Why projects take longer than you planned, and what to do about it…

You planned an hour to work on a project. But half-hour in, you realize it’s going to take a lot longer than an hour. What do you do? This pattern keeps happening in your work. How do you start to remedy this?

You need to understand how long things take.

Every project you regularly engage with will eventually settle into a rhythm.

If you observe how much time your projects take, there’s an average to it.

A regular task or project does not sometimes take 1 hour, sometimes 8. (If it swings that drastically, then they’re actually different tasks or projects, with different time averages.)

Similar projects or tasks have similar time averages.

If it takes you 2 hours to write a blog post, it will probably also take you about 2 hours to do a similar-length piece of writing outside your blog.

Things take longer than planned because we haven’t been noticing how long things take.

This is why I’m such an advocate for time-logging:

You don’t have to log 24 hours a day.

Even if you focus on just logging the time it takes for specific projects, you’ll learn a lot about how to estimate your time on future or similar projects.

You need to stop trying to be perfect…

…at least in the short-term.

We can easily get stuck when we try to perfect any one project.

Try on this idea: If you keep producing, you will become more perfect in the long-term. You muscles get stronger, your skills keep growing, and your output gets better over time.

If you are worried about being perfect for any one project, you will finish very little, which holds you back from the journey of long-term perfection.

The more projects you finish, the more you are able to truly learn.

The faster you finish projects, the faster you can learn from what you did well, and what you can then improve next time.

I bias myself toward action, rather than perfection.

I aim to complete more projects rather than only a perfect few.

The principle is that Quantity leads to Quality:

Of course, once you produce a quantity of projects, you can always go back and further improve a previous project that had shown initial good results.

Perfection is a long-term process of producing a lot, and improving a few. Perfection is not meant for any single project or any one stage.

If something is taking a long time, or you aren’t enjoying it, ask yourself: Do I really need to be doing it?

Or can I do this a simpler way?

Recently, I gave myself just 1 hour to start and finish my monthly newsletter. (My VA usually does it… but I wanted to try the project myself to see if I could make any improvements.)

Half-hour in, I realized that if I was going to do my newsletter in the same format as before, it would take me much longer than an hour.

Yet, I had a meeting coming up soon, so I had a natural boundary to help curb my perfectionism.

I decided to go with a very minimalistic newsletter. It was all I could do in the time that I had.

The response I received was overwhelmingly positive. Most readers felt a sigh of relief at the new, simpler format!

So you never know what benefits can come when you keep yourself from perfectionism, and just produce whatever you can in the time you had planned.

Try timing yourself as you work.

This has been a game-changer for me. Working with a timer gives me energy.

For example, I time these blog posts that I write, which you are reading now.

I start writing the first draft with 20 minutes… timed. I write as fast as I can, remembering that Quantity leads to Quality, and that perfection is a long-term process, not for any one blog post.

Then I go and stretch for a bit.

Then I set the timer for another 20 minutes to finish the first draft.

Then I go prepare breakfast.

While eating breakfast — for which I don’t use a timer, because I know there’s an average of about 20 minutes that it takes me to eat breakfast — I do the editing and polishing of the draft.

Then I go take a nap (about 20 minutes).

Then I’m left with about 20 minutes before my first meeting, to do any quick final touches on the blog post and to share it on social media.

Maybe you can try timing yourself as you work on your next project?

Give yourself an overall amount of time that you will complete the project.

And then time yourself in segments, as I’ve shared in my example above.

You might be surprised how the timer will energize you, and make you work more efficiently, with less perfectionism.

Perhaps you can try using the timer app on your phone more often.

Or if you work at the computer, here are some great free timers:


1-Click Timer (Chrome browser plug-in)

Maybe you need to plan more time?

Once you’ve (1) logged how much time a project generally takes you, (2) started to internalize the idea that perfection is not for any one project, and (3) tried to become more efficient with timing yourself… and yet, your projects still take more time than you planned, then the one thing left to do is:

Plan more time!

The hard part? You might need to remove some tasks or projects from your agenda.

Maybe you need to stop trying to do so many things.

You are going to be fine, even if you don’t do all the things you want to do.

Adjust your ambitions — or at least, your timeline for achieving them — to match your capacities more realistically.

Give yourself more spaciousness in your schedule.

Recently, I decided to add 1 more hour each week to preparing for my online workshops. I was observing how long it was taking me to prepare, and it wasn’t realistic of me to plan so short a time.

It’s OK to schedule a longer time to work on things!

Curb your appetite for achievement, aligning it with the reality of your current skills.

With less stress comes more sustainability, which then allows you to keep producing.

And if you keep producing and learning, you’ll grow your skills over time and be able to expand your ambitions and vision.

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George Kao

George Kao

Authentic Business Coach & Author of 4 Books including "Authentic Content Marketing" and "Joyful Productivity" https://www.GeorgeKao.com