Some of us have trouble estimating how long stuff will take.
Why, oh why, do we do it? This biting off more than we can chew? The grand, sweeping statements. Their lack of substance echoing through the canyon of our future months.
Maybe it’s mob mentality, the fact that everyone in the world is feeling that same good morning, fresh, clean slate of January 1st — and everyone is maybe believing that something different might be possible, without us having to do very much. But it’s not.
On January 1st, I picked up my blank organizer (something I’ve used successfully for years), and started shyly filling it out. Not really believing my words, but feeling the importance of saying to myself in writing what I would like to establish in my life.
To my credit, I have meditated regularly every day for weeks. And I have followed through on going to the gym, signing up for weekly training. And I’ve been journaling — though not every day, as intended.
But I’ve noticed something faulty in every single day of my day-planner so far. Routinely, I underestimate the time needed for a task, or I underestimate how tired I’ll be at a certain time of day. But I keep doggedly writing down jobs to do, creative endeavors I want to nurture, without consulting the ‘reality’ of how it went down the day before.
Why do I ignore this data? Because I so want to be the person who did all those things. And when I write them down on the morning of next day, it’s almost like I’m actually going to do them this time. The problem shows up at 10:30am, when I should have about three major tasks already behind me and I’m only approaching the first one. In fact, not even. I have to finish breakfast first, then do the dishes, and then I’ll be ready for the first one.
I need to clean this up (see image below)…and I’m writing this blogpost instead, because I said I’d post every Wednesday and it’s Wednesday but I thought it was Tuesday, and this happens all the time.
I had a list of fifteen things I was going to do today. Fifteen minutes of meditation, breakfast, one hour of work on the novel, five minute break, forty-five minutes of my new project (a creative nonfiction book), five minute break, a half hour of Quickbooks transactions, five minute break, forty-five minutes for lunch, bla-de-bla-de-bla.
None of it got done.
Something pulled me away. I had to update a password, or the phone rang, or I got a text from someone who’s going through a really hard time…I just couldn’t stay focused.
I heard something from my son-in-law that made so much sense my lungs even relaxed.
For context, he happens to be one of the most productive people on the planet (the reason I talked with him in the first place). He just checks items off his list all day long, and shit gets done. He does it without drama, without calling attention to the doing, without a lot of (or even any) handwringing about it.
Here’s what I heard him say:
"My secret is I overestimate how long it will take to do any given job. I tell myself I can only really do two or three things a day. Let’s say, two. So if I set my mind to get just those two things done, it leaves room for other, smaller things to poke in a little…but still, at the end of the day, those two things get done.
"Also, if I find that I finished earlier than anticipated (and that can happen because of the overestimation), then it’s a bonus — and I get more stuff done."
So, let’s look at our commitments. Not from January 1. Let’s start fresh. Maybe the ones we made for today. Have we correctly assessed what it would take to follow through? The time it might take?
Putting my son-in-law’s tactic to work, I decided to accomplish only two things today: clean my desk, and get my newsletter written and sent. I might still be underestimating the time frame because it’s already 2:07pm, and I only realistically have about five hours left in me of true brain power for this kind of work.
Ah, who am I kidding. I only have three hours, best case. Can I do these two things in three hours? In two? (Do you see what I’m doing here? Getting more and more unrealistic, trying to fit more into less time because I think I’ll be a weenie if I only do one thing in the time left.)
There is an artificial, self-imposed judgment of myself based on how much I can do. And the more I put on my page, the less I actually do (overwhelm). The less I do, the worse I feel. The worse I feel, the more I feel like I should put on the next day’s page. And so forth.
So without any further drama, calling-attention-the-doing (yeah, I get it. I’m telling you, so it’s a little bit calling attention to it), or handwringing, here I go. Hoping to post, tomorrow morning, a photo of my cleaned up desk. And, of course, you just got this post within my newsletter because I just sent it via substack. Yahoo! One down, one to go.
See? It's not so hard. Many blessings to you.