Time Management Tip #5: How Good Are You At Estimating How Long Things Take?

When we think things take less time than they do, what are the results?

  • We create unrealistic to-do lists for ourselves
  • We give other people unrealistic deadlines
  • We accept unrealistic deadlines from other people
  • We’re late

We need to learn how much time things take.

It’s pointless to put 20 things on your to-do list if you’re only going to get three done.  If you would have put three or four things on your list, you’d feel great at the end of the day!  Do those same three things when your list contains 20 items—and you feel like you let yourself down.

A good way to begin to learn how long things REALLY take is to keep a Time Log.  (How to keep a time log).  And to add even more value, before you do a Time Log: 1) Write down some of the tasks and projects you do at work, and beside each one write down how long you think it takes to complete this task or project.  2) Think of an off-site meeting you attend.  How long do you think it takes you to get there? 3) Write down how much time you spend on email and on the phone each day.

Then after you’ve done your Time Log, compare how much time you actually spend on these activities compared to what you think you do.  This is often an eye-opening experience!

Interestingly, people who lack good time management skills also often don’t see that some things take LESS time than they think.  For example, putting receipts in a file takes seconds.  Sending someone an email letting them know you will be getting back to them takes seconds.  Hanging up one’s clothes at the end of each day takes seconds.  But if we’re not good with our time and organization, we don’t do these things.

Are you always late?  This is often tied to not thinking through how long things take.  Let’s take a 4:30 off-site meeting.  You think: “It’s a half an hour from here; I can leave at 4:00.” But someone who’s good at getting places on time uses backcasting, often automatically without even realizing it.  Backcasting is defining a desirable future and them working backwards to get there.  Their thinking goes something like this:

1) In order to get into the building and seated, sorted out, and ready for the meeting at 4:30, I need to arrive in the meeting parking lot at 4:20
2) This means leaving my work parking lot at 3:50
3) Which in turn means walking out of my office at 3:45
4) Which translates to putting things away in my office and preparing my list for the following morning at 3:30 or 3:35 (How to end your work day organized).

This is what people who are on time do!  And they put this right on their calendar: “3:30: Wrap-up for day”
See how different this is than just having a 4:30 meeting on your calendar? (And knowing “it’s about 30 minutes away.”)

Along the same line, instead of racing from meeting to meeting, consciously schedule transition time between meetings.  If you have a meeting from 1:00 – 2:00, put 1:00 – 2:15 on your calendar.  This gives you time after the meeting to put things away, go over your notes, and get things from the meeting on your to-do list.  At the end of the day, your office is still in good shape and your to-do list is organized.

Paying attention to how long things REALLY take, using backcasting, and allowing transition time in activities changes the results we get at work – and in life.  If we don’t have this understanding, each day is more of a struggle than it needs to be.  And we may be seen in a negative, unreliable light because we can’t deliver what we promised and are late, scattered, and stressed.

Try practicing these skills . . .and take a breath.

QUESTION: Are your people doing more with less?!  Give them the skills they need to do the job you’re asking them to do, and teach them how to be more productive with less stress.

Last week a client told me, “I’ve had a lot of Time Management training, but the format of your workshop and the way you presented the information, it all came together for me in a way it never had before.  Now I understand ways I can IMPLEMENT it and get a handle on this workload.  Thank you!”

To receive information on a Managing Chaos: Tools to Set Priorities and Get Things Done program click here.

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