This Answer Should Probably Be “No”

Time is ticking by and it is almost time to head out the door. This is the moment when many of us ask the “dangerous” question, “Do I have time to do one more thing before I go?” In all likelihood, the smart answer to this question is probably “No.”

Before I explain why, let me acknowledge that I completely understand why we ask this question. We are all pressed for time, trying to get as much as possible accomplished in what little time we have. It is so tempting to try to squeeze a task into every small snippet of time we have.  Chores that often fall into this category include:

  • Making a quick phone call
  • Running upstairs to put something away
  • Tossing in a load of laundry
  • Doing the dishes that are sitting in the sink
  • Checking email
  • Looking something up online

Of course, the possibilities are endless.

Nevertheless, there are at least four reasons why we should resist trying to fit in one last little thing to do.

First, we regularly under-estimate the time it takes to complete a task.

We think a job will take five minutes, but in reality it takes ten, fifteen or more. For example, calling to make an appointment seems like it should only take a minute, but it often takes longer because we have to provide specific information or work our way through a series of automated questions.

Second, one task often leads to another, extending the amount of time required to achieve completion.

For instance, we try to quickly RSVP to an invitation online and it leads us to another site to buy a gift. Buying a gift takes more time and thought than we had planned for, but we know that if we close the window at this point, it might be hard to find it again. It is easier to “just do it now,” so we spend extra time choosing an item, paying, writing a gift note, and providing shipping information.

Third, we are easily distracted.

Almost everyone can relate to starting a simple task, but then having our attention drawn away by another demand. For example, we run upstairs to put an item away, and once we are up there, we see something else that needs to be done. Before we know it, five minutes have turned into twenty.

Fourth, unanticipated problems may arise for which we lack sufficient time to properly manage.

For example, we rush to quickly do the dishes and the garage disposal gets clogged and breaks. Or, we slip and fall as we carry the garbage outside, and end up with a big stain on our nice pants. Since we have no margin to deal with these problems in the moment, we have to leave them unresolved until we get back, adding stress and more work to our day.

*     *     *

Admittedly, there may be times when we do successfully check an item off of the to-do list just before walking out the door. However, these kinds of infrequent successes can actually undermine our productivity and timeliness in the long run.

Let’s look at an analogy.

Most people know that the odds of winning the lottery are relatively low. Lotteries make money by people buying tickets and (for the most part) losing. Since it can be difficult to understand probability, most people believe the chances of winning are much greater than they actually are. Lottery advertising furthers this perception, implying that winning is a common outcome and a fun way to access quick cash. The more a person believes he will win, the more likely he is to play.

In reality, few people win lotteries. Over time, repetitive losing provides a natural deterrent to playing. If we play all the time and never win, eventually we will be inclined to stop buying tickets. On the flip side, winning tricks our brains into believing we are likely to win again, even though the odds remain strongly against us. Statistics show that someone who has won a game of chance once will continue to play, even if he never wins again.

Likewise, when we squeeze a task into a tight timeframe and it makes us late or stressed out, we will avoid repeating similar efforts in the future. However, if our last minute initiative succeeds, we may overestimate our ability to replicate similar results and fall into a mindset that gets us in trouble. Using our time wisely is good. Trying to squish too much into a small bit of time often backfires. The most productive approach is to be mindful and realistic about the time we have. What a gift it can be to allow ourselves to depart on time, proceed at a reasonable pace, and even show up early.

*     *     *

The next time you find yourself toying with the idea of doing “just this one small thing” before it is time to go, hear my voice in your head saying, “Just say no.” Odds are you will be glad you did.

What task do you tend to try and “squeeze in” before heading out the door?

24 thoughts on “This Answer Should Probably Be “No””

  1. Absolutely love your advice and definitely going to heed your advice and “Just Say No” the next time a similar issues arises. So thank you for this perfect tip.

  2. This is such good advice. I am guilty of trying to do just one more thing .. one time I accomplished the one more thing, dashed out the door, arrived at a dance coaching session only to realize I had left my dance shoes at home! If I had listened to your voice, I would have had a minute or two more to check to make sure I had everything I needed to take with me before dashing out the door! Thank you! I will be listening.

