It’s a matter of time

I’ve noticed an interesting paradox in my mind around time: If I want to do something, I often underestimate how much time it will take. But if I don’t want to do something, I usually overestimate the time involved.

This is an area I’ve been working on this past year, and I’ve been using a few super simple tips that have helped me better use my time.

When I heard the first idea, it sounded extremely anal, even for a Type A personality like me. I was listening to one of my podcasts, Happier, when someone suggested using a timer to help make better use of your time. They said they had timed the things they do on a daily basis to learn how long they actually take. I decided to give it a try.

For example, I often think I have time to make a cup of hot tea right before I need to walk out the door. This always takes longer than I think it will, and I end up leaving late. I filled my electric tea kettle all the way with cold water and set my timer to find out how long it actually takes to boil. I thought it was two to three minutes. In reality, it takes EIGHT minutes!

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This made me curious to find out how long it takes to do other things. Emptying the dishwasher only takes about four minutes. Filling it takes six. I have an app that I use to do a short workout. It’s called the “7-minute workout,” so you can guess how long that takes. As you can see, I can easily do any of these things in less time than it takes to boil my hot water. Now, I make sure to complete one of the tasks I don’t love while waiting for my tea.

I repeatedly think I have plenty of time to just run to the grocery store to pick something up. Now I know exactly how long it really takes. And most mornings I cook a similar breakfast: sautéed spinach with an egg and sweet potato toast. I now know I can’t wait until the last minute because it takes seven minutes to cook. Those seven minutes feel like forever when I’m in a hurry.

I heard a second tip early this year that also has been changing the way I think about time. Gretchen Rubin, the host of Happier was being interviewed on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast, For the Love. Rubin said that if she can do something in one minute, she does it right away.

Instead of picking up your shoes later, do it now. It only take a few seconds. Instead of sorting through the mail or putting away your clothes or putting a dish in the dishwasher later, just do it now. As I’m walking through my house these days, I find myself saying, “It take less than a minute so you should do it now.”

And by the way, I wasn’t sure if I would have time to write this blog post. But guess what! It took me 10 minutes!

(My tea is ready!)

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Do you have any suggestion for how you make better use of your time? I would love to hear them in the comments!

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5 Comments

  1. Funny – recently I timed myself emptying the dishwasher and discovered it only takes me about 4 minutes too ( which is the amount of time my coffee brews in the French press). I really dislike the task but when I realized it only takes 4 minutes, I was much more motivated to do it. 4 minutes is really so quick – I can do that! It helps.

    1. Karen, I love that! When I read your comment, it actually motivated me to go empty the dishwasher. I was thinking the same thing… “four minutes isn’t that long!” But when I read about your coffee maker, I thought: “Man, four minutes?! That’s a long time!” So, I guess we EXPECT things we don’t like to take longer, but the same four minutes feels like a long time when we are waiting for something we enjoy. Funny! 🙂

  2. I have to be honest: misjudging time is not an issue in my life whatsoever. I am at the other absolute extreme: I’m a little too obsessed with time. If I tell you I’m going to be somewhere at noon, and it looks like I might not arrive until 12:02, you will get a text before 11:55 from me alerting you to my new arrival time. I don’t think it’s the actual numbers that I’m obsessed with, but with the respect of punctuality. When my kids ask me for help, instead of telling them to give me a minute, I tell them exactly how much time they need to wait: I need 30 seconds, I need about three minutes, etc. I occasionally overestimate time, but almost never ever underestimate. I know – I’m psycho.

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