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Elon Musk’s 8 Time Management Principles to Work like a Machine

Elon Musk’s 8 Time Management Principles to Work like a Machine

14 min read

I will not tell you the benefits of having more time. You probably know that already.

We all feel a shortage of this precious commodity and we all wish we had more hours to work.

What I am really going to do is to nip it straight in the bud.

I don’t know how many hours I have spent watching Elon Musk’s video interviews. But what I do know is that I have gained enough insight in his uncanny ways to squeeze out the time which not only makes him an autodidact but also the CEO of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity.

Elon Musk, Tesla Factory, Fremont

Elon Musk at Tesla Factory, Fremont

I would like to share those uncanny tactics. Please don’t expect them to be generic advice like make a list of things to do, keep an organizer, etc. Churning more time out of your day requires a fundamental paradigm change.

Stay tight.

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1. Batching

Batching is organizing and piling similar tasks together that can be done simultaneously without compromising the quality of work.

For instance, you work out in the gym every morning for about half an hour.

After that, you come home and make a fresh fruit smoothie for yourself.

Then you read the news online, and then check your emails and revert.

The above set of tasks takes you about 2 hours minimum. It can be more (depending on the distance of gymnasium from your place, your reading speed, preparation time for the smoothie etc. ) but let’s just take the lower limit here.

Now if I were to batch the above-mentioned tasks, I’d do something like this:

  • Listen to the audio news on my phone while working out. There are plenty of apps out there. Choose any one.
  • Read and respond to the emails while preparing and having the smoothie.

There I saved an hour or a half one at best.


Now, why did I pick this example? Because this is my schedule every day!

  • For one whole day, just observe all the activities you do and take a note of every one of them, no matter how little or insignificant some of them are. It’s a proactive task and requires conscious effort, so just get through it.
  • Now that you have over 90% of your daily activities on paper, try to find a connection between two or three of them at a time. Once you see a pattern, club the activities together or find a way to do them together.
  • Start doing them every day. See which combination works for you and reformulate if necessary. Discard the ones that don’t work.

2. Optimising Email

Elon Musk was documented saying that he is great at using emails, also (although jokingly) that in fact emailing is one of his core competencies.

Here are few really good pointers you should consider.

Keep messages brief and bulleted. Although the CEO of Tesla motors is infamous for short replies, there is a way to keep things simple.

Guy Kawasaki says that your email should provide enough information to answer five questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you want?
  3. Why are you asking me?
  4. Why should I do what you are asking?
  5. What is the next step?

Less than five sentences and it’s rude. More than five sentences and it’s redundant.

Funnel all your email addresses into one account. It doesn’t matter how many email addresses you have for different domain names, import them to a Google account. This way you won’t have to toggle between them.

How to:

  1. Go to the Google account settings.
  2. Click on Accounts and Imports.
  3. Import Mail and Contacts.

Related: Speed Up Your Workflow: 26 Google Chrome Extensions for E-Commerce Business Owners

3. Strictly Segmented Schedule

A regular week for Elon Musk looks like this:

  • Monday: He’s at SpaceX in Los Angeles.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday: Tesla in Palo Alto, CA.
  • Thursday and half of Friday: back at SpaceX.
  • Remaining half of Friday: at Tesla Design Studio, which is adjacent to SpaceX.
  • Weekends: with family.

If you are interested to increase your efficiency, I’d strongly suggest you practice something similar.

If you have a manufacturing business, keep your schedule something like this

  • Monday, Tuesday and Friday: meeting suppliers, finding new distributors and checking up on delivery network.
  • Wednesday and Friday: overseeing operations.
  • Saturday: checking reports of the training and personnel department.

4. A Feedback Loop

These are the exact words of Elon:

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. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.

I’m invested in about 30 companies. The companies that fail are when CEOs smoke their own crack.

Technology, competition, customers are constantly changing. But we have a cognitive bias to think that the activity we have invested the most time in is, of course, a great activity.

What could be wrong with it?

So it’s important to constantly question this evolution-based cognitive bias with constant questioning as if one were an outsider looking in. Without that, businesses fail.

And if you have trouble taking your own feedback, find someone you trust. Find an accountability partner. Ask: am I choosing myself?

And when you find one, find a group. Have a meetup of like-minded people. Together, is how we individually choose ourselves.

