Underestimating how long things take – and what to do about it

May 14, 2023

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In this episode of the Bright Method Podcast, we dig into what to do if you consistently underestimate how long things take you (you’re not weird – it’s super common!). We discuss strategies you can use to help you estimate how long things take you more accurately and help alleviate the pain of running over time.

Don’t let your (understandable!) history of underestimating prevent you from knowing you can learn how to create more realistic plans to help you manage it all with less stress, more peace of mind, and more clarity.

Full transcript (by Otter.ai):

Kelly Nolan 0:02
Welcome to the Bright Method podcast, where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up the Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all personally and professionally. Let’s get you fallen asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. Alright, let’s dig in.

Kelly Nolan 0:28
Hey, welcome back. So today we’re going to dig into underestimating, and basically what to do when you think something’s going to take you a certain period of time – and then it takes you longer – because that’s obviously a big problem when it comes to time management, and specifically when you are calendaring all of your activities in the calendar.

Kelly Nolan 0:47
Now, taking a step back, the Bright Method, one of the big principles is that we put all of our activities in our calendar, make visual, this helps with the mental load, helps us plan realistically, helps us see conflicts, all sorts of things.

Kelly Nolan 1:01
Part of the problem, though, is that if you are putting in a lot of things, and you underestimate how long they take you, then this plan that’s supposed to help you plan realistically becomes very defeating, and even more so defeating because you’re like, “Well, this was supposed to help me be more realistic. And I’m just not able to keep up with my plan. And therefore I feel even worse about myself,” which at least is how I used to feel before I kind of figured this system out.

Kelly Nolan 1:28
And I definitely don’t want to contribute to you feeling like that. My whole goal is to help you feel more empowered about your time.

Kelly Nolan 1:36
So first of all, please understand that we all have this as an issue. Everyone is bad at estimating how long things take them, especially when they first start. So if you feel like you are someone like that, there is nothing wrong with you. I’ve had some women I work with almost confessed to me in this like shame way that they’re bad at understanding how long things take them. And I just want to be very clear here that there is no reason to feel weird or shameful about that. It’s very natural.

Kelly Nolan 2:06
I don’t know why we humans are so bad at it, but we are. So you’re in very good company, that’s you.

Kelly Nolan 2:11
That said we’re not gonna leave it there. Because obviously, that’s not a great place to be. So today, we’re gonna go over three strategies you can use to help you start estimating better, so that you feel more comfortable embracing the calendar as your like, main way that you quarterback out of your life like you quarterback your life out of.

Kelly Nolan 2:28
And so the first thing I want you to hear is that we want to be realistic, not aspirational.

Kelly Nolan 2:33
So when you’re calendaring things in your calendar, be realistic about how long things take you. Now, granted, this doesn’t solve everything. Because I know for some things you’re like, I don’t know how long it takes me, that’s the problem. But for some things we kind of do. We’re just trying to aspire to something else. So an example that I think of is showering and getting ready in the morning.

Kelly Nolan 2:54
You might be like, if you’re like me, I don’t like how long showering and blow drying my hair and all of that takes me. Now you could always make modifications and say I’m not gonna blow dry my hair, things like that. But let’s just say you’re like, I need to do all these things to look the way I need to look for work or the way I want to look for my day. This is what I need to do. I just wish it only took me 30 minutes instead of the 45 it tends to take me.

Kelly Nolan 3:20
I want you to calendar 45 minutes for it. And I know that’s frustrating. It’s like yeah, but I really want it to take me 30 minutes like that it I totally get it. I also kind of despise how long it takes. There are so many other things I wish that I could be doing with that time.

Kelly Nolan 3:35
But what we need to do is be realistic. A lot of this is just kind of removing judgment from it and being like, how long does this take me and unless I’m going to change something about how I’m doing it. Let me just embrace the fact that this takes me this long, instead of calendaring 30 minutes every day for showering and getting ready. And then every day not meeting that everyday feeling rushed to hit that time and then still not meeting it. And then feeling bad about yourself every single day. Just calendar, the 45 minutes and make adjustments to the rest of your schedule to accommodate that.

Kelly Nolan 4:08
In this podcast, we’ll talk a lot about how to do things like that. But what the big point today is, be realistic and just accept how long things take you, especially as you’re getting used to the system.

Kelly Nolan 4:20
What I want to avoid is you adopting a whole system, new system to manage your time, which is you know, with how you manage everything, so it takes some time to get used to it’s not super easy. And at the same time you’re trying to give a makeover to your entire schedule, which you kind of need to break up the two if that makes sense.

