A person walking purposefully for the Fairisle article Take Your Time

Photo by Candice Picard on Unsplash (cropped)

Take your time

Junk your to-do list



A person walking purposefully for the Fairisle article Take Your Time

Photo by Candice Picard on Unsplash (cropped)

Article Author John Willcox

John Willcox is Fairisle Consulting’s Lead Consultant

Take your time

How many times over the last month did you work late?

If the answer is lots of times or even just once or twice, how do you feel about it?

“Great! I love my job and I really enjoy doing extra work.”

That’s awesome carry on as you are (but keep reading this article). But if the answer is:

“Not so great. I’ve got too much to do and I work extra hours just to stay on top of things.”

You might want to follow up on some of these hints and tips.

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There’s a lot of reasons people work extra hours, but we’ve found the most common are:

Over-optimism about time

Think about a typical week day. Let’s say you sleep for 8 hours, commute for one hour, and work for 8. So 17 hours have already been taken up. That leaves 7 hours for all the other things in your life, including eating, family stuff, the gym and whatever else. In fact you’ve probably got about 2 hours on a weekday that are uncommitted.

So when you’re tempted to take on an extra work commitment you might want to remind yourself that you only have 2 hours a day free.

Back to backs

Take a look at your calendar. Jam packed full of meetings, with maybe 15 minutes max in between each one? That’s a lot of context switching. You’re much less productive if you’re having to change your focus frequently. Here’s an example which pretty much everybody will have experienced.

You’re getting ready to go somewhere, you’ve got your bags packed, your house keys are in your hand. Then your phone goes off, so you put your keys down to get your phone out. You finish the call and walk merrily out of the house, slamming the door behind you – leaving your keys locked inside.

Context switching has the same effect. It’s disruptive and having a succession of meetings on different topics will cause you to repeatedly lose your thread.


We all want to do a good job, of course. But with any given task there’s a point where the main objectives have been met, and further effort is not adding much. For example, we did some work with a client to create a handbook. The document was done, the client had reviewed it and was happy. Then we had a great idea along the lines of ‘this would be even better if…’. It wasn’t a lot of work, just a few hours, and so we did it. The client was even happier, but it wasn’t a game changer for them. It was just a little bit better. Rather than polishing an already good piece of work, we should have moved onto solving new problems.

It’s always worth checking yourself in these circumstances. Am I polishing this piece of work to get real benefit, or am I doing it to make myself feel better? We’re not saying you should be dismissive and think ‘Oh well that’s good enough’. Rather, ask yourself ‘have I done enough to meet the objectives?’ If so, Enough Is Good.

A person working late. Image credit Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash


The Endurance Trap


Break the habit

So how do you break these habits? We recommend an agile approach called ‘Sizing’. Not ‘Estimating’. Sizing.

It’s simple. For any given task ask yourself if it is small, medium or large. Assign small, medium or large on the basis of complexity. Don’t measure the size of a task in hours or days.

Here’s how it works.

Small: Pretty straightforward and well understood, something I’ve done lots of times before, and I don’t need input from anyone else.

Medium: Quite complicated, I need input from others, but I understand it well.

Large: Complicated. I don’t know much about it and will need to do some learning and research. I’ll probably need a lot of input from others.

Size everything you need to do. So if you have meetings scheduled, give each of them their own size. Then set yourself a weekly limit. Let’s say one large, two mediums, five smalls.

Icon for Fairisle workshop Sorted planning made simpleLEARN HOW IT WORKS


The planning made simple workshop


Monitor progress

Monitor your progress. If you’re achieving your large, medium and small tasks easily with time to spare, plan more for the next week. If you don’t manage all the tasks in one week, give yourself fewer tasks in the next week. You’ll soon get a sense of how many differently-sized tasks you can fit into a normal working week. In weeks where you have less time than usual, just reduce the overall number of tasks.

The most important thing is to NOT assign time in hours or days. The reason for this – and I know a lot of people don’t believe this – is that people are really bad at estimating. And by estimating I mean predicting precisely the number of hours any given task will take. We’re much better at accurately sizing, i.e. having a good sense of how complex something is, and therefore how much of our attention it will require.

When it comes to managing your time, accuracy is more important than precision. Here’s why:

Accurate: New Year’s Eve is in December.

Precise: New Year’s Eve is 12th December.

The first is both accurate and correct. The second is precise but incorrect.

Which is more useful for planning your New Year’s Eve?

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