The Reason You Are Getting Less Done

DarrylBrooks by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

You should be getting more done. After all, you are a task management ninja. You’ve read all the books and watched the seminars. You’ve been Getting Things Done long before GTD, and you zeroed out your inbox way before Inbox Zero. You have your ducks in a row and your priorities in order. Your day is divided into fifteen-minute increments with every task accounted for.

So, why aren’t you getting more done? Why do your morning tasks slip into the afternoon, and your afternoon tasks get slid into tomorrow? Why do you have to spend so much of your time rearranging projects when everything should be running like clockwork?


Nothing runs like clockwork.


If you want to accomplish everything on your list, you will have to pad it more. Would that be considered sandbagging? Not really. The simple fact is that everything takes longer to do than you think it will. Not the actual task, but everything related to accomplishing the task. This must be included or accounted for.

I am also a photographer. A photograph usually takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/1000th of a second to make. Great! One thousand images a second all day long. I should be rich soon, right? Of course, the actual process of taking a picture takes a lot longer than the exact time the shutter is open. The full process could take anywhere from several minutes to an hour or more, depending on various reasons.

And that’s just taking the picture.

I used to do more corporate and commercial work. Once I retired, I cut most of that type of work from my portfolio. Why? It was too much like, well, work. It mostly involved negotiations with clients. Someone needs a headshot. I give them a price that covers a half or a whole day, depending on the circumstances.

“But it’s only going to take a few minutes to take the shot.”

Yes, but that doesn’t include:

  • This and future meetings to finalize the deal.
  • Loading equipment and transporting it to the site.
  • Setting up equipment
  • Breaking it down again and driving home
  • Post-processing
  • Presentation of the work
  • Invoicing, collecting, and processing payments

And that’s only if a second shot isn’t required because the guy forgot to get a haircut first.

Everything takes longer than you think it will.

In another life, I was a programmer. Someone would want me to add a line of code to a program. How long will that take?

To write the code, about 10 minutes. But first, I need to review the program and understand the structure and conventions. Then write the code in an independent module so it can be tested. Then add the code to the original program and test it there. Then make it literally idiot-proof.

Then test it some more. Then alpha and beta test it.

Everything takes longer than you think it will.

If you want to make sure you get everything done you intend to, you have to allow enough time to do it. Doing any job requires more time than the actual doing of the thing. You have to get stuff out and get it organized. You have to do stuff. You have to be interrupted by people asking you how long it takes to do stuff.

You have to pee.

Go back and look at that schedule of yours with everything lined up in fifteen-minute increments. Make a new schedule with one-hour time slots. Everything that you have scheduled for less than an hour takes an hour. An hour’s job put it down for two hours. Anything longer than an hour gets half a day.

And don’t forget to schedule lunch.

But that doesn’t look like I’m going to get much done.

Yes, it does. It looks like you’ll get done what you can get done. Your old schedule looked great. On paper. But you never finished all that stuff. But that wasn’t your fault; you kept getting interrupted.

And you will get interrupted today. And tomorrow. And every day. So don’t pretend it won’t happen. Don’t create a schedule that doesn’t allow for interruptions; that’s unrealistic.

Pad your schedule. Allow time to prepare for a job, do the job, and then put the job away. Allow time for interruptions.

Allow time to pee.

I need to pee, but it’s not on my schedule. Maybe, I’ll pencil it in for tomorrow.

So, you schedule a fifteen-minute job for an hour and get it done in thirty minutes. What then? Well, first, you need to realize that your fifteen-minute job took thirty minutes. Next, you should understand that you have exceeded expectations; yours and others. And that’s a good thing. What sounds better to you? This employee never finishes everything they are supposed to, or this employee always gets things done ahead of schedule?

It doesn’t matter that both employees got the exact same amount of work done — it’s the perception that matters.

But what’s more important is your own perception. The feeling that you never get things done is draining and disheartening. Always finishing your list and doing so ahead of time is uplifting and highly motivating.

Planning your time is a tricky business. Because no matter who you are, corporate employee, self-employed entrepreneur, or stay-at-home parent, you only have so much control of your time.

So embrace that.

Don’t try to schedule every minute of the day; it doesn’t work. You can’t control everything, so allow for a little lack of control. Then, that interruption becomes something your work into the flow of your day instead of a frustrating element that derails your whole train.

Train; there’s a good metaphor. People use trains as an analogy for things running on time. Do you know why trains run on time? Because they allow time for the unknown. The train always leaves the station on time. Of course, it does. Did you ever get on a train early? What did you do? You sat there. And sat there some more. And looked at your watch.

Everybody’s onboard, why doesn’t the train leave? Because it isn’t scheduled to go for another 10 minutes. Just in case.

Be the train. Schedule enough time for everyone to get on board, including the people that are always late.

Allow enough time to get things done, and you will always get things done on time.

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I am a writer with over 16 years of experience and hundreds of articles. I write about photography, productivity, life skills, money management and much more.

Alpharetta, GA

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