As the old saying goes, “timing is everything.” Unfortunately, getting the timing right isn’t always easy, and we often end up behind schedule. Sometimes this is due to procrastination… sorry, no “free pass” on this one! But sometimes the problem is due to an inaccurate expectation of how long it will take to get the job done. Why does this happen? A couple of reasons:
* The first time we are learning:
If we are tackling a task for the first time, it is pretty hard to know how long it will take. Typically it is the little details that we fail to foresee, such as the traffic we will hit when traveling to a new location, or the length of the line we will get stuck in. In addition, we frequently underestimate how much time will be required to see a task through to completion. For example, we may need to rework a presentation 2 or 3 times to get it right.
* The unexpected happens:
Everyone’s been there: the printer dies, the network is down, the baby throws up, etc. The reality is that life frequently tosses an unexpected development into our day. In fact, it’s hard to think of a day when at least one unforeseen event doesn’t take place!
* We get interrupted:
How many times do we plan to “spend the morning” working on something, only to be sidetracked by the needs of others. Whether it is a coworker stopping in to chat or an unexpected mandatory meeting, interruptions draw our attention away from the task at hand. This adds time not only to address the intrusion, but also to refocus back on the task.
Given that this is the environment in which we must function, how can we improve our ability to honestly estimate the time we will require? Here are a few suggestions:
1. ALWAYS BUILD A TIME BUGGER INTO YOUR ESTIMATE. In other words, add 10% to the time you think it will take, and plan for
that. This will give you the flexibility to nimbly adapt when a task is taking longer than you expected. If you end up finishing early, no problem! Most of us can find a way to use an extra half hour.
2. SCHEDULE “WHITE SPACE” INTO YOUR WEEK. Each week it is a good idea to block out some time specifically for dealing with situations you did not anticipate (e.g. 1/2 hour after lunch each day.) It may be that you get a surprise request, or you need to make up for time lost putting out fires. Once again, if the day draws to a close and you have extra time, that’s “free time” for you!
3. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS. It’s always better to under promise and keep expectations low – even if the promise is only to yourself! If you feel that the timing for a project is tight, don’t expect your best work. Be conservative when estimating what you think you can do… nobody complains if you do more.
4. BE A GOOD COMMUNICATOR. For the most part, people are reasonable and sympathetic if you periodically get knocked off course. The key is to communicate as early as possible if you anticipate a problem. Don’t wait until the last second in hopes that you will “just make it.” Rather, make a call to let people know you are running behind. In addition, always offer alternative solutions if your initial plan isn’t going to work. Afterwards, learn from your “estimating errors” and do better next time.
Developing an accurate sense of the time required to successfully complete a task is a skill whose reward is well worth the effort: a confident ability to deliver both on time and with excellence.
Submitted by Professional Organizer Seana Turner, founder and President of The Seana Method, www.theseanamethod.com.