It seems for many of us there are too many days when we’re weighed down by our schedules. Once again, we failed to get it all done. The problem is so prevalent experts have a name for it: the Planning Fallacy. We keep estimating how long it will take to complete a project, and lo and behold, the due date comes and goes, and we’re still working away on it.
Keeping it Real with Deadlines
The first step to planning our days realistically starts with telling ourselves the truth. What are the tasks that have to be done? What can wait?
Close the Virtual Door
One rule of thumb that works well for managers is to close the door at the start of the day. Okay, so not everyone has a door, but the point is to shut out distractions. These days that means unplugging: the laptop, the work computer and the phone. Most importantly, the phone! Turn it off – bury the infernal thing somewhere if you must to keep temptation at bay.
So here’s the plan:
- Every night before work, write down the three most-important, “must do” tasks that will demand your attention the next morning. Otherwise, you know the drill: You get to your desk and there’s already three fires to put out and/or 20 e-mails demanding your attention.
- The next day, start tackling the three tasks you identified the night before. Finish them. You may now commence fire extinguishing.
It helps if you let your co-workers and staff know of your morning modus operandi, so they don’t feel you’re ignoring them.
Plan for Realistic Time Frames
To avoid falling into the planning fallacy trap, recall similar tasks you’ve accomplished in the past. Does the one you’re embarking on now involve about the same number of milestones? Is the makeup of the team about the same?
If so, adjust the time it took for that project to reach completion and add time to it, allowing for unknowns. Some experts advise doubling that number to assure you don’t miss your deadline.
Know Your Flow and Go with It
There are all kinds of studies telling people to adjust their schedule by their energy cycle. If mornings find you groggy, that may be the best time to attend to mundane tasks that don’t require all neurons firing at full speed.
If you’re at your cognitive best at 8 a.m., take on the most complex issues then and save the less demanding ones for the afternoon, when most people tend to hit the afternoon lull.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
We tend to think we have to do it all. It may be pride. It may be stubbornness. It may be seriously messing up our productivity when it doesn’t have to. Here’s how to let others lighten your load:
- Ask a colleague if they can assist with a project or two, if their schedule allows. People (usually) like to be helpful, so don’t be afraid to ask.
- If you have people you supervise, ask one or two whom you believe are ready for more responsibility. Let them take on some of your lower-risk projects. It builds their skills, and they’ll appreciate your trust.
Know Your Time Enemy
Sometimes, we’re wasting time and not realizing — Just. How. Much. A salary.com survey found people waste at least an hour a day on surfing, social media, texting, etc. Well, the digital world has a digital solution, because there’s an app for that.
These apps track where you spend your time online, helping you identify where and for how long you enter the time-suck zone.
They also help you track how long specific projects take, helping you plan more accurately for future ones.