Plan A Schedule: Use Buffers

Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by ell brown

My husband, who used to be an electrician in the Navy, was called on off hours to do work on the ship. Often it was said, “It will only take five minutes.” But as my husband is fond of saying, “There is no such thing as a five minute electrical job.”

Even replacing a lightbulb on a ship usually became a much bigger project. He learned this, and how to buffer his tasks.

Not Parkinson’s Law

I’m not talking about Parkinson’s law here, which states that work expands to fill all available time.

I am talking about underestimating the time it will take to do a task.

Why is this an issue?

Because in this over-busy day and age, people routinely do not leave themselves enough time to complete a task.

People will generally schedule the minimum amount of time to do something, and then not leave themselves enough time to get onto the next task.

And before you scoff that you are not like that, I want you to answer honestly: have you ever been later for work or an appointment because of traffic?

Point made.

Preparing For A Job

There are a few things you can do to train yourself to accurately plan for a task and the time it will take to complete.

Mise En Place

The French phrase “mise en place“, which is generally used in cooking circles, means “everything in place.” In cooking this means all of your ingredients are out, chopped, washed, or whatever, so that they are ready for the next step of cooking.

In regular jobs, it means that you have all the necessary tools on hand and they are in working order.

(Again, if you think this doesn’t apply to you, ask yourself if have you ever started a project and had to run to the store in the middle of it because you didn’t have something, or it was broken?)

Assemble all of the parts you will need before you start to save you having to look everywhere for something you need to complete the job.

Setting Expectations

The next part of making sure that you have an accurate timing is to make sure your expectations are accurate.

If you have never made a batch of cookies in under an hour, don’t think it will only take you 30 minutes this time. If you have never mowed the grass before, don’t assume it will take you the same amount of time as your neighbor (yes, I did this…it took me three times as long because I stalled the machine twice and couldn’t get it restarted).

Know what the job entails and how long it will probably take based on the requirements, your skills and experience.


Buffering is the space and time we give ourselves between jobs. This is to ensure that if things run over, we can still move on to our next activity without derailing everything following.

For example, it means giving yourself an extra 10 minutes in your commute in case you run into heavier traffic than normal. Or for setting aside travel time between two activities.

By giving yourself just that little bit of buffer, you will not find yourself playing catch up.

By setting out your materials, being realistic about the expectations of the job, and giving yourself some buffer, you will be able to weather any job that can turn out to be bigger than expected.

Photo by ell brown