How Long Will It Take? Part II

Following is Part II of this two-part series on how to complete projects on time. First a quick summary: In my previous post, I wrote about Hofstadter’s Law and how it states that we underestimate the time it will take us to complete a task, even if we take into account this law. One of the reasons for this underestimation is the Planning Fallacy bias, which states that we tend to think that tasks will take less time to complete than they actually do because we plan from an optimistic point of view. And lastly, I wrote about how the Segmentation Effect explains that we assign less time to the completion of a task than we assign to the fulfillment of each of its smaller sub-tasks.

We need to take those three concepts into account when we plan our days and weeks to produce realistic schedules. And realistic planning is crucial to achieving our goals while minimizing stress and frustration.

Good planning comes with asking the right questions about the task at hand.

Most of us are guilty of relying on a convenient yet inaccurate method to calculate how long a project will take to complete: the guesstimation method. However, I want to introduce a fourth tool in this productivity toolbox: Implementation Intentions. The concept of implementation intention was first introduced in 1999 by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer and refers to concrete plans that accurately show how, when, and where one will act. By knowing the how, when, and where of each sub-task, we'll be able to estimate the completion time of the full project more accurately. Notice that this concept does not deal with what the project is. The project or goal should be clear and specific beforehand.

Implementation Intentions follow the “if-then” format. The "if-then" format says that if situation X happens, then we'll do Y to achieve Z. For instance, let's assume that your goal is to read one hour every evening. To reach this goal, you'll set your intention as follows:

If it is 8:00 pm, then I’ll sit in my comfy chair and read for one hour.

In this example, we have already determined that the time we have available to read is after the kids are in bed. The more specific your goal, the more precise your implementation intentions. Think of this process as creating a detailed roadmap to achieving your goals or completing your projects.

For your next project, big or small, unpack all the sub-tasks, take into account the known factors that may derail you, ask all the important questions (how, when, where) to make sure you gather the information you need and then estimate how long each of these small tasks will take. It's only then that you'll be in a position to determine with a decent degree of accuracy when your project will be finalized.

I know that it may seem like a lengthy process at first, yet once you put it into practice, the probability is that you’ll finish your project sooner and with less distractions than if you skip this exercise. And as always, practice makes perfect. Remember that your ultimate goal here is to minimize frustration and stress. Be patient, and you’ll reap the rewards!

A realistic schedule is a schedule conducive to productivity.

One last suggestion. Sometimes we write tasks in our to-do list that aren't tasks but projects. I subscribe to the idea that when a task requires more than two steps to complete, it's a project. A task should be a one or two-step process. Allow me illustrate what I mean. If you need to make a doctor's appointment and have all the information required, you'll call their office and set the appointment. Task completed. Now, if you first need to find a recommendation or referral, then check with the insurance company to see if the doctor is in-network, and lastly, call the doctor's office to set the appointment, this is a project; small, but still a project, not a task.

Said difference it's crucial when writing down in your planner "make doctor's appointment." If you have the information handy, it may take you five minutes to cross that task off your list and move on to the next one. If you have to go through the inquiry process, it may take you an hour or a full morning before you can move on. Not taking this factor into account will result in either skipping the task altogether, so you're on time for what comes next, or be late for the next activity. Estimating the appropriate amount of time for your projects will make a tremendous difference in your productivity.

What do you think about Implementation Intentions? Where you familiar with this concept before reading this post? Do you think it'll help you with your planning from now on? Comment below! I'd love to learn from you. Like and share this post!

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