You’d be surprised how much it prevents you from derailing.

In 1987, Paul O’Neill became the CEO of Alcoa (Aluminium Company of America) and in just one year transformed a company doing poorly into a giant racking up 5 times the annual income than before.

Mr. O’Neil also made use of the feedback loop. He put down on a piece of paper the main reason why the company was doing poorly. The reason was the high frequency of industrial accidents due to which the injured workers were contributing less working hours.

He resolved to make Alcoa the safest place to work at with zero accidents!

For the first year, he focused all his efforts on strengthening the safety measures, procedures and policies of Alcoa. Every blue collar worker of Alcoa was given his personal number to call whenever an accident happened. But surprisingly, instead of getting accident reports, employees started calling him to give practical advice on improving operations.

In the book The Power of Habit, it is mentioned that he’d sit in his office and make a list of actions that have been implemented to ensure worker safety and then he’d ponder over each one of the actions and make improvements in them. Through this, he took Alcoa to heights in just one year that otherwise would’ve taken more than a decade.

Keep a feedback loop and you will achieve your objectives faster because of increased efficiency.

Also read: 16 Tips for Building the Perfect Home Office

5. The First Principle of Physics

Elon strongly advocates thinking and making decisions on the basis of the first principle of physics which is nothing but boiling things down to the most basic level and then reasoning up from there.

Let’s look at an example. Most people think that building a successful business is difficult.

Applying the first principle of physics on this perception.

1. Boil things down

  • What is a business?
  • What is called a “successful” business?
  • How does a business become successful?

2. Building with reason

Business is an activity of selling something and establishing a mode of payment.

“Successful business” is one which is ethically making profits while providing value.

Business can become successful by reasons and so on and so forth.

Applying this will save you the hassle of self-doubt and will suppress frustration whenever it creeps up because you have built your beliefs on reasons rather than analogy (looking what other people are doing and imitating that) and have defined a path.

Self-doubt kills both your time and efficiency. People leave their start-ups midway because their belief system is not rationally grounded.

6. More Waking Hours to Work

Elon says that although he sleeps at around 1 o’clock at night, his wake up time has always been 7 in the morning, catching 6.00  6.30 hours of sleep.

The chances of your success are directly proportional to the amount of working hours you put in.

How to cultivate the habit of waking up early:

  • Avoid caffeine at night
  • Ditch snooze button in the morning
  • Have an agenda for the next day the night before

Its that simple. Just takes a bit of resolution but hey, you want your business to succeed faster, right?

7. Automate

Elon Musk has a fleet of the highly proficient workforce working for him. When he walks in a meeting in SpaceX, he expects his employees to be ready for anything he throws at them (questions, not objects). This ensures that he himself doesn’t have to bother looking for an answer that one of his team members already know.

Automating your non-primary business work will save you a chunk of time to be used for primary operations.

Say for instance managing your e-commerce portals.

It’s a necessary work because the e-commerce portals are needed to be managed professionally. So, what would be a better option than outsourcing and managing your site virtually? Therefore, it’s not necessary that you manage your e-commerce data by yourself.

In fact, that’s why e-commerce virtual assistants are there for.

They handle the complex task of updating the products on daily basis, designing the product pages, writing product descriptions, create relevant content ultimately that will engage your audience and increase conversions.

But before you go out and get one, you need to know how you can work with them, how you can ensure that the content designed and posted by them is in sync with your brand’s reputation.

But we won’t discuss that here. You may read more about how to work with a e-commerce virtual assistant and boost your e-commerce sales.

Automate and delegate work that you think can be done by a professional and utilize that time for the core activities of your business.

8. Seeking Criticism

Elon advices to proactively seek criticism from friends and family. According to him, sometimes your trusted family members or friends can see certain shortcoming that you are unaware of but they don’t tell you because they don’t want to see you upset about it.

Because of this, you lose out great ideas to make the product better or the process more efficient.

You have to be a risk-taker if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.

Apply these principles in your life and you’ll see that you have more time than you thought you had.

We often live life by analogy and simply assume that what has been true before must be true in the future. Instead, break your problems down to their first principles and you may see very different solutions emerge.


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About the author

Anupam Rajey is a seasoned marketer and sales expert. He is the CEO of Acelerar Tech, a leading KPO that offers virtual assistants for social media, Internet research, email & chat support, and more.

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