Why It’s Important to Set a Time Limit for Your Tasks

October 19, 2018

Categories: Productivity

Here’s a deep truth: The amount of time you allot to complete a task influences the amount of time the task will take you to complete.

Let me tell you a story that happened a few years ago to illustrate this point.

Adjusting My Morning Routine on the Fly

One of my friends misplaced his car keys, so I drove him across town to get his spare key. This changed up my normal morning routine. When I got back home, it was 9:07am. I had 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 morning, I felt stressed. 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 I made it just fine. I even had a couple of extra minutes to spare. How is this possible, when it usually takes me 45 minutes (over three times as long) to do the exact same set of tasks?

Time Allotted = Time Taken

The time I allot to complete a task influences the amount of time the task takes me to complete. On that morning, I showered as fast as I could. I didn’t waste any time. Because of that, 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 myself more time, I allow myself to take longer to complete the task. This is an important principle, and it has helped me be more efficient in my life.

Getting More Sleep

Soon after the lost keys debacle, I joined a new CrossFit class at my gym that met on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings from 6-7am. This was early for me. Usually, I set my alarm 45 minutes before I had to start my workout. This gave me enough time to get ready, drive to the gym, and prepare myself for the class. But with the new class time, this would mean I would have to get 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.

More Efficient at Work

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 used to take me a long time. Now, I set a timer for 30 minutes and have a laser focus in clearing my inbox.

When we become more efficient in our everyday tasks, we clear up time to focus on more important tasks. We also have more time for leisure and connecting with family and friends. Don’t let the time allotted to complete your tasks expand. Instead, set specific time limits for yourself and just get it done.

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


Related Thoughts


  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!

  3. Hildegarde September 6, 2018 at 7:19 am - Reply

    Thanks for the terrific article

  4. […] there is no time limit, the time taken to finish the task is likely to get extremely […]

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