Myth: Effective Time Management Only Takes Careful Preparation and Successful Implementation
Doug has a report due tomorrow for his boss who will present it at a regional meeting. Doug has not started writing it yet, but that’s ok because he has done the research and knows that tomorrow he has blocked 2 hours in the morning to write it. Doug did everything he was supposed to do according to that book on “effective time management” he recently read. He was proactive in his preparation, gathering and analyzing the data ahead of time and building time into his schedule instead of trying to work on the fly. So Doug will not be handing in this report late (like he has before), right? Wrong!
Why? The answer lies in a critical but often overlooked part of successful time management – the ability to estimate effectively.
Although Doug prepared ahead of time, he had completely underestimated how long it would take him to write the report. He had not budgeted time to organize the information or edit the final version. Doug’s original estimate was 2 hours, but in reality it took him 4, causing him to get the report in long after his boss needed it.
The 3 Processes of Effective Time Management
Effective time management depends on 3 different processes: Estimation, Preparation and Implementation. The last two processes are built upon the first.
If you cannot realistically estimate how much time you need to get things done, you cannot effectively manage your time.
You will never be perfect when estimating your time. But if you are always running late (to work, meetings or social gatherings), feeling like everything takes longer than it should or consistently miss deadlines, you are probably stuck in what personal coach, Bonnie Mincu, calls a “Time Fantasy.” Although Mincu works with ADD adults, her concept of a Time Fantasy applies to anyone who, as she puts it, “persists in holding fantasy assumptions of how much time an activity will take, despite a lifetime of evidence to the contrary.”
Are you stuck in a fantasy world when it comes to scheduling your time? Here are two ways to get back to reality:
1) Stop assuming and start documenting
The only way you can be sure how much time you will need to complete a task is if you document how long that task takes you. You do not need a complicated spreadsheet; just do this exercise: Write a list of the things you do that usually make you run late or miss a deadline and write down the amount of time you think it takes you to get each of these things done. The list can range from drying your hair to creating a presentation. Then, put the list away and do not take it out. For one week, keep a tablet of paper next to your computer and when you are doing one of the tasks on your original list, jot down the time you start and the time you finish. At the end of the week, take out your “fantasy time” list and compare it with your “reality time” list to see where you need to readjust your estimates.
2) Forget the race and accept your pace
Do not make time estimates based on some perceived standard of how long a task “should” take or how long it takes someone else. We all have different strengths. When a task is not in one of our strength areas, it tends to take more time. So even though Susan in the next office only takes an hour to write a report, you need to accept that it takes you longer and budget accordingly (or get Susan to write your report!).
Stephen Covey once said, “The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.” Part of managing ourselves is being realistic about how much time we need to successfully carry out our responsibilities. Once we establish that baseline, we can begin to move from having time manage us to effectively managing our time.