Yesterday, two events had me mulling my own time management skills.
1. Fast Company published a piece I wrote on “How To Manufacture More Time In Your Day,” which covers the skill of time estimation. I interviewed several project management experts on how one learns to figure out how long things actually take.
2. I had budgeted much of the day for editing an article I’d turned in 3 months ago down from its 2900 word length to the 1500 words I was more recently allotted. I’d done a lot of reporting for that piece and I despise seeing good stuff on the cutting room floor. It was going to be painful…except that I was able to hack the piece roughly in half in less than 2 hours.
I realized, looking at these two events, that I have a pretty strong tendency to overestimate how long things will take. This is rare. Most people wildly underestimate, thinking everything will go right on the first try, there will be no snow days or traffic at 5 p.m. in the rain on Fridays, and so forth.
In my universe, not only is traffic slow on Friday afternoons, I’m quite likely to encounter a 50-car pile-up that will force me to re-route to the airport at 2 p.m. on Saturday on a sunny, 70-degree day.
I’m not sure why I’m so risk-averse. I do know that when it comes to time management, my problem is generally preferable to the alternative. When people underestimate time, they try to pack too much into their days and then something has to give. It’s usually something they’d really like to do (exercise, sleep, hang out with friends and family), or something that impacts the bottom line, like reaching out to new clients.
The downsides of over-estimating time are more subtle. I’m sometimes comically early to meetings and even more comically early to social gatherings. But the bigger downside is I may risk doing less than I can actually take on. Having a better sense of how long things take might allow me to aim for bigger things.
Do you overestimate or underestimate how long things take?