Personal Growth

Elon Musk and Bill Gates Schedule Their Days in 5-Minute Chunks

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What if you discovered that all the most insanely productive people on the planet, from Elon Musk to Bill Gates, used the same time-management approach to get an incredible amount done? Would you want to try it yourself? Here's the good news: just such a productivity hack exists. The bad news is that implementing it yourself, while doable, is a little complicated.

The Billionaire's Productivity Hack

So how does Elon Musk manage to find the time to revolutionize the car industry and also plan to send humanity to Mars? If you're hoping for some easy, adoptable productivity hack that allows the Tesla and SpaceX boss to get it all done with plenty of time to spare for fun and relaxation, sorry, you're out of luck.

Not only does Musk work an eye-watering 80–100 hours a week, but he also keeps an incredibly regimented schedule, breaking his days down into 5-minute increments so every moment is planned out.

It's an extreme approach that's common among super achievers. Bill Gates does the same. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan meandered through his day in comparatively leisurely 15-minute chunks. Entrepreneur extraordinaire Gary Vaynerchuk, on the other hand, claims to plan his days "down to the second."

Should You Follow Their Lead?

The popularity of the approach among moguls probably makes you wonder: Should you try it yourself? Would you get as much done as Gates or Musk if you were just as intense about finding a slot in your calendar for every task?

According to Peter Bregman, the author of "Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits With Ones That Really Work," the answer is yes. While to-do lists are infinite, making space for as many tasks as you can over-optimistically dream up; schedules are finite, forcing you to get real about what you can actually accomplish in the 168 hours allotted to you each week. Filling every moment of your calendar pushes you to make tough calls about prioritization and also leaves you feeling more in control of your time.

"You can be strategic about what gets left behind. You can decide, in the morning or the night before, what's really important to do and commit to when and where you'll do it. And you can be sure that if you decide when and where you're going to do those things ... you'll reliably and predictably get them done," he insists on his blog.

There's a Dark Side

That being said, before you launch into a massive calendar overhaul, it's also important to understand the tradeoffs of rigorous scheduling. The first danger is to your relationships. "Kids are awesome," Musk once told South by Southwest — before admitting, "I don't see mine enough actually. But what I find is I'm able to be with them and still be on email ... If I didn't, I wouldn't be able to get my job done." He might get his job done, but a boatload of science suggests he's also destroying any chance of deep, intimate conversations with his kids.

Second, short-term productivity can come at the cost of less big-picture thinking. That's why Bill Gates famously needed to take "Think Weeks" to get away from his manic schedule at Microsoft and consider long-term trends. What's true for billionaires is true for you, too. If you immerse yourself in an endless flurry of tasks, you'll have less time for deep thinking and creativity (unless, of course, you schedule it like Gates).

Here's the bottom line: scheduling your days more rigorously will help you get more done, but it's up to you to tune any time-management approach to your own values and goals. Musk might be a champion workaholic, but even he understands that the best approach is the one that best suits your particular needs.

"I think it's very important to have a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better,"he has advised those thinking of emulating his time management approach. "I think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself."

For more ways to boost your productivity, check out "Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits With Ones That Really Work" by Peter Bregman. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Jessica Stillman March 12, 2018