Woman stress eating donuts

In another post, I mentioned that we humans tend to fall down when we have to estimate the time it will take us to do something.

Arnatte wrote to ask me why I think that is.  That’s a great question. One I should have talked about!

The complete answer is far more complex and nuanced, and I’ll save it for another time.

The best short answer I have is that it’s due to our not considering all the things that go into what we have to do. We do so many things that we don’t even consciously realize, or figure into the time it takes to complete even simple tasks. When you don’t take them into consideration, things get frustrating in a hot minute.

As an example, you need to send a short email to a client with a couple of attachments (one of the examples from my last post). You think it’s only going to take you a few minutes, and it takes at least twice that.

The process in your brain was, “write short email.” And your brain turned that around for you and said,  “takes a couple of minutes.”

But what was forgotten  are called “micro-movements.” Micro-movements are all the tiny things you do besides the thing your brain thinks you’re doing. It’s true that writing the email takes the couple of minutes you thought it would, but when you add the micromovements, it takes longer.

The micromovements that I would make if we were watching me do this task are:

  • Open Gmail
  • Hit the Compose button
  • Address the email
  • Engage my brain around what I want to write
  • Write the email
  • Proof the email
  • Add the attachments (which involves finding the files, choosing the files, attaching the files, and waiting for them to upload as attachments to the email
  • Set it up to give me a read receipt
  • Set it up to Boomerang back to me tomorrow afternoon if there’s no reply
  • Send the email

AND, if I weren’t a cognitive switcher (meaning that I can switch mental gears very quickly), I might have needed to pause for a minute or two after the thing I did before I began this task to get my head in the right place to write the email. Or I might have been in the kitchen and had to get into my home office, sit down, and put on my glasses before I started. Every single thing I just mentioned involves multiple micro-movements.

When you look at the micromovements and take them into consideration, they obviously add time to the task, right?

But if you don’t account for them, then it’s hard to see why in the world your “short email” took you so long.

In truth, everything you do takes you longer than you think it will. And that causes a disconnect between what you think you can get done and what you actually get done.

If you’ve ever said something like, “I’ve been in my office all day and feel like I didn’t get much done,” it was probably because you didn’t account for your micro-movements.

Train yourself to consider those, and you’ll likely feel much more productive and be much better at estimating how much time you’ll need to get things done!