A Leadership Expert Has a Simple Time-management Trick to Help Make Sure You Never Fall Behind on Your To-do List Again

Save yourself some stress in the long run.

Lelia Valduga/ Getty Images
Lelia Valduga/ Getty Images
  • The items on your to-do list will probably take longer to finish than you think they will.
  • So when you’re estimating how much time it will take to complete a task, multiply that number by three.
  • That’s a tip from leadership expert Greg McKeown, highlighted in The New York Times.
  • Most people fall victim to the “planning fallacy,” meaning they think they can finish a project sooner than everyone else can.

I’ve been writing and reporting for years now, and I’m still horrible at estimating how long it will take to finish an article.

Once in a while, I get lucky and inspiration strikes, so that the whole thing takes less time than I’d budgeted. But more (a lot more) often, things take longer (way longer) than I’d anticipated.

I hope and suspect I’m not the only one in this particular boat, nor the only one to be delighted by a trick I stumbled across recently in The New York Times’ Smarter Living newsletter.

Tim Herrera shared a tip from leadership consultant Greg McKeown, author of “Essentialism“: Whenever you’re estimating how long it will take to complete something, multiply it by three. (Apparently, this strategy works for calculating any investment, not just time.) The idea is to be as realistic as possible — and to save yourself some scrambling and self-loathing in the long run.

McKeown’s advice reminded me of insights from Caroline Webb, a former McKinsey partner and the author of “How to Have a Good Day.” In an interview with psychologist Ron Friedman for the Peak Work Performance Summit, Webb recommended doubling your estimate for how long it will take you to finish a project — and then adding some buffer time.

That’s because Webb has noticed that we tend to remember the “one shining example where everything went right” and think that’s how long a particular task will take. It’s an example of the “planning fallacy,” or the tendency to underestimate how much time it will take to complete a task.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has written that people generally think they’re more capable than others, in the sense that if writing a project report takes most people a day, you might think it will only take you half a day.

If you use McKeown’s trick or Webb’s, you might discover that you don’t have the resources to successfully complete a task — and that’s OK. As McKeown told Herrera, “Pay the price up front and think about it fully.” Then make a decision about whether to pursue the project.

“It’s a very healthy way to live,” McKeown said.

Originally published on Business Insider.

More from Business Insider:

When I decided to change careers in my 50s instead of retiring early, I drew on a skill from acting school I hadn’t used in decades

The 2 traits that help the most successful people stand out from the crowd usually spell disaster for the rest of us

A former Google HR exec asks job candidates a tough question to figure out how they’ll act ‘when the chips are down’

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


The Most Essential Time Management Question to Ask Yourself

by Julie Morgenstern

Chef Greg Rales: “Your job is bigger than just you.”

by Ben Ari

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.