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Participating in the Activity

The second aspect of every scheduled activity is participation in the actual event. As long as you remember to schedule the event at all, you don't have to worry about skipping this phase. Instead, the challenge at this point is to know how much time to allot for the activity.

You may feel that tasks always take longer to complete than you think they should. They may be taking too long for a variety of reasons. Lack of preparation is one reason. But you should be well on your way to conquering this problem after having read the previous section. Another reason is failure to focus. Distractions and interruptions can erode time at an incredible rate. Making sure the task is scheduled and then sticking to working on the task during the scheduled time will help you accomplish your work in a more reasonable amount of time.

CAUTION

Although you want to set and stick with an efficient schedule, you should be careful not to schedule your time too tightly. Scheduling your activities so that you have to do them at top speed and then rush on to get to the next item on the list will result in the same harried feeling you get from not having planned your schedule at all.

Estimating the Time You'll Spend in an Activity

So, how do you decide how much time to block out for a particular activity? Follow these steps:

  1. Estimate how much time you would need to complete the task at your absolute top speed with no interruptions.

  2. Estimate how long you would need to do it at normal speed with a normal number of interruptions.

  3. Add the estimated times together and divide by two.

This formula will give you a number that's longer than the time you will need for many things after you have your schedule well in hand, but it will be a good time frame from which to start.

Inaccurate Travel Times

Watch out for these common ways of underestimating the time you will need to get someplace:

  1. Many people and businesses make claims like "We're 15 minutes from downtown." These optimistic times don't take into consideration traffic, red lights, or the time you need to park your car and walk to where you really need to be for your appointment.

  2. Mapping software is notorious for stating estimated travel times that are too low.

Making Good Use of Leftover Time Fragments

Strive to have a pocket of unscheduled time between each scheduled item. This way, you have a built-in cushion for situations in which things don't go quite according to plan—say you get caught in a traffic jam or run into a friend you haven't seen in years—so your stress level will stay low. You can keep a list of small items you can do to fill the gaps if you finish with time to spare.

Here are some suggestions of good items for your fill-in-the-gap list:

  • Write a note to a friend.

  • Phone a friend.

  • Play a game with your child.

  • Water your plants.

  • Sew a button.

  • Read a magazine.

  • Clean out the glove box in your car.

  • Balance your checkbook.

  • Check last night's sports scores.

  • Take a walk.

Or, occasionally, you can just reward yourself by putting your feet up for a few minutes.

Interruptions

Estimates indicate that the average office worker is interrupted from what she is doing eight times an hour. The average interruption takes 6 minutes from start to finish. That 6 minutes includes the time to switch focus from what she was doing to the interruption, to deal with the interruption, and to return her focus to the original task. This situation is analogous to stopping for a red light: There's the time to decelerate and stop, the actual time while stopped at the red light, and then the time to start and accelerate back up to your original speed. If the office worker does nothing to reduce these interruptions, that means 48 minutes out of every hour are spent on something other than the primary task. With only 12 minutes an hour being spent on what she set out to accomplish, it's a matter of simple mathematics to figure that a one-hour job will take five hours to complete.

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