One of the challenges of time management is working within a realistic timeframe, that enables you to complete things in a timely manner, without stress or rushed to completion.

Unfortunately, sometimes, it’s the little things that end up becoming big things. It’s the situations where you’ve left things for too long and then they creep up on you. It’s the projects that are important to us, we know they need to be done, but just not now and we kid ourselves thinking we’ve got plenty of time and will fit it in when we can. They’re not urgent……yet.

It could be that the task is actually quite simple. It may be a series of things that you need to do, but have the mindset that you are chipping away it as you can, fitting it in around everything else that you’re doing. Well, that’s the plan, right?

Yet we find ourselves at the 11th hour, and this project is not complete. Next thing you know you’re cancelling meetings, knocking back work, working into the night and pulling your hair out!

It can be little things that creep up on you, like collating your receipts for your business that you need to submit for your Business Activity Statement or doing your tax. It can be doing your filing data entry or finishing reports.

In the back of your mind, you know you need to do it, but it’s not urgent. And then suddenly it is. We’ve all had those situations where suddenly we’re burning the midnight oil or we’re pushing through, we’re having to sit down and slug through something to get it done.

What’s the average time of completion per small task?

So here’s a strategy. This is the methodology that I use with my clients to be able to prevent these situations happening.  I’ve had many clients over the last few years so I’m going to use them as an example.  Let’s say that a teacher finds themselves with a whole heap of assignments that they might need to mark.

They might have 50 assignments to mark. It seems like a simple task, yet they keep putting it off because there are other things that they need to do, that seem more urgent, or quick to achieve.  Typically, we estimate how long it will take us to complete a big task which may be made up of many small jobs, like marking. The teacher may estimate it will take them three or four hours to complete the marking.

Here’s the strategy. What you need to do is time yourself completing the task a handful of times. Let’s say five times. Some will be really quick; some will take a long time to get completed.  We are working out an average. From there we can work out a bit of a time budget.  The teacher may find that it takes them on average 12 minutes to mark the assignment. But then they realised they spend two minutes entering the result onto the computer system. Those two minutes can be a bit of a trap, 50 lots of two minutes are roughly one and a half hours the teacher hasn’t allowed for.

So the teacher will need to allow for 12 minutes plus an extra two minutes to mark their assignments.  The end results are, the teacher will need a total of 11.5 hours, not the three or four hours they initially estimated. They’ve underestimated the time required and set an unrealistic expectation for completion.

Working to a Deadline.

The teacher then needs to work backwards. If they have 1 week to complete the marking and have two hours of free time a day, that gives them 10 hours to complete the marking. That’s not enough. The teacher now realises they need to commit to an extra 1.5 hours outside of school time to complete the task. They may choose to allow for a half-hour into their schedule each day, to catch up on the marking.

The Side Effects of Pushing Through

When we leave things until the last minute, we end up pushing ourselves. We push through our limitations to get something done. This is a form of stress called ‘overstress’. While it is okay to do occasionally, if we do it too often it can be detrimental to our health.  Think of your brain as a machine. For example, imagine your brain is like the motor in the blender in your kitchen. It is designed to work in short, powerful bursts, but there you are, running it on full steam for hours on end to get something done. If you’re lucky the motor won’t burn out. Do it too often, and maybe it will.

The Hour of Power

Our brain is designed to work in about 45-minute blocks and from then it’ll start to slow down. So once you know how much time your project is really going to take to complete, you can start chunking it down. You may want to commit to two hours of work but aim to have that time broken up into 45 minutes of power time then a disciplined 15-minute break with a bit of a reward. Maybe it’s a cup of tea, a walk outside or something mindless to watch on Youtube but don’t extend beyond the 15 minutes. Set a timer if needed.

Whatever your cycle, focus on consolidated time with no distractions. The reward is especially important if it is a task you don’t enjoy and need to get through.

If you would like some advice on how to stick to your goals (and achieve them) book a time for a chat  click here.

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About the Author:

Barbara Clifford (The Time Tamer) is a Time Management Strategist & Stress Management Practitioner based in Alice Springs, Australia. She has spent over 20 years working in time precious and stressful industries such as film, hospitality and marketing. She has always had a burning passion for creating order and making sense of things. She is sought after like a beacon in a sea of chaos to provide professional development in the business environment through workshop training, coaching, mentoring, online training programs, webinars and as a guest speaker around Australia. Her professional experience has included contracts with small business, Not For Profits, Aboriginal Organisations, Media, Marketing, Aged Care, Universities, Health Services and Cruise Ships.