I plan to continue to time and log additional activities because this process has helped me mentally get out of my own way and be more productive. I found that my brain likes to overestimate the time commitment of things I don’t like to do and underestimate the time commitment of things I enjoy.
When I discovered that there was a concrete time commitment for all of my tasks (whether I like doing them or not), I found I could be more accurate in planning. This also helped me be more positive about intimidating projects. Here are four ways I benefitted from timing my activities:
You can do it — it doesn’t take long
I tend to repeatedly click “keep unread” on emails with long chunks of information. I know, I’m that person. When I receive an email full of large paragraphs that I know will force me to focus and take action, I just plain don’t want to read it. (And I have a few clients who send this kind of email all the time.)
After finding out that it only took four minutes and thirty seconds to read and respond to one of these super long emails, they seemed significantly less annoying. The next time I received one of these, I thought, I can do anything for five minutes — let’s get this done.
Similarly, I usually put off writing my weekly newsletter because I assume it will take a long time to compose. I found that, in only 34 minutes, I could upload images, write out my thoughts, link to my articles, and hit the send button. Not only did this give me a great sense of accomplishment, but it also took significantly less time than I had imagined.
The fact is that most tasks don’t take as long as we imagine. We procrastinate because we don’t want to do things that could take us only a matter of minutes to accomplish. If you know how long they will take, many of these tasks become less intimidating.
If you find that two activities take similar amounts of time to accomplish, you just might be able to combine them for maximum productivity. When I looked at my list, I found that making a cup of coffee and emptying the dishwasher took about the same amount of time. So, I decided to combine the two, and voila! A task “twofer.”
I realized I could empty the dishwasher while my Keurig was heating up and creating my morning cup of Joe. Now, this may seem insignificant, but for me, this combination was huge. I spend hours procrastinating putting away the dishes. It takes up a lot of brain space. By automating my dishwasher emptying, I can focus on other things throughout the day. Also, I get a little coffee reward for my dish organizational efforts.
I enjoy other task “twofers” as well. I have found that I can usually finish listening to a long-form podcast in the amount of time it takes me to fold four loads of laundry (one hour and 16 minutes). This distraction makes me feel less grumpy about spending so much time on housework, so I plug my phone into a nearby charger, put in my wireless earbuds, and complete both things at the same time.
Timers make me focus
I, like many people, am not the best at focusing. When I set out to finish a task, I tend to get distracted at least every five minutes or so. However, when I set a timer, I would recognize the temptation to quickly check that email or respond to that text before I forget, but I would not give in to it.
I knew that if I let myself be distracted, it would mess up my timing data. And thus, I resisted the distraction temptation while performing a task and then was more efficient at performing it.
After I realized that timing myself helped me focus, I began timing myself on the same activity more than once, trying to beat my own time. How quickly could I write that article, respond to that email, or order those groceries online? Every task became a fun game to better my results. It added an element of fun to some otherwise mundane projects and kept me honed in on what I needed to accomplish. My timer helped me be more productive.
Increased accuracy when scheduling
I grossly underestimated the time it takes me to shower. I knew I loved standing in the shower and staring into space and that I have numerous washes, tinctures, and moisturizers to contend with, but I never thought it would take me almost 20 minutes to clean my body. I realized that my lack of knowledge had made me late in past situations.
I often think, I’ll just take a quick shower before I do [insert activity here]. I may have, in the past, thought that those showers were quick, but I now realize that they’re not. If you would have asked me before this experiment how long my grooming practice took, I’d probably have told you 10 minutes. When, in fact, it’s almost double that.
This may seem insignificant, but it’s important to know this kind of thing when scheduling.
Accuracy in scheduling is also extremely helpful in the long term. I have 31 different sections of the online course I’m creating. Now that I know that it takes me about an hour and a half to create each one of these sections, I can accurately plan how long it will take to create the remaining 21 sections. Because I have a deadline to have all course materials created by May 15, that means I need to set aside at least two hours every weekday to make sure I meet my deadline.