You and Elon Musk have one thing in common; you both have 24 hours available to you in a day. Perhaps the resemblances end there, or perhaps you are one of the lucky few who have productivity and time-management down to a fine art. Lucky you!
However, the vast majority of people end the day having not quite accomplished all they intended, or if they did, maybe their goals were not that ambitious to begin with.
So what separates over-achievers like Elon Musk, who works over 80 hours a week, from the rest of us mere mortals? Drive is certainly a factor, but even the most motivated person has a finite amount of time.
The trick is to make the most of that time, scheduling it in a way that allows you to squeeze the value out of every single minute. The term ‘time flies’ exists for a reason; if you don’t pay attention it has a nasty habit of flying away on you. Before you even realize it, 5pm has arrived and you are halfway down your checklist.
So what's the solution? Well, if you ask people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates, their response will be Timeboxing.
What is Timeboxing?
This is the act of creating small boxes of time and then assigning a certain amount of these to a task. For example, Musk uses a timebox of 5 minutes. He then decides how many of these will be required to complete a particular task, and this is then added to his schedule. He then structures his entire day this way, filling up all available gaps.
This might seem very limiting, but it can be a positive thing. Being strict with the amount of time you allow a task to take is very important for productivity. As Parkinson's Law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for it”. If a task should take 5 minutes and you schedule 15 minutes for it, 15 minutes is how long it will take. Musk is strict with his time, so as to avoid this problem.
Another benefit of tightly scheduling your day in this manner is that you never have to pause multiple times per day to decide what you should do next; it is all laid out right in front of you. You just need to stick to the plan, so nothing slips through the cracks.
How to Timebox your day:
There are variations on the process, but all follow a similar pattern:
- Write out a list of everything you need to achieve that day. Include tasks, meetings, and even breaks.
- Go through the list and decide how many 5 minute timeboxes will be required to complete each task.
- Add a couple of additional timeboxes called ‘Reactionary Time’. These are in case you need to rework parts of your schedule midday to adapt for any last-minute changes. Even your possible delays should be scheduled. A couple of 5-minute boxes should be enough.
- Insert them into your calendar of choice in the most logical order.
- Stick religiously to your plan.
What are some of the criticisms of this method, and what’s the solution?
Great question! Since this is a very rigid ‘down to the minute’ way of organizing your day, it leaves very little room for maneuvering, and you may not always be able to exactly predict how long a particular task will take.
Sure, if you have specific tasks that you routinely do you will develop a good gauge as to how many blocks will be required, but it is not always possible and you may be over-optimistic on some tasks and occasionally run over your timebox, sending the whole system into disarray.
If you are one of the lucky people who get to dictate what you do and when for an entire day, then timeboxing can be quite straightforward. However, if you work in a job where you may have to take impromptu calls with clients or meetings with colleagues, you will need to frequently rearrange your timebox plan so everything still gets done.
Realistically, most people will either spend more time on a task than they expect, or get called away in the middle of a timebox, creating a ‘Domino effect’ delay on everything else that follows. This can happen multiple times a day, and rearranging things every time can be incredibly time consuming and stressful.
Luckily there is a solution for this, and when used in conjunction with the Timeboxing method, you will be able to adapt to anything quickly, and efficiently make use of every minute of your day. Hyper-scheduling is that solution.
What is Hyper-Scheduling?
As suggested with the word ‘Hyper’, this is a lightning fast way of creating and then readjusting your entire schedule at once should a meeting run-over, or a task take 1 or 2 extra timeboxes than you had predicted.
This is just one of the many things that Sorted³ does. In fact, every step of the Timeboxing method can be done within Sorted³.
- Quickly write down all your tasks and assign an amount of time to each.
- Drag them into your preferred order.
- Using our ‘Auto-schedule’ function you can choose a start time for your workday, and every task will be scheduled based on the timeboxes assigned to them.
- This is where the magic happens: If one of your tasks runs over by 5, 10, or any amount of minutes, you can select every other scheduled task in one go to be repositioned to the new times. It takes a matter of seconds.
- If you would like to swap the order of a task, you can just drag it to a new position and all the times will readjust accordingly.
So you can see how Timeboxing, when coupled with Hyper-Scheduling, can become an incredibly powerful and efficient way of making sure you reach your daily goals.
A Cure for Burnout:
No human can work 40 hours a week at Tesla, 40 hours a week at SpaceX, keep on top of a few other companies, and still manage to spend time with the family without carefully managing every moment of the day.
Most of us have nowhere near as much responsibility as Elon Musk, but we often feel overworked and drained. This is not because of how much we have to do, but how inefficiently we do it.
Over the past decade Swedish companies have been experimenting with the idea of the 7-hour or 6-hour workday. The idea was to work more efficiently, not longer hours. They consistently found that if the work week was shorter, productivity increased. Employees were able to get extra sleep and spend more time with family and friends. So when they came to work, they were well rested and happy. A person in this state will achieve more in 6 hours than a tired person can in 8.
Timeboxing can not only be used for getting more done in your 8-hour workday, but can also be used for getting 8 hours of work completed in 6, leaving you with more leisure time and family time.
Is Timeboxing for me?
Definitely! As you can see above, it is not only for those who want to achieve more, but for those who want to finish their current workload in less time.
We hope you have fun testing out this method and that you reap the rewards both professionally and personally.
James manages the Twitter account for Sorted³, and periodically contributes to the Blog.