A critical skill for efficient time management is being able to accurately estimate how long it takes you to accomplish your tasks. If you are able to gauge the amount of time you will need to get something done, you have a better ability to schedule enough time for it. Poor time estimation can create a domino effect that catapults your day into a downward spiral of chaotic tardiness recovery. All it takes is one miscalculation to throw your schedule out of whack, and then you spend the rest of the day playing catch-up.
This is a skill that some people are good at, and others…not so much. My dad is notoriously late; everyone knows to add at least 15 minutes to whatever time he says he’ll be somewhere. You can imagine how exciting our family vacations are. Who doesn’t love a good, adrenaline-fueled sprint through the airport because you were cutting it close getting to the gate?
Striving to avoid the stress that lateness causes, I have become fantastic at time estimation. I can estimate within a minute of accuracy how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B. Time estimation is a skill that can be learned. Here’s what I do:
1. Time Yourself
If there are tasks you do or commutes you make regularly, time how long they take under normal circumstances. The more familiar you become with these times, the better you become at estimating other comparable activities.
2. Practice Your Precision
Test your accuracy by estimating exactly how long you think it will take to accomplish something before you do it. Then actually time yourself and make a mental note of the difference. If you were way off, you need to adjust your perception of time, so next time you will be more accurate.
3. Work Backwards
Once you become good at time estimation, you can manage your time schedule by working backwards. For example, if I know I have a 8:00 am meeting and it takes me 12 minutes to get to work on an average day, I need to leave my house no later than 7:40. I know my morning routine takes me almost exactly 45 minutes, so I need to be out of bed by 6:55. But, I like to hit the snooze at least once so I better set my alarm for 6:45.
Once you become good at time estimation, you will find that your schedule typically works like a well oiled machine. I say “typically” because there are always occasions when things just take a little longer than we anticipate, and in that case, you just call it “one of those days.”
To a happy, healthy, productive life!