I like to think I milk the most possible time out of my day, getting a lot done with as little effort as possible. It’s in my best interest to do so because not only do I have a family that I want to spend more time with; I have a lot of projects I want to get off the ground, and I can’t do that if I’m not working hard and keeping my schedule open.
One of the most effective tricks I’ve found to maximize my daily productivity is to set time limits for how much work I will do on any given project at any given time.
Parkinson’s Law says that if you give yourself enough time to get something done, you will fill that time to completion.
So if I took the same five blog posts on my calendar I schedule 2 hours for and gave myself four hours to write them over four days, I’d probably use all that time (with liberal doses of Facebook and BoardGameGeek mixed in to break up the monotony). If I give myself only two hours, I get it done, because that’s all the time I have for it.

How to Set Strict Yet Reasonable Time Limits

If you are a freelancer, it’s in your best interest to understand how long a task takes as quickly as possible. Especially if you bid at a fixed rate, you need to know how much time you need for a project to get as much profit out of it as possible and hit your deadlines.
To that effect, I know exactly how many words I can write per week, per day and per hour. I know how long it takes to write a 50 page eBook, how long it takes to edit that eBook, how long it takes to format that eBook, and how much time I should set aside for edits on that eBook in a second draft.
I’m right about 99% of the time on these estimates and it makes me very efficient. But there are times when I’m wrong – when my time limits are too strict and I fall behind.
The key is to set a timeline strict enough to optimize efficiency but not so strict that you immediately fall behind or overbook yourself.
When starting out, the best thing to do is start broad and start narrowing it down. Make a reasonable estimate of how long it will take to write those five pages of blog posts on your schedule, but work as fast as you can. However long it takes you to get them done, schedule that much time