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The amount of time you allot to complete a task influences the amount of time the task will take you to complete.

Let me tell you about something that happened to me recently to illustrate this point.

One of my friends misplaced his car keys, so I drove him across town to get his spare car key. This changed up my normal morning routine, and when I got back home, it was 9:07am. I have to leave my house at 9:20am to catch my train to work. So I had exactly 13 minutes to take a shower, get ready, and pack my lunch.

Normally I set aside 45 minutes to do these tasks. So on that particular morning, I felt stressed, and didn’t know if I was going to make it. I thought I might have to take a later train, which would necessitate changing a meeting and shifting a few other things around at work.

But you know what? I made it just fine, and even had a couple of extra minutes to spare. How is this possible, when it usually takes me 45 minutes (over three times as long) to do the exact same set of tasks?

Something I have found to be true in my life is the time I allot to complete a task influences the amount of time the task will take me to complete. On that morning, I showered as fast as I could. I didn’t waste any time. And because of that, my shower took 4 minutes instead of the 10 minutes it usually takes. I didn’t waste time picking out what clothes to wear. I just chose something and went with it. I didn’t turn on the Today show as I packed my lunch. Instead, I was efficient and just got the task done. All together, it took me about 12 minutes to get ready for my day.

If it takes me 12 minutes to get ready if I’m focused, why does it generally take me 45 minutes to get ready? I think the answer is that since I allot myself more time, I allow myself to take longer to complete the task.

Now I don’t necessarily think I want to get ready in 12 minutes every morning. I prefer to have a bit more time to relax. But there are some areas in my life that I have applied this principle in ways that have really helped me.

For example, I joined a new CrossFit class at my gym that met on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings from 6-7am. This was early for me. Generally, I set my alarm 45 minutes before I had to start. This meant I was getting up at 5:15am. (Yikes!) But in applying this principle, I found that if I was focused in getting ready and didn’t turn on the TV, I could get up at 5:30am and be just fine.

I also applied this principle in my work life. For example, when writing or editing a paper, I had the tendency to spend a lot of time on certain sections, wanting to get things just right. But I found if I put a time limit on myself (e.g., 2 hours), I was more efficient and generally got my task done in the amount of time I allotted (rather than have it take an entire day). Email was another area that used to take me a long time. Now, I set a timer for 30 minutes and have a laser focus in clearing my inbox.

When we become more efficient in our everyday tasks, we clear up time for focusing on more important tasks, as well as for leisure and connecting with family and friends. Don’t let the time allotted to complete your tasks expand. Instead, set specific time limits for yourself.

Discussion: What is one task in your life that is taking longer than necessary? Try setting a time limit for completing the task, and see what happens.

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