Give Yourself Some Wiggle Room

Ticking clock

When you throw a party, you typically try to overestimate the food a little bit, just to make sure you don’t run out. When you’re buying a bunch of nails for a home improvement project, you typically estimate a little on the high side, because you don’t want to come back for more and you can always use extra nails. So why don’t we transfer the same principles to our time management?

Running out of time to do things causes high stress, scheduling mayhem, and missed deadlines—which sounds a lot worse than running out of jalapeño popper appetizers towards the end of the night. Often when you run out of time on one project, your attempts to cram it in will affect the time you’ve allocated for the next project, and fighting against the domino effect takes a fair amount of doing.

So why do we give ourselves a buffer when it comes to estimating tangible materials, but not when we’re allocating our intangible minutes, hours, and days? In some cases it may be that we don’t feel we have control of the deadline: such-and-such product must be out by Black Friday, etc. But there are a lot of deadlines and expectations we can influence. And the fewer minutes you spend stressed, the more valuable and effective those minutes are. So to avoid stress and optimize the quality of the time you spend on your projects, try giving yourself the same leeway you give nails and party food. Plan wiggle room into your schedule whenever you can manage it.

Then when that project ends up with a wrinkle, you have time to calmly iron it out. When you have a mini-crisis, there’s time to peacefully clean up. When someone needs help the week of your deadline, you can readily offer your services.

After all, the extra time is like the extra nails you’ll buy at the hardware store. If you use them on the project you’re planning right now, then you saved yourself the stress of finding more time where there is none. If you end up not needing them, you can always find a way to use extra time (and your clients or superiors will enjoy an early delivery). Whether you use the extra time to get ahead on your next project, read up on new information you want to know, or simply relax a bit before taking on a new challenge, a little spare time won’t hurt.

So the next time you’re estimating how long a big project will take, add on a day or two, just in case. If it’s a smaller project, add an extra half-day. So long as you use the time you have wisely, and not as an excuse to procrastinate, the wiggle-room buffer will decrease your stress levels, which for many means increasing both your work quality and your quality of life. Pad your calendar for a smoother sort of time management.

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