Several time management books I’ve consulted recommend comparing estimates of how long tasks will take with actual times. Last night I estimated how long I thought each task on my list for today would take and then prioritized them and ensured that the work-related tasks didn’t total more than eight hours. Then today at work I timed how long I spent on my tasks. I brought in a timer that counts down as well as up and that I could wear around my neck so that I could look like a moron if anyone saw me (actually so that I wouldn’t forget about my experiment during the day). I was pretty pleased with the experiment, and think I’ll keep doing it for a while, until I have a better sense of how long my usual tasks take to complete. However, I think the clock app on my iPod Touch will sound less like I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner in my office than the timer I used today, so I’ll try that tomorrow.
My key goal for today was to limit e-mail management time to 30 minutes, which was completely ridiculous given that I’d just had a 4-day weekend. I planned on checking e-mail three times and spending 10 minutes on it each time. Yeah, not so much. The check I did first thing this morning ended up taking 2 hours. In total, I spent almost 3 hours dealing with e-mail. Also, I checked e-mail more than the three times I had planned to, but on the plus side, I didn’t obsessively check it all day long like I usually do.
Although the actual amounts of time I spent on each task didn’t equal my estimates, some of my estimates weren’t too far off and getting better at estimating is the point of this exercise. Part of this exercise seems worth continuing indefinitely — adding my time estimate to each task on my to do list. Today I added my time estimates right to the front of each task and seeing that (accurate or not) helped me immensely in prioritizing tasks for today and the rest of the week.
So now all I need to figure out is where the hell those two hours I can’t account for went today…