Budget for the Unexpected
The above heading may sound odd, but time can be allocated. People who keep time logs probably know where I’m headed. These people have tracked their time usage and have numerous stats to show you. The upshot is everyone has a portion of their day that is spent doing tasks that were not expected. And yes, that includes people that know when to say ‘no’.
The unexpected item might be an urgent client request, mechanical failure, sick child and so on. In my case, I allot 25% of my day for these items. Putting it another way, one quarter of my day includes items I need to act on that I didn’t know about.
Even though I don’t know what items will constitute that 25% of my day, I budget for it. This isn’t to say, I know when that unexpected event will happen because it could occur at anytime.
One problem I still see is people over committing. This may be happening more as people are concerned about job security. If they’re the type that has a “task” or “to do” list, they pile on more items than can be reasonably done. Some get stressed or depressed when they don’t mark everything as completed.
Building a Time Buffer
One way to determine how big a buffer you need is to do time logs or activity logs. I realize this is a time-consuming process in itself that requires discipline. I hated the process each time I’ve done it, but found the results worthwhile. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try approximating a percentage and adjust as needed.
There are various ways to build this buffer into your schedule. I’m fortunate that my work offers flexibility. Some people have very rigid schedules which pose additional challenges.
Two methods that have worked for me include:
Make private appointments with yourself. This method works well if you’re in an office environment that has a shared work calendar. Essentially, the time block becomes unavailable for others to book. Your unexpected events won’t happen during this time period, but you can reserve it to work on the day’s high priority items.
Determine task durations for the day. By “task”, I mean a discrete actionable item such as “writing draft copy” instead of “write article”. As example, the entire process for me to post an article takes between 10 and 15 tasks. I often don’t know how long the draft will take, but I can allocate a block of time towards the task.
I repeat this process for each item I want to accomplish that day. Some people find it helpful to schedule the task on their calendar for the estimated duration. One advantage to this approach is it gives you a visual perspective and may be easier to determine if you’re attempting too much.
For people that regularly read the site, you’ve noticed I’ve been writing less. The reason is because of other commitments and my buffer wasn’t big enough. While 25% had worked for years, the last 3 months it jumped much higher. If I kept time logs, I could give a more precise figure.
I think part of this rise relates to the economy. For a bit, people went into a panic mode and were starting and stopping projects. This meant projects I had neatly spaced apart collided. Regardless of the cause, I got into a squeeze and some things had to give. Writing was one casualty.
I don’t think you can force people into a time management system. People have to find their own way and see what works. Hopefully, this time tip will provide value. A short book that I’m reading now that offers related ideas is, “This Year I Will…” by M.J. Ryan. The cover states it pretty well as “how to finally change a habit, keep a resolution, or make a dream come true”. Each chapter is about 3 pages which makes it easy to digest. My guess is that regardless of your style, you’ll find something in the book that will click.
I’m also believer that bad things lead to good things. The recent events have made me realize how much I like the site and need to make it a higher priority. (Actually, I better as I have a lot of time invested in back-end changes and a test server.)
Last Updated (Friday, 18 June 2010 17:20)