    1. That must have been so frustrating! I had another client just tell me a story about dashing to the store to get things and realizing, after shopping for an hour, that she had left her gift card at home. Those moments drive us crazy, right? There is something to be said with moving at a reasonable pace and letting yourself not have to rush. Yes, you might need to find another window of time, but it beats running around to the point of sabotaging your day.

  3. This is wonderful advice! I’ve realized that trying to do “one more thing” before leaving will often make me run late. The one task I tend tio squeeze in before heading out the door in the morning is emptying the dishwasher if it was run after dinner the night before. I’m trying to do that at night more often now.
    Nancy Haworth recently posted…My Favorite Organizing Products for BabiesMy Profile

    1. That dishwasher! I’ve had that as well. I’ve decided I just arrive more calm and prepared when I am able to leave plenty of time. “Cutting it close” often stresses me out, as I hate being late. I’d rather be early and have time to read or even stare out the window than come dashing in with not a moment to spare!

    1. I have that “changing shoes” thing too, Kim. Maybe something is hurting my foot or I decide the pair I am wearing won’t work out after all. Funny how that is a common experience!

  4. I am guilty of this too. I find that straighten up the living before leaving is my downfall. You see, my living room is right next to the door and if it is a mess when I return, it makes me feel sad and stressed so I made it a habit to put stuff away, straighten pillows before I leave, even when I am late. The upside is I feel better when I come home to a neat living room. The downside is that I get stressed leaving. Great advice to just say no to the task that will only take you “a few minutes.”
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…14 Creative Ways to Throw a Summer Party on a BudgetMy Profile

    1. I feel the same way when I walk in and see a mess. Must be part of the organizer’s DNA. Recently I’ve noticed that I have just been cutting it “too close,” and I need to leave more time if I want to restore order before I head out the door.

  5. Great Advice. I don’t often do the “one more thing” on the way out the door, but when I do it doesn’t end well. It makes me late all day, so it really defeats the purpose of doing that one thing.

    1. I have to guard against it myself. Recently I’ve noticed that I’ve been trying to squeeze in too much, and it is backfiring. I hate being late… it makes me stressed out… so I am trying to be more intentional about resisting that urge.

  6. Yes, I am so guilty of this! Most of my tasks are digital tasks. Like one more email or one more social media post, and that of course leads to other thoughts and tasks.

    1. True for me too. The “digital sphere” is particularly dangerous for getting distracted or going down a rabbit hole. Very tempting, but worth just shutting all devices down five minutes before I need to leave.

    1. Totally agree. Or you open it to deal with two emails, and then while you are looking, another three come in and draw your attention. I try and only delete emails from the list (not read any) when I have limited time.

  7. I have to ask, can you hear me thinking? You described so vividly my experience. While I am an excellent manager of my time, there are those days when I try to squeeze in “one more thing” before I head out of the door. I appreciate time cushions, being on time or early, and not feeling rushed or stressed. So for the most part, I do think about the time I have and the time I need to accomplish certain things. One trick that works well for me is using a timer. The timer is especially useful in the morning. Before I head out to see clients, I have some time to other things like writing, responding to email, or making phone calls. So that I can concentrate 100%, I set the timer. When the buzzer rings, I know it’s time to STOP, clean up what I’m doing, and get ready to go. I usually give myself 10-15 minutes to make that transition and head out. However, there are those days, when I reset that buzzer for just a few more minutes and those are the days that can be problematic. So while I’m pretty good at honoring the beeps, there are times that I find it hard just to stop and say, “no.” Next time I’ll conjure up your words of wisdom to see if that helps.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What’s Are Today’s Interesting Finds? – v23My Profile

    1. I love the timer idea! I completely connect with your desire to be able to 100% focus. When I am checking the clock every minute or so, I am not really focusing. With a timer, something else is watching the clock for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. I fall for the temptation to try and do one more thing every now and then, and I almost always regret it!

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