How to Find Time for Stuff

Wednesday 22nd, May 2013 / 19:10Written by
How to Find Time for Stuff

I started today with perfectly laid out plans how everything will happen. Now 12 hours later I have several tasks unfinished and no hope of getting them done today.

My day exploded because I forgot to include one meeting in the daily list and one important discussion just needed to happen. That discussion led to a task that took another 40 minutes. Adding all this up led to additional 3 hours of unplanned activities.


Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. ~~Lennon / Saunders

How to plan your day so that you can have unexpected events and still manage to get stuff done that you planned for the day. I have tried to find an answer to that question for years and come up short. The reason why I have not got an answer is that the answer I want to get is different from what’s really possible.

The answer we want to get is how to squeeze 12 hours of work into 8 hours. Many of us have come to realize over the years that this is impossible. We are stunned but in the end we’ll accept the third grade math lesson that 12 is greater than 8. But we are not beaten. We’ll turn to another powerful math tool the equal sign. 8 = 8. Yay! Why didn’t I think of this earlier. If I have 8 hours then I should schedule 8 hours of work.


If you are thinking about the work you have to do and scheduling the tasks you may think that you get one hour of work done in one hour. This is not true even in the environment where you are not distracted by external stimulus (phones, people, notifications, etc.). In this case you have some idea how much work you can do in an uninterrupted hour. This means that when planning you take that into account even if subconsciously. That is why you usually get stuff done when working alone.

Enter the evil co-worker. They are hired for the sole purpose of distracting you and slowing you down. Research shows that you get on average 11 minutes on any given task in an office environment before someone or something distracts you. And that’s not the worst part, to get back on track it will take on average 25 minutes. This means that you get 18 minutes of work done in every hour.

How to deal with that? One way would be to get all your co-workers fired. This, however, might increase your load even more and is thus not recommended. There’s another way.

I use 1-2-3 method. I plan one really important thing into my day, two other larger tasks and 3 or 4 smaller tasks. The most important task gets two 40-minute slots, two larger tasks get 40 minutes each, and the three or four smaller tasks share two 40-minute slots. The key is to plan 1 hour for each 40-minute time slots. and use the remaining 20 minutes for task switching, low priority activities and relaxing. Return phone calls, check email, chat with colleagues, go for a lunch, etc.

This seems really simple until reality hits and you really have to get more things done than there’s time. Well… just say no! You can not do 2 hours in one hour. If you don’t do that your to do list will continue to grow and grow and then grow some more. You will have sky high stress and you will feel that you are not up to the challenge.

Using this method will help you get a grip on things, but there are always going to be days when even the best laid plans will blow up in your face.

Give yourself some credit, understand that you are doing enough and plan realistic amounts of work into your day.


Image: To Do List by Beth77
Image: Bed-In for Peace, Amsterdam 1969 – John Lennon & Yoko Ono 16 by Nationaal Archief

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