Can you accurately guess how long any given task or chore will take?
Years ago, I came upon a book written by Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen, called simply, Procrastination. I hadn't before considered the connection between what the authors call the ability to "tell time"--or estimate how long a task takes--and procrastination. In this regard, procrastinators tend to fall into one of two categories: those who under-estimate the time it will take to get something done, and those who over-estimate it.
Under-estimators minimize or disregard the complexity of a task; they fail to take into account the link between the task at hand and all of the related things that must be done in order to accomplish it. "How long can it take?" they'll ask, not taking into account traffic, lines, the potential for mistakes or the necessity of learning curves. Having allotted 5 minutes for a 30 minute errand, they run out of time and either abandon their plan or run perpetually late and harried.
In contrast, over-estimators tend to amplify a simple chore or errand into a project with so many antecedents, linkages, and if-then scenarios that soon become circular ("If I go to the hardware store, I should go to the library because it's on the way, so I'll have to find the library books, but I really should call Karen because her car is in the shop and she mentioned she needed drop off some books, but if she comes I should wash the car first, but last time the hose leaked so bad, I should pick up some duct tape at . . . the hardware store.")
I tend to be an over-estimator. Not only do I overestimate the time something will take, I over-estimate the difficulty and the unpleasantness of the task--I don't know why. And so one of the things I decided to do when I started this blog is to keep a log in my day planner of exactly how long things take. How long does it take to wash the dishes? Clean the refrigerator? How much time do I need to devote to laundry every day? How long does it take to do any of the given items on my Dread List? On the Put-Off List? And if it really ends up taking much, much less time than I imagined . . . why am I putting it off in the first place?
And so, as I go through the items my lists, I will note how long I thought something will take, and how long it actually did; how hard I thought something will be before I started, and what I call the "sty factor", or how yucky, chaotic, exasperating, or just plain gross it actually turned out to be. When applicable, I'll take before-and-after pictures, so you can see the results for yourself.
Today I crossed an item off my list that I've been putting off for over a year. How much time did it take to do? Seven minutes.
At this rate, I should be done with my entire 52-item list in . . . a little more than six hours. But I still think it's going to take me a good year.