Learning how much time it takes to do common activities is like ending a lifelong argument. You might say, “It shouldn’t take that long.” And Life says, “But it does take that long.” And as it turns out, Life is always right.
— Marilyn Paul, It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys
Here’s an exercise to try: Choose a task on your to-do list. Write down how long you think it will take you to complete the task. Then, meticulously record the time it actually takes you to do the task. How accurate was your estimate?
I’ve been doing this exercise with my paid work on and off for a couple months now, and the results have been … well, I think one would usually conclude this sentence with the word sobering, but what I’ve been feeling has been more along the lines of disheartening. I consistently underestimate the time it will take me to do something — often by a lot — and I also consistently overestimate the time I have available to do something. And all this wishful thinking is resulting in a messy, often upside-down life — and too, too many late, late nights.
In order to get into a better rhythm — and get more sleep — I’m doing my best to follow these principles:
Estimate how much time you need to give to your obligations. It can take some time to learn how to make accurate estimates. Over the past couple months, mine have gotten much, much better. In fact, by now I can say that really they’re “off” only insofar as I succumb to wishful thinking.
Understand how much time you actually have — in any given day, week, or etc. — to give to those obligations. I need some more work in this area. I have a work schedule, but I don’t know how consistently I actually follow it. More recently, I’ve started to record not just how long it takes me to do a work task, but the hours during which I did the work. How well does actual practice match up with theory (i.e., the schedule)? We’ll see.
If there’s no time to take on something else, say “No.” I’ve already said “No” to one small project this year. Maybe I could have squeezed it in, but frankly, I’m tired of squeezing. I’ve been squeezing since September, and I need some rest. So when I saw the impulse to say “Yes,” even though my schedule is booked for the month, I waited a couple days. My desire to say “Yes” dissolved, and I wrote the e-mail declining the project.
Build in some slack for the unexpected. And oh, I’m so bad at the slack thing. I keep thinking I can — and should — be Supermom all the time. Turns out, however, that the (mostly) unexpected has happened (is happening), and for this Supermom actually to be a Supermom, she needs some slack, especially over the next few weeks, possibly even longer. I can’t tell you how glad I am now that I said “No” to that maybe-I-can-squeeze-it-in project!
What about you? Do you say “Yes” to too much?
How do you keep yourself from making too many promises?