Kelly Nolan 4:39
We first when you’re adopting a new system, make it match your current life. Once you get comfortable with it. If you then want to make modifications using the system, please have at it. I’m not saying like “capture your life and never change.” But we really want to get used to the system and then start making modifications of how we spend our time as well

Kelly Nolan 5:01
What I want to avoid is you use the system and you’re starting to do you’re trying to change like how you run five different things in your life – when that doesn’t work, you blame the system and give up on the system, where in reality, it’s a great system that you can use over time to shift, we just want to get you used to the system first. Hope that makes sense. Well, rambley, but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say.

Kelly Nolan 5:23
So that’s the first thing be realistic, not aspirational, get used to it, and then you can start making changes slowly over time, if you would like to.

Kelly Nolan 5:32
What’s really cool is using the system, sometimes you can make changes and say, you know, I could take 45 minutes if my home partner would do this thing, or if you know, I hate saying the get up earlier thing, because I think all of us are getting up pretty early already and are tired, and already not getting enough sleep, but maybe you make some changes of I do this the night before so that I don’t have to do this in the morning, a nd that lets me just gives me more breathing space for the 45 Minute, get ready in shower thing.

Kelly Nolan 5:58
We can make adjustments, which we’ll talk more about. But for today, let’s just focus on the reality of the situation and accommodating that in our calendar.

Kelly Nolan 6:08
The second thing I want to talk about is don’t expect to be a pro with this. When you start time blocking all of your activities, including those Invisible To-Do’s and all those types of things, it’s often the very first time in a real way that you are tying your tasks and your to-do’s to time. You know, really tying it to “at this time I do this, it takes me roughly this one, does it fit with everything else going on in my day,” you often at least if you’re like me have not truly done that before in the past in this way. So you’re new at it, don’t expect to be a pro at it and just know that things will get better over time. And I know that that’s kind of a bummer to hear because it’s like, “okay…,” but just give yourself like don’t beat yourself up. Don’t think, “Oh, I’m not good at this right now, I will never be good at this,” you know, you will slowly start learning things over time.

Kelly Nolan 6:58
So kind of using that 30 minute shower example. Let’s say you don’t know you’re like I think showering and getting ready takes me 30 minutes, calendar that like go for it and calendar it. But if you notice, like five days in a row, that you’re not getting it done in 30 minutes, and it’s taking you 45 minutes, that’s when you can be like, “Okay, this is just a data point, I’m not gonna beat myself up for not kind of sticking with a somewhat arbitrary thing I calendar because I thought it took me that long.” But if it’s clear that it’s taking you 45 minutes, the beautiful part of a digital calendar is you just expand the time that you gave it you like drag it down so that it’s 45 minutes, save it for all the activities going forward, and then you can you can play with the schedule and accommodate it. So don’t expect to be a pro and don’t beat yourself up when you aren’t able to meet your first draft of how long you thinks things are going to take. You just play with it. Be experimental , just play with it, change it, move it around, move it going forward, see if that works. Alright?

Kelly Nolan 7:57
The third thing I want you to hear and this is more practical, potentially for you, for those who crave practicality, like I do, is really break things down into bite-sized steps. So I’m gonna use a work example for this one. But if you work are like, I think that this thing takes me x period of time. So I’m gonna go back to my attorney days, let’s say that I have a responsive brief that I need to file. And I’m like, I think it’s gonna take me 10 hours to get this responsive brief done. If instead, I sat down and took just a blank piece of paper, and wrote out all the bite-sized steps that I can see sitting here today, and then estimated how long each of those took, I’m gonna be better at estimating how long, the little bite sized steps take.

Kelly Nolan 8:43
So just to give you that example, again, let’s say instead of being like things can take me 10 hours, I sit down, and I’m like, I gotta read the opening brief, I got to pull the opening cases, I gotta read the opening cases, I want to do some legal research on them, I need to do my own legal research on, you know, issues that crop up, as I’m reading that I think of, I’m going to outline it, I might run that outline by relevant partners, or the client just like to talk about our general approach, then I’m going to have to maybe do a little bit more research than I might draft, then I’m going to, and then I need to think about like, how big is this draft. And I know, I know, I’m going into details and some of you are like enough, we get it but really, truly think it through like, I’m gonna have to draft declarations, I’m gonna have to draft exhibits, I’m gonna have to get some more information from the clients about this. I’m going to have to edit myself and you might have your own kind of, you know, I edit a lot, I kind of like get a draft quick and dirty on there. And then I edit a lot you might have different you might need to predict more time for drafting, then maybe the partner needs to review it, they’re going to need time to review it, then maybe the client needs to review it, they’re going to need time to review it then I need to incorporate this. I need to accommodate extra time in case the client completely rips it apart and needs me to redo it. I need time to do that. I need to actually put the edits in polish it in terms of citations and grammar and all that and edit did and then eventually we’re going to file it, and we need to serve it.

Kelly Nolan 10:03
When you break it down to that level, and you estimate how long each of those things are going to take, including waiting time for dependencies out of people, like clients, or partners or colleagues or someone reviewing it, you start, like, estimate how long each of those are going to take, you get a much more realistic, larger amount of time that you’re going to need for this, you’re gonna be like, “Oh, it’s gonna take me like 30, maybe 40 hours, depending on the size of the brief.”

Kelly Nolan 10:31
Obviously, this goes for any work project, anything that you have to back out. But what the point is what we are better at estimating how long smaller things are going to take us. So really break things down into the bite sized steps to get a better understanding of how much time you’re going to need. All right.

Kelly Nolan 10:49
Let me just give you like a personal example, because I know that in work, it can might be a little bit easier. But even like a personal example, let’s say you have like a vacation weekend coming up, I want you to sit down and also think about what are all the things I need to do for that I need to book flights, I need to book a hotel, I need to maybe go shopping or you know, order things online. If I need certain things for this trip, I need to think about clothing. And I might have to come up with a packing list, I’m going to have to pack if you have children, all the childcare stuff that you might need to accommodate or like you know, set up before you go, think about all of those things, and you start getting a better understanding of these are the things I need to do beforehand. And not only can you plan on when you’re going to do them, but you’re getting a better sense of how much time you need versus rushing to get ready for that trip, I think I can get ready in like an hour. Versus when you really think about all the bite sized steps that go into something, then you get a better understanding of how much time it takes.

Kelly Nolan 11:47
So that’s really the third tip I would give you is don’t try to estimate, I think this massive project or even a small project is going to take me X amount of time, just take the 10 minutes, 20 minutes for work sometimes that it takes to really just jot down all the steps you can see sitting here today, obviously it might change, obviously things might come up, but do the best you can to really break down. What would success look like for this? What would success require for all of this? And then estimate each of those steps, and you’re going to have a better understanding of how much time something needs, you’re gonna help yourself not underestimate as much.

Kelly Nolan 12:27
Okay, a little bonus tip, this is super obvious. But worth saying is, especially for the things you don’t know, you get a new project. And you’re like sitting today, I think it’s gonna take me this long, but I’ve never done this before, double or triple the amount of time that you get.

Kelly Nolan 12:44
So if you’re like, I think it’ll take me two hours to do this protects six hours of time in your calendar.

Kelly Nolan 12:49
And I know that that again leads to front end frustration, because then you know, that box is out other things. But I would much rather you have bonus time that you stumble upon in your calendar, then consistently feel defeated, because you’re not hitting your deadlines. And often, it’s unfortunately surprising that we end up needing a lot of that time to do this stuff.

Kelly Nolan 13:11
Alright, and then a little client tip for those of my clients listening. So thank you and hello, is to build that flex time into the calendar. I’m not going to go into that today. I’m a big believer in having an overall system, but for my clients build on that flex time. I know it’s weird, do it.

Kelly Nolan 13:26
Alright, main, main takeaway I want you to hear underestimating is normal, there is nothing wrong with you. If you struggle to underestimate, you will get better with it over time. But that said be realistic, not aspirational. Don’t expect to be a pro at this. Don’t beat yourself up. When you struggle with it. Just use that as a data point and change your plan and experiment with this new draft of what might work for your schedule.

Kelly Nolan 13:52
And then really break things down into those bite sized steps. Because the you will be better at estimating how long those will take, which will give you a better overall estimate of the whole project.

Kelly Nolan 14:02
Please understand also that you will never have it all figured out. You will never know how long everything takes you. You know, I still decide to do new projects, I still decide to take on new things, I still get things thrown at me that I’ve never done before. And you have to figure those all out. Strategies are also really important to keep in mind because we will always confront new things that we don’t know how long they take us. Or you know, I hope in our life in good ways we get challenged in new ways at work and in our personal life like new things come up. And in those new things we never know like if you’ve never done something you don’t know how long it’s going to take you.

Kelly Nolan 14:36
And so it’s just a little reminder to bring yourself back to these things, these principles these strategies to alleviate the painful lessons of under estimating when you have a new project. Even if you become a pro with this you’re feeling really good about it you feel like you have an understanding of how long things take you you’re gonna get something new and just bring yourself back to let me be realistic. Let me just use anything I learned as a data point to adjust my plan, let me really break things down into bite sized steps.

Kelly Nolan 15:03
And let me double or triple my estimates wherever I need to. Underestimating can be a really tricky thing that we need to work through. But it’s something that you can work through. I think especially when you know that you’re not weird for having that struggle. But there are strategies that we can use to help alleviate the pain as you learn and help you accommodate that. So I hope that this helps. I hope that you you know if you’ve felt this way before you now kind of see some glimmer of hope and using a calendar system if that’s something you’ve struggled with in the past, it really is attainable for you.

Kelly Nolan 15:34
And if you have enjoyed this episode, I hope you share it with a friend. Thanks for being here and I’ll see you in the next one.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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