In the late 1970’s, psychologist Daniel Kahneman proposed that when planning a task, humans budget their time optimistically. It happens with yardwork: You plan an hour to weed the garden, it takes two. It even happens at Office Administration Associates: We budget an hour for a new client’s payroll, it invariably swells to two.
The weeding gets done and the payroll gets posted on time. Nothing fatal about that optimistic time management flaw, until it becomes your business plan. When you underestimate the time, you’re likely double-booking your time because there are few days when you have only ONE project or client on the calendar.
Here are a few tactics to avoid erring on the short side of the time you budget for a project:
1) Use past experience as a guide, not as a rule. the phrase “it always took an hour, except when…” really means that we should budget the time for the exceptions.
2) See the small picture. The big picture is that it takes me 15 minutes to get from appointment A to appointment B because Google Maps said so. Google maps doesn’t account for you grabbing your keys, getting out of the building, finding a parking spot, etc. The 15 min. is the big picture, the other steps are the small picture.
3) Automatically ‘pad’ your best-guess time estimate based on 1) and 2) by an extra 15 minutes. The 1957 book by Northcote Parkinson gave us Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. It holds true 60 years later despite all our time-saving gadgetry.
4) Delegate what you can. Small business owners who succeed are the ones that embrace the idea that they don’t personally have to do everything. They hire pros to help with the tasks (marketing, office management, equipment maintenance, etc.) that take time away from client-facing or client-servicing roles. There are enough hours in a day when you aren’t trying to take on everything.
We’re all busy. If they plan properly, no entrepreneur has to be late or miss deadlines – both of which are customer-service suicide.
Photo by Catalin Petolea, used with permission.