How does Elon Musk do it?

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I don’t mean how Elon Musk and SpaceX managed to successfully fire two astronauts into space and bring the rocket booster back to earth safely.

​What I mean is how does Elon Musk run Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity, three pioneering, world changing, history making companies, as CEO, all at the same time?

​Or how did Steve Jobs run Apple and Pixar at the same time? Or how does Jack Dorsey run Twitter and Square, both unicorns many times over, at the same time?

​While we as CEOs or entrepreneurs struggle in prioritising between different areas of our business, and even among family and work, these CEOs somehow manage multiple companies successfully.

​For an entrepreneur or CEO, what is more important – Project A or Project B? Marketing or Customer service? Product or Technology? Hiring or Fund raising? As a husband and a father, what is more important – time with my family or working on my 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 struggled with this for years. The aha 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. (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 – but the concept ‘Time Allocation before Task Prioritisation’ is very useful for entrepreneurs, CEOs or anyone who has to manage multiple projects or departments. Even more so for entrepreneurs with family and kids.

​Look at the big picture – which parts of your life do you want to focus your energy and time over the next 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 your nature of work, this split could be across companies, projects, marketing, finance, customer support, HR, business development, product, technology etc. This split is not static. It should change from month-to-month or even week-to-week as priorities evolve.

​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 the 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 when I was processing my inboxes. As I’m doing this review, 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 you can use this concept to be more creative and productive, go send your own rocket to space!

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