Time Is Like Shoes

Organizing your time and shoes. Do you underestimate how long it will take to perform various tasks?

A while back, I was working with a client on organizing her closet. Before I arrived, I asked her to estimate how many pairs of shoes she had. “Oh, probably about 8 or 10,” she told me. When I showed up, we unloaded the closet, and I saw that she actually had about 37 pair. “37 is a lot more than 8,” I said. We are going to need a different plan.

Since that time, I’ve noticed that people who struggle with their time often make a similar mistake. More specifically, they underestimate how long it will take to perform various tasks. For example,

  • They plan for the staff meeting to take 30 minutes when it routinely lasts at least 45 minutes.
  • They set aside 15 minutes for carpool pickup, but don’t allow for the 15 minutes it takes to get through the pick-up traffic.
  • They think they can get ready in 30 minutes in the morning, but the more accurate assessment is 1¼ hours.
  • They allocate five minutes to “check email,” but typically get sucked into the internet and end up losing an hour or more.

More often than not, we set a mental time estimate with the expectation that we will be completely efficient and encounter no unexpected delays. We fail to plan for unforeseen interruptions, detours, illnesses, or a wide variety of other time zappers. Also, we often fail to account for the delays that co-workers, children, family members, etc. can cause. Sometimes, it is just a matter of being a bit too optimistic about our own productivity.

If you are always running behind or feeling rushed, unrealistic expectations could be the culprit. Fortunately, there is a solution. As with the shoes, the best way to get organized is to assess what we’ve got, measure the “space,” and then design an effective system to comfortably accommodate as much as possible.

  1. To do the equivalent of emptying the closet, make a list of the tasks you regularly perform (e.g. shower/get ready, cook dinner, clean up the kitchen, fold a load of laundry, clear your email inbox, drive to work, write a paper, etc.) You may not think of everything right away, so leave the list in a visible location for a couple of days so you can add to it as you think of more items.
  2. Write an estimate of how long you believe each task is taking you. This is whatever time you would typically allocate in your schedule.
  3. Over the course of a week (or more, if needed), track your time and record how long each task actually takes.

If you see a discrepancy between your estimate and your actual time, you’ve identified a probable cause for feeling perpetually hurried. As with the shoes, you can only keep what fits in your space, which in this case is your calendar. You can rationalize and say that nothing can be removed from your schedule, but if you try to do more than you have time for, you will be stressed. A better approach is to see what can be eliminated, transferred to someone else, or made more efficient.

  • Maybe you can hire a few hours of babysitting so you can complete errands more quickly.
  • Perhaps it is best to cancel the subscriptions to the magazines you never find time to read.
  • Consider if someone else can take over a task you’ve been performing out of habit for a long time.

*     *     *     *     *

No matter how well you plan, there will always be seasons where there aren’t enough hours in the day, but having this be your “normal” is less than ideal.

Have you ever tracked your time by task? What has helped you clear time in your schedule?

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28 thoughts on “Time Is Like Shoes”

    1. A food diary is the perfect analogy, Jill. With food, as with our time and belongings, we often don’t have an accurate idea in our heads of what we are actually consuming!

    1. That will be such an efficient night! It is important to try and find some uninterrupted time to nourish yourself.. I think it makes us better Moms:)

  1. Lately I’ve been trying to over-budget time and I find that I’m usually just on time for things. Funny. So when I was under-budgeting, I was constantly rushing around. I have two young kids! It may take ten minutes to get to school when we’re actually driving, but the getting on shoes and buckling booster seats and toddler seats takes another ten!
    Tamara recently posted…Feeling Proud To Be the Odd Mom Out.My Profile

    1. It takes at least another ten! I found that everything I did took at least twice as long after I had children, frequently longer. And then I would beat myself up, except it really wasn’t my fault. Better to leave extra time – if I show up early, I can always read or delete a few emails:)

  2. I like your practical approach, Seana for understanding how we manage ourselves…and how that translates into how we manage our time. I know many people that are time challenged and regularly underestimate how long something will take to accomplish. When planning appointments or projects, I like to build in extra “white space” or cushion to account for the surprises that will inevitably appear.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Happens When Your Time is Crammed and OverscheduledMy Profile

    1. I counsel clients to build that space in as well, Linda. Feeling rushed or late is a lousy feeing, and if you carry along some reading material, showing up early is never a waste of time. The biggest payoff is feeling more in control and less reactive to the craziness of life:)

  3. Yup, I’ve been guilty of this especially when trying to fit in plans. It’s much more realistic for me to overestimate the time rather than underestimate it. That way I don’t stress if there’s extra time the way I would if I was rushing around.
    Nina recently posted…Free Father’s Day PrintablesMy Profile

    1. That’s exactly it, Nina.. always better to plan too much time and then have a few minutes to sit and read than to be rushing and showing up late, which is just stressful!

    1. It’s an interesting exercise, Janet. Sometimes clients find that they have been significantly underestimating a couple of tasks. A bit of reworking on the schedule with this new information can make a big difference. But I know what you mean… not sure I’d like to see how much time I spent on Pinterest last night:)

  4. I love this post, and I love your company name! I have found myself writing a timeline down on a piece of paper. Need to be at the meeting at 10am, walk out door at 9:55, get ready at 8:55, get up at 8:50. If I don’t account for the time it takes to get downstairs, or out the back door, or to close the garage behind me, those little time nippers add up and then I’m late. Seeing it written down, with math, really makes me be realistic about how long it will take. But then, being a professional organizer, if I’m not 5 minutes early I consider myself 10 minutes late!
    Ericka Samuels recently posted…It's Not Your Fault, Blame This Guy For Your Clutter.My Profile

    1. I’m the same way, Ericka — early is “on time” for me! Knowing how long it actually takes is a way to know ourselves better, which makes us plan better and feel more in control! Thanks for stopping by and commenting:)

  5. Love this analogy! How often we are not able to truly estimate time. Your practical suggestion of a time log helps you realize how long tasks take. I always suggest double what we think the time will be for a task, and then we are happily surprised if we have time remaining.

    1. I am always happy to find I have extra time:) I’ve always got something to read with me, so if I show up early, I get to sneak a few minutes to read. Doubling your expected time is a good idea!

  6. Great advice. I also noticed that people don’t really know how long it takes to do a task. It’s not something you are taught as a kid. However, it is something you can learn at any age. Just by doing what you suggested, it will help anyone from a school-age child to an adult bring awareness to how long it takes to do tasks. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Sabrina Q. recently posted…June’s Organizing Challenge Organizing MemorabiliaMy Profile

    1. You make a good point, Sabrina. We really aren’t taught to even consider tracking our time, and yet it so helpful to be able to anticipate how long something will take. I hate feeling rushed, and sometimes knowing how long a task will take gives me the courage to say “no” when asked to do something!

    1. The internet is crazy… dangerous place to stop when I need to be out the door in quick fashion. Especially social media, where I get caught up in catching up with people. I think a timer is helpful here, preferably one that rings far away so I get up, walk away, and get moving:)

  7. This is so true. I am an awful judge of time and I am ALWAYS late. But I’m not always a good judge of time the other way either. I’ve timed how long it takes me to empty the dishwasher and fold a load of laundry and it is just minutes when it seems like it would take at least 10-15 minutes. It’s kind of like when you start Weight Watchers and they make you weigh and measure your food for the first few weeks because we really don’t have a good handle on portion sizes. You wouldn’t believe how often I use my cell phone reminders and time just to keep on top of all the things I need to do.

    1. That’s an excellent analogy, Adrian! We often don’t realize how much we eat, and the same goes with time. And you are right about the dishwasher — seems like a big task, but I’d guess about 4 minutes. I remember when I had my first baby, and I felt like I wasn’t getting anything accomplished, my Mom said “You need to give yourself credit for every little thing. If you get the dishwasher emptied, good for you!” That’s my funny dishwasher story:)

  8. Great analogy to shoes, Seana! I have improved my morning routine by knowing exactly how much time I spend getting completely ready. I have even set additional alarms on my phone & labeled them by the actions I should be taking at that time; for example, 7:30 am is “Shower Dress Makeup” and 8:00 am is Eat Read Pray.” It helps to keep me on track! 🙂

    1. I love that idea, Olive. It’s like having a mother who is watching the clock, without the nagging:) Thanks so much for the comment!

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