Does this sound like a trick question? Let me ask it another way: have you ever planned to get a certain amount of work done only to find at the end of the day that you need another three or four hours to finish what you’d planned?
Whether we work alone in a home office or with others in an outside office, there are things that keep us from successfully doing what looks like eight hours of work in an eight hour day.
What happens to those other “lost” hours? Some may go to interruptions, last-minute requests, and other surprises. Some may be taken up by processing email, answering phone calls, and other routine tasks that have us reacting rather than acting. (And some may go to a game of Angry Birds – how can you stop until you’ve taught those pigs a lesson??)
If you have ever taken the trouble to track your time for a week, you have probably noticed that three to five hours of each day is taken up with unplanned tasks that don’t directly relate to your most important goals.
(If you have never tracked your time, try it. The little effort you put into the project will give you some very useful and often surprising data that will pay long-term dividends. One good online tool for time tracking is Office Time, available with a free 120-day trial for both PC and Mac platforms. If you find it helps you with more than this productivity experiment, you can purchase it for just $47.)
This is why I recommend that my clients never “hard schedule” more than about 50 percent of their day. Back-to-back appointments and meetings leave no time for those unexpected requests and sudden emergencies. It is essential to allow for some of what Sean D’Souza calls “chaos time”. Whether you take your chaos time by the day or by the month, you need to allow some time for responding, “mopping up”, and dealing with surprises.
Devote some time first thing in the day to the projects and tasks that will really make a difference in your year and in your life. An hour is good. An hour and a half is ideal. Any time at all is better than none. Then be prepared to be sidetracked, diverted, and interrupted during the remainder of the day. Because it’s nearly impossible to get eight hours of your work into an eight-hour day.