrace this concept. This is even more relevant for entrepreneurs with family and kids.
What’s the big picture?
Which parts of your life do you want to focus your energy and time over the coming week?
I’m a freelance consultant with 2-3 active clients or projects at any time. For me the split could look like:
- Project # 1 – 25%
- Client # 1 – 15%
- Project # 2 – 10%
- Client # 2 – 10%
- Networking/ business development – 15%
- Personal admin/ finance/ family stuff – 15%
- Business admin/ replying to emails etc – 10%
Depending on the nature of your work, this split could be across companies, projects, marketing, finance, customer support, HR, business development, product, technology etc. This split is not static either. It should change from month-to-month or even week-to-week as priorities evolve.
It is this pre-determined allocation of time across various areas of work that enables Elon Musk’s productivity.
Allocating time to your priorities
I allocate 2-3 blocks of 2-3 hours per week, to each major project or area of life, and schedule them in my calendar. Another term commonly used for this is “time blocking”. These blocks aren’t fixed every week. I’m very open to switching them around if something interesting or urgent pops up.
Here’s how I could split this work across my week:
- Monday for Project #1 and a bit of networking,
- Tuesday for Client #1 and get some business admin out of the way.
- Wednesday for Client #1 and Client #2.
- Thursday is for Project #1 and Project #2.
- Friday for personal and family stuff, and some spillover from that week’s client or project work.
This system of “Time Allocation before Task Prioritisation” works because of 2 concepts:
1. Parkinson’s Law – “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
2. Batching – i.e. grouping similar tasks together to increase your efficiency.
Task prioritisation also becomes much easier within these pre-allocated time blocks. When it’s time to work on a project, I review tasks that I’ve dumped into this project list while processing my inboxes. As I’m reviewing, new ideas pop into my head. Once I’m working within the confines of this one project, I can be way more creative and productive.
Now that you understand how Elon Musk uses this concept to boost his productivity, you too can use this concept to be more creative and productive, and send your own rocket to space!