Set a Time Limit For Your Tasks

May 11, 2018

Categories: Productivity

The amount of time you allot to complete a task influences the amount of time the task will take to complete.

Let me tell you about an experience I had that illustrates this principle.

One of my friends misplaced his car keys, so I drove him across town to get his spare car key. This changed my normal morning routine, and when I got back home, it was 9:07am. I have to leave my house at 9:20am to catch my train to work. So I had exactly 13 minutes to take a shower, get ready, and pack my lunch.

Normally I set aside 45 minutes to do these tasks. So on that particular morning, I felt stressed, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I thought I might have to take a later train, which would necessitate changing a meeting and shifting a few other things around at work.

But to my surprise, I made it just fine, and I even had a couple of extra minutes to spare. How was this possible, when it usually takes me 45 minutes (over three times as long) to do the exact same set of tasks?

The Time Allotted Impacts the Time Expended

The time I allot to complete a task influences the amount of time the task takes me to complete. On that morning, for example, I showered as fast as I could. I didn’t waste any time. Because I was efficient, my shower took 4 minutes instead of the 10 minutes it usually does. I didn’t waste time picking out what clothes to wear. I just chose something and went with it. I didn’t turn on the Today show as I packed my lunch. Instead, I was efficient and just got the task done. All together, it took me about 12 minutes to get ready for my day.

If it takes me 12 minutes to get ready if I’m focused, why does it usually take me 45 minutes to get ready? Since I allot more time, I take longer to complete the task. The time allotted impacts the time expended. Now I don’t necessarily want to get ready in 12 minutes every morning. But I have applied this principle in other areas of my life, and it has improved my efficiency.

Getting Up in the Morning

A few years ago, I joined a CrossFit class at my gym that met on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings from 6-7am. This was early for me. Generally, I set my alarm 45 minutes before I had to start. This meant I was getting up at 5:15am. (Yikes!) But in applying this principle, I found that if I was focused in getting ready and didn’t turn on the TV, I could get up at 5:30am and be just fine.

Completing Work Tasks

I also applied this principle in my work life. For example, when writing or editing a paper, I had the tendency to spend a lot of time on certain sections, wanting to get things just right. But I found if I put a time limit on myself (e.g., 2 hours), I was more efficient and generally got my task done in the amount of time I allotted (rather than have it take an entire day). Email was another area that would take me a long time. Now, I set a timer for 30 minutes and have a laser focus in clearing my inbox.

Set a Time Limit

When we become more efficient in our everyday tasks, we clear up time to focus on our most important tasks, and we also have more time to relax and connect with family and friends. Don’t let the time allotted expand and fill your schedule. Set a specific time limit for each task and get to work.

Discussion: What is one task in your life that is taking longer than necessary? Set a time limit for completing the task, and see what happens.


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  1. JJ December 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    OK, I’ve got 60 seconds to leave a reply…go!
    Great thought…so true…I see it in my life.
    The more open ended the more wasted time.
    The only place this is not true is when I’m on a beach…then I have 24/7 to RELAX!!!

  2. Joshua Hook December 15, 2014 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Haha, yes, don’t apply this post to vacation!

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