We’ve all been there. Something needs to get done, but we aren’t sure if we have enough time to do it before we need to be somewhere else:
- Can I run to the grocery store before picking up the kids?
- Is there time to stop at the post office before class?
- Is it better to swing by the dry cleaners on my way to the train or should I do it on my way home?
- Do I have time to shower before the repairman arrives?
- Should I make this call or wait until after the meeting?
Situations like these are common. Our “to do” lists are longer than our available time, and we struggle to use each moment as productively as possible. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to know when we should (and shouldn’t!) try and squeeze in one more chore. For instance, if I have 30 minutes before I need to leave for an appointment, I can comfortable tackle a task I know will require only 10 or 15 minutes (e.g. writing a thank you note). In contrast, I won’t even consider something that I know will take at least a couple of hours (e.g. going to the DMV to renew my license.) The tricky part is when I’m faced with tasks that may take 20 minutes, but could also run 45 minutes or longer.
The reason for the difficulty is that there are typically a variety of unknowns over which we have no control:
- How long will the lines be?
- Will I be able to find convenient parking or will I need to circle and wait?
- Will there be traffic that adds time to my errand?
- Will everything I need be ready for pick up?
- When exactly will the repairman arrive?
- Will the person on the other end of the line be “in the mood to talk” and make it difficult to end the call?
When faced with an “on the spot” decision about whether or not to begin a task that could result in a time crunch, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Is this urgent?
If the task absolutely must get done, you may no choice but to take the risk and try to get it done.
Is this necessary?
While picking up a latte might seem nice, is it worth the frenzy it could adds to the rest of the day? Be mindful about how you use our time.
Can I reschedule this task to another time in my day or week?
If there is another window in your day or week when you could perform this task without time pressure, do it then.
What will happen if things go badly?
If the consequences of having the task take more than your allotted time are severe, better to put it off.
Will trying to do this now — even if I can get it done — put me in a bad mood or add stress to the rest of my day?
We often undervalue the cost that hurrying around can have on our state of mind. Entering into a situation late, scattered and/or unprepared undermines confidence and can sabotage success. Make the momentary decision in light of its potential impact on the day in its entirety.
Am I tempted to procrastinate this task if I don’t do it right now?
If the answer is yes, plug this task into your schedule as an appointment at a later time when you can reasonably work on it. Put it on your calendar, and if necessary, ask someone to hold you accountable.
Is there a smaller piece of this task that I could do now without having to rush?
Sometimes we may not be able to complete a big job, but we can perform one or two smaller tasks that will keep us moving forward (e.g. I can’t clean the whole kitchen, but I can empty the dishwasher).
Can I plan better next time?
Planning can’t solve all our time management challenges, but it can minimize them. Having a plan for the day, and referring to it throughout the day, is an effective way to stay nimble and productive.
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Have you ever found yourself wondering whether you have sufficient time to undertake a task? How do you decide whether to proceed or wait?