Timing Common Tasks to Fight the Mind

October 15, 2020
Posted in Focus
October 15, 2020 Zach Parcell

You are faced with a number of routine or repetitive tasks every day. From brushing your teeth and folding laundry to making a morning coffee and mowing the lawn these are regular reoccurring events that appear to take up a sizable amount of time. We try and plan out when these tasks will take place and work around them to ensure we have enough time to do it.

Key Takeaways

  • Tasks often take less time than you assume
  • Knowing how long things take leads to more efficiency
  • Timing yourself gives you the reality

Quite often your brain will start to tell you that these routine tasks take longer than they actually do. This concept starts to snowball in your head and you’ll soon arrive at “I don’t have enough time” for a task that takes much less time than you realize.

Focusing on how long something actually takes you will help you fight your brain’s false messages and help you understand just how much time you have.

Time Tracking vs. Timing

The habit of time tracking is a sure fire way to learn what you are spending time on and just how much time everything is taking you. Time tracking gets a bad rap from the micromanaging supervisors who ask their teams to track their time. It actually is a compelling tool, but the idea of timing common tasks is not the same thing.

Our goal here is to time how long it takes you to do these recurring tasks so you can better understand how much time you need to budget for and how you likely have more time than you think.

Time Starts… Now

The first step to timing things correctly is to realize when the task actually begins. It isn’t when you have everything ready to go and lined up in front of you. You’ve already begun the task at this point. If you’re mowing the lawn, it isn’t when you pull the starter cord. It’s when you got off the couch to change clothes and then cleaned up the yard before adding gas to the mower.

I first tried this concept when my animal brain was telling me I didn’t have time to shave in the morning. I do have a beard so my shaving routine includes trimming the beard before actually shaving to clean everything up. Convincing myself that I have the time is always an early morning battle for me.

One Sunday morning, the kids were fed and I needed to finally take a shower. I took this opportunity to time just how long it was going to take me. From the moment I left the kitchen and began walking upstairs to the bathroom, I started the timer. I didn’t try and make it a race. I did this at my normal pace and went through the usual steps. Once I was done, I stopped the timer.

Nine minutes. My brain convinced me that I didn’t have time to shave when it actually took me nine minutes. I timed this a few more times, and during the week when I’m up early, and it was always between eight and 11 minutes. I absolutely have the time to shave in the morning.

False Perceptions

We also do a horrible job of putting the time in the title of what we are wanting to do and blindingly assuming that is the actual length of how long it takes.

You go to the gym for that “hour workout” or you begin your “thirty minute commute” to the office. You might actually exercise for a full 60 minutes, but you don’t count the getting your gym bag packed, driving to the gym, changing in the locker room, stretching after the workout, driving home, taking a shower, and getting dressed into the “hour workout” time.

Your 30-minute commute is usually from the time you exit your driveway to the time you pull into your parking lot. You don’t account for the letting the dog out before you leave, loading the car, and walking from your car to your office. If you can time the actual routine, you’ll know what the best time is to get started.

Knowing Leads to Better Planning

Once you have this knowledge of just how long your recurring and common tasks take you, you can start to show just how much you can get done in a limited amount of time.

If shaving, showering, starting laundry, and making coffee take you 45 minutes combined, you can start to restructure your usual routines to free up time later. You could easily convince yourself that shaving and showering is 30-40 minutes, laundry always takes 20 minutes to get started, and coffee is at least a 15-minute process. You push laundry until the afternoon and you’ll just grab a coffee on your way out the door when you pass Starbucks.

This happens this over and over and over. Soon, things take way more time than you realize they should, you postpone acting, and you’ll lose countless hours each week.

This also doesn’t mean you should be working faster or jam more into an hour of your day. It’s providing you a chance to focus on what is important in that very moment and have confidence that you have time to do the other items on your to-do list.

Zach Parcell

Zach is a 35-year-old midwestern husband, father, son, gummy bear loving, digital communication professional. Zach has spent endless hours researching lifehacks, strategies, resources, tools, examples, and more in order to be a better person in the office and at home.

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