You never get as much done as you think you will

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

One thing I used to pride myself on was time estimation. In corporate life, giving accurate estimates and meeting deadlines (set by using those estimates!) was a prized skill, and it got me lots of recognition. 

I got a lot of push-back when my dates didn’t match what upper management wanted. But I stuck to my numbers and my dev team delivered right on time. By not caving to the pressure to shave time off estimates, I helped my team look awesome (they were!), while other dev teams constantly missed deadlines (even though most of them were awesome too).

What I didn’t understand was that even the cuckoo world of corporate IT, I was working with a pretty controlled environment. Business-owning moms don’t work in a controlled environment!

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

– Bill Gates

I believe you can replace any short and long term time frames in Bill Gates’s quote. I know that I overestimate how much I can do in one day, but I have very little real concept of how much I can do in a year. Humans are really bad at visualizing time.

Now that I’m working on my own, I’ve done the things I know how to do to estimate project time. But for some reason, I still think I can pack 42 big tasks in one day and get them all done well. Maybe on an ideal day, sure, but when was the last time anyone had one of those?

As moms, I think we’re extra-susceptible to overplanning. Without getting into any debates about what’s right or wrong, or why it happens, most moms end up taking on the bulk of household work. Who packs for the little kids when you travel? Who does the school call when your kid yells a bad word across the playground? 

We also like to create extra work for ourselves, don’t we? We didn’t have enough work around the Christmas holidays with decorating, baking, school parties, cards, wrapping – so now we try to one-up the neighbors with Elf on the Shelf antics. (Which by the way, I never got why an Elf who was supposed to be watching for good behavior would get into trouble themselves.)

We have great intentions, and even new bullet journals with our Sakura gel pens ready to go. We block our time and cram in everything!

But then what happens?

You get someone dinging the doorbell just as you get into the flow of your work. You try not answering, but they just keep ringing. Finally, you get up and answer. A man from Georgia Natural Gas tells you not to worry, the horrifying rotten egg stench is harmless – they’ve just had to release some natural gas from the lines for a repair. Don’t call their leak hotline.

Ok, fine, thanks. Back to work… now where was I?

And then, you notice that since you opened your front door, the entire house now smells like rotten eggs. You start to get a headache, and decide you have to get out of there. How long does it take to get back into the flow of working?

And for those moms who have an office or co-working space, you still will get the school calls, the doctor calls and appointments, the last minute trips to the vet. 

Some planning tips for business owning moms

For monthly tasks and a big picture view, I use a basic calendar. I haven’t fully embraced the online calendars – I love writing in a journal or on the calendar. It seems to help me think.

Then for daily tasks, I have a general picture of my day, and try to keep each day as close to the same as I can. I use time blocks to specify what I should be doing during the day. But then, I also prioritize them. 

Here’s the important part – If I get derailed, or see a possible derailment coming, I make sure I do the top priority first.

That seems pretty basic, but that’s not how I generally operate. I like reading first thing in the morning, so my morning block before and during breakfast is reading. Then, after the boy heads to school, I start work again with writing, my usually top priority. I find that if I write before I check email, I 100% more likely to do it. 

But sometimes, a client project deadline is coming up which bumps client work up in priority. Normally, I would have plenty of time during my client work block to get things wrapped up, and I would still write in the morning. But if I see a few snowflakes out the window, I know schools are likely to close early. I’d better change around my schedule and do my top priority first.

Again, this doesn’t sound all that helpful at first. But prior to having this process in place, client work was always my top priority. Client work would expand to take the time available, and I would never get any of my own work done. Already this year, I have 61 published posts. Not all are earth-shattering revelations, and none are literature, but they can all be helpful to someone.

If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that in 12 months I’d have 61+ helpful articles published for people to read and use, I would have had trouble believing that. By recognizing it as a priority most days though, at the end of the year, I’ve accomplished so much more than I thought I could.

Get-back-on-track tips

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes, “never miss twice.” He’s talking about habits. My belief is that the only way to make sure you do keep up your work when you’re often derailed is to make the important work into a habit.

So according to James, it’s only human to skip a habit or make a mistake. But if you make the same mistake twice, you’re starting to build a habit of that mistake. If you miss your workout once, that’s life. But if you miss it again, you’re starting to develop a habit of missing. His solution is to never miss a habit twice in a row.

I’ve only just started this one, but so far so good. My writing habit goal is to write each work day. I want to publish a lot, but the goal is more around the writing itself. So, if I don’t do any writing one day, writing becomes the top priority the next day, even if it’s only one sentence or a brain dump on a topic to write up later.

Another get back on track tactic that works is to plan for distractions. As you write out your daily list and make your priorities, think through what you will do if you have a distraction. Will you shorten some tasks? Can you leave some out if you have to? Which ones? Could you work in the evening just this once?

You never get as much done as you think you will!

And finally, do you have things that you’re calling distractions or derailments that come up over and over again? If so, start planning for them. Block out two hours each week for distraction time. It may seem silly, but it works. If you get to that block, and haven’t had a distraction, work ahead on something you have scheduled for later in the week. When those distractions do catch up with you, and of course they will, you will be prepared and ahead.

Quick! What do you do?You have 43 minutes until carpool. You have 17 items on your to-do list.

You're a business-owning mom, so you use this guide to prioritize your tasks in 2 minutes, and have 41 minutes left to knock out a task.

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