I loved this comment from Jenn yesterday:
“. . . Your comment about time blocking yesterday reminded me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask you. I am an obliger who constantly over-commits myself at work. I have been trying to block time to work on big projects, but I find that I am terrible at estimating how long a project will take me (I always seem to underestimate). This leads me to get frustrated with feelilng like I didn’t accomplish much, since my time blocks weren’t accurate. Do you have any suggestions at getting better at know how long certain tasks will take? Similarly, I struggle with massive to do lists and feeling paralyzed by how to start.”
OMDG (who I consider one of the most productive people around!) noted that she felt similarly about estimating time.
I find this topic (not surprisingly) fascinating. I feel I am actually very good at estimating how long things take though do fall into the temptation of sometime striving to sneak in just one more thing — which even if it works, turns the whole thing into a sort of race because the pieces just fit.
I am not sure if this is just because of the nature of my job and the things I do, my willingness to do a rather imperfect job at some things, or something else.
Commenter Kathy provided two great ideas:
1. You know that you underestimate the time you need. So try estimating the time you will need. Then multiply your estimate by 2. You can experiment and see if that is the correct factor.
I don’t know if Kathy is a Cal Newport listener, but he has suggested this on his podcast. It’s an interesting idea. If you finish early, you might want to have a list of other more nebulous tasks you can go to — or just reward yourself and spend that time on reading or other more exploratory pursuits.
2. Spend a week or so collecting data by tracking your time . How long does it take you to do different tasks? Just view this as collecting information without trying to shoehorn tasks into designated slots. This is very Laura Vanderkam-inspired 🙂 If you don’t want to track every minute (I am actually terrible at this!), you could keep a little table going of common work tasks and how long they take.
I actually saw this on instagram on a bullet journal blog written by a psychology professor (have NO IDEA who it was, or I’d link it!). She had a list of her most common work tasks and a time amount next to each one on a (beautifully-laid-out) bullet journal page. This might be something to think about paying attention to.
I know that I AM good about paying attention to repetitive tasks (and multiplying to create reasonable estimates). If it takes 8 minutes to review a residency applicant, then 15 of them will take 2 hours (8 x 15 = 120 minutes). If a patient note takes 6-10 minutes, catching up on 5 will take up to an hour. Sometimes knowing what the whole batch should take is motivating for me to say on task to see if I can get through it.
Energy matters, too. In the morning I can do certain things very quickly (write out a meeting agenda, write a blog post, edit a presentation). Some of these things would take me much longer in the afternoon when I am no longer very fresh or energetic. I admit I often forget to take this into account when creating estimates, but it can be beneficial to schedule the more mentally challenging tasks for whenever you are typically in your top mode.
Finally, I’d add — if you aren’t already, try writing it out with the times physically on a piece of paper, in a document, or in a planner. Sometimes it’s easy to put 10 things on a list but when you actually go to assign them blocks of time it quickly becomes clear that the number of items just isn’t realistic.
Other ideas? I know you have them!!!
Also, this kind of makes me laugh now:
Ha. Maybe next year.