Choose Your Tasks To Fit The Time

Not too long ago, I was asked by a client of mine how long it would take to complete a certain large project. After thinking about it for a while, I gave what I thought was a fair estimate given all of the parameters, possible hurdles and building in time for contingencies. The client then asked me if I could do it faster than that. They asked if I could do it in about a third of what I had estimated…
The time a project takes does not somehow magically change because the actual time one has to complete it has. Could I have done that job in the timeframe the client wanted? Sure. Would I have had to spend just as much time as I originally quoted after the fact correcting mistakes and problems because I rushed through it? Probably. Would it be harder, and thus take more time, to make such corrections after the fact than to get them done right the first time? Definitely. Yet I can’t even tell you for how long, by how many clients and managers and in how many different ways I have been asked to do this very thing. I know I am not alone. As a matter of fact, a common joke in the computer industry is “You can have it cheap, you can have it fast or you can have it done well. Pick two.”
What you trade in time you most often exchange for quality or quantity. Sometimes you have to change the project or task that you set out to do. Sometimes you just don’t have the time you need for the project at hand. Maybe you cut a corner here and there. Maybe you drop less important aspects. In this case, the time itself does not change. The quality or quantity of the project changes accordingly with the time saved. It is now a different project, with possibly less than satisfactory results.
I try to use this approach with even the simplest items on my daily task list. For instance, I try to take an honest look at what I want to accomplish in the 15 minutes of time I may have to make a phone call. I am not going to make a call that I know has an hour worth of discussion in that time frame. If I do, I know that I will be trading a true discussion of the topics for bullet points at best. I may have to make another call to the same person later that will make up for, or even equal the time I chose not to spend in the first place. Is that the most effective use of the time? I think not.
Therefore, when you have a block of time to fill be careful to choose the right sized task to fill it. Like most things in this world, when it comes to time, nothing is free.