Tech

I tried Elon Musk’s productivity hack of breaking my entire day into 5-minute slots. It was annoyingly inflexible — but I got a lot more done.

  • He works excessive hours and breaks his time into five-minute segments to get things done.
  • I tested out his system to stay on top of my workload. It worked — but was annoyingly inflexible.

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 stay on top of everything. He reportedly works 80-100 hour weeks and gets six hours of sleep. He sends emails while in meetings and when he’s spending time with his sons, he has said.

Musk is known for being scrupulous with his time, splitting his days into five-minute slots in order to prioritize workloads between his companies. He often foregoes breakfast, wolfs down his lunch within five minutes, and avoids phone calls.

Putting Eric Schmidt’s email technique to the test helped me tackle my inbox. I thought Musk’s time-management hack 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 didn’t go full Musk though — I bent the rules so that I wouldn’t 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 Musk’s 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. Musk once told Y-Combinator that he spends 80% of his time dedicated to engineering and design, so it’s unlikely he actually limits himself to doing things in five minutes, either. 

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

Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

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, Musk’s is 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.

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