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Scheduling Tips for Overrunning Tasks

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Your Questions, Our Answers!

Q: Often I schedule time for things, but the task takes longer than I think, or multiplies while I’m doing it, and then my schedule gets thrown out. Any ideas?

A: A relatable struggle! Happily, there are remedies:

  • Does the task really absolutely need to be finished today? If not, just continue it in scheduled timeslots until it’s completed.
  • Some tasks do indeed need to be finished today (hi, writer of a daily newsletter here!), so it can be useful to have an idea of how long things really take, in advance. While new tasks can catch us unawares, recurring or similar-to-previous tasks can be estimated based on how long they took previously. For this reason, we recommend doing a time audit every now and again, to see how you really use your time.
  • A great resource that you should include in your schedule is a “spare” timeslot, ideally at least one per day. Call it a “buffer” or a “backup” or whatever (in my schedule it’s labelled “discretionary”), but the basic idea is that it’s a scheduled timeslot with nothing scheduled in it, and it works as an “overflow” catch-all.

Additionally:

  • You can usually cut down the time it takes you to do tasks by setting “Deep Work” rules for yourself. For example: cut out distractions, single-task, work in for example 25-minute bursts with 5-minute breaks, etc
  • You can also usually cut down the time it takes you to do tasks by making sure you’re prepared for them. Not just task-specific preparation, either! A clear head on, plenty of energy, the resources you’ll need (including refreshments!) to hand, etc can make a huge difference to efficiency.

See Also: Time Optimism and the Planning Fallacy

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