Sand flowing through a woman's fingers

When you have a cubic ton of things to handle, how do you plan your day when you have no idea how much time you need to do the work? It’s the bane of existence for maaaaany people, not just virtual assistants.

They ask, “How do I manage my time when I have no idea how much time I’m going to need to do the things I have to get done? I have no way of knowing!”

This often comes up after I recommend that they not try to manage their time on a to-do list, but instead, with the only two tools we humans have that help us actually manage time…clocks and calendars.

My thoughts on doing that are here and here.

Today, I want to add to that with how to figure out how much time you need for anything you’re going to do as a VA.

Here’s the hard news. The first time you do anything, you’ll have no idea how much time it will take.

I’ve seen it said that people think sending an average short email takes under a minute when it actually takes more than five minutes.

It seems that most of us are just lousy estimators.

And some people just keep being lousy estimators and feel thwarted by not getting as much done as they’d wanted to.

But you don’t have to estimate anything ever again, except for the first time you do something. You’ll see. For every other time, you’ll have some well-figured knowledge you can use for planning purposes.

For those first times, though, just guess.  Yes, it might go wobbly on you. Think of it as your first pancake and do your best.

If you’re worried that your guess is to too low and you’ll run out of time, pad the “guess” by 30% to give you a little wiggle room. So, if you guess that it’s going to take 30 minutes for you to do X, schedule 40 minutes. Easy.

When you get into the work, and you see how much time it took in actuality, change the appointment you made on your calendar so that it reflects the actual time you spent on it.  You scheduled 40 minutes and it took you 25? Change it to reflect that reality. You scheduled 40 minutes and it took you an hour? Change it to reflect that reality.

Then, moving forward, the next time you need to do X, or something really similar to it, you have better information about how much time to schedule for it. And, over time, your information will get to be quite accurate, and you’ll come to know how long it takes you to do X when conditions are optimal (it’s an average-or-better day, you have everything you need to do what needs to be done, you’re on your game, etc.), as well as have some useful info about how long things will take when conditions aren’t optimal.

Will those time guides be accurate for similar work for different clients? Maybe. The key is in how similar the work actually is.

Sending a short email with a couple attachments for LaTasha is probably no different than sending a short email with a couple attachments for Joan. But doing a newsletter for Latasha in Infusionsoft that has many sections, content to proof, and is generally pretty painstaking to get “right,” is going to take more time than sending an already proofed, three paragraph blast in Mailchimp for Joan. All “newsletters” will not take the same amount of your time. But, a short, already proofed blast in Mailchimp for Joan will likely take the same amount of time, every time you do it.

When you let your past work inform what you need to do in the present, you can plan more effectively, and be far more efficient in your work.

Give it a try and drop a comment to let me know how it works out for you in your practice.