Time yourself

43 seconds.

That's how long it takes me to make the bed. (As you might guess, I'm a pull-up-the-sheet-and-duvet-and-arrange-a-few-pillows type of bed-maker.) Discovering that fact has helped me prioritize making the bed each morning, because no matter how busy I am, I can always spare 43 seconds.

How long does it take you to make your bed? Or unload the dishwasher? Or create that report you need to do each month for work? Or drive to work itself? How much time do you spend on Facebook or Instagram or your favorite news or sports website every day? 

If you're not sure, it's time to find out. One of my most effective time management strategies is to time myself, either through setting a timer or using a stopwatch. This tactic has helped me set more realistic expectations, maximize the time I have available, motivate myself to move more quickly, and keep myself from spending too long on certain tasks or distractions. It has also helped me decrease the amount of time I spend worrying or stressing about something and has helped me get started on a project, knowing I don't have to do the whole thing at once. 

Here's what I've learned about timing myself:

  • If you consistently set unrealistic expectations for how much you can accomplish in a certain time period, you will consistently be disappointed. (Been there, done that.) But if you know how long things take, you will feel more in control and you can plan your day accordingly. There's a big difference between a morning routine that takes 20 minutes and one that takes 40 minutes. Time yourself completing routine tasks and use that information to help you plan.

  • Some tasks take a lot less time than you might think. My bed-making time is an example. Time a few of those tasks you typically procrastinate on or avoid, and you might be pleasantly surprised about how little time they take.

  • Timing yourself can also help you move more quickly and stay focused on the task at hand. I set the microwave timer for 5 minutes and try to get the dishwasher unloaded and reloaded in that time. Competing against the clock keeps me from getting distracted and it might help you too.

  • Consider limiting the amount of time you worry about or obsess over something. If I'm beating myself up for a mistake I made, I will often look at the clock and say, "Okay, I'm going to let this go in 3 minutes." I give myself a little more time if it's a bigger mistake, but the point is I acknowledge the way I'm feeling, give myself a little time to process it and learn from it, and then I do my best to let it go. I urge you to give this a try.

  • It's also helpful to use a timer to limit the time you spend on something that has a tendency to keep you from being productive. I've done that with Facebook, setting the timer on my phone to go off in 15 minutes. And actually setting the timer and hearing the tone is more effective for than just looking at the clock and saying, "I'll shut it off in 15 minutes."

  • Knowing you don't have to do something for a long time can help you get it started. I've used this strategy on everything from closet clean-outs to doing my taxes. Just tell yourself you only have to spend 10 minutes on a task you've been dreading. You've at least started the task, and if you've gotten some momentum, you can continue. But either way, at least you've put 10 minutes of effort into it, and that will make it easier to pick up the task at another time.  

Of course, if you want to keep your relationships intact, there are plenty of experiences that shouldn't be timed and plenty of times checking your watch is not a good idea. But for those areas in which you are looking to increase productivity, I encourage you to time yourself.

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