Know how long regular tasks take

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 13th May 2022

Do you know how long your work generally takes you? If not, you may be missing out on an opportunity to focus yourself, and to negotiate with others.

We recently moved to a new house which has a slightly bigger front and back garden that need mowing on a weekly basis. Now I am not usually this meticulous, but as I cut the new grass on the weekend, I decided to time how long it took so I had a good feeling for the time commitment required. It took me seven minutes at the front, and ten minutes out back. Add on a few minutes to trim the edges and put everything away and we are looking at about 30 minutes all up.

So, how is this relevant to working productively in a busy workplace? Well, I reckon that if we know roughly how long things actually take us, we can plan our time better, as well as negotiate with others with more conviction. I say ‘know how long things actually take’, as we often think we know how long things take, but when we measure the exact duration of a task it is different to what we expected. Things usually take longer than we might guess.

I am not suggesting that you time every task you do, but I believe that measuring the things you do regularly can be helpful. When you are planning your day, it can help to know how long things take so that you don’t over-schedule yourself.

Knowing rough durations can also help when negotiating your workload. It is amazing how other people can make assumptions about how long your work should take. And they often assume things take much less time than they do because they don’t understand the detail of what needs to happen with the task. A client recently shared a story with me about other managers in the business who came to her team with requests for analysis to be done on major contracts. They assumed that this type of request could be turned around in a few hours. The reality was that it usually took a few days minimum, or sometimes a couple of weeks if information needed to be sought offsite. Being armed with this knowledge helped her team to set expectations and negotiate reasonable due dates.

So, it is worth knowing how long things take you to do. Why not take the time to measure some of your key tasks over the next week or two, and make a note of their durations for future reference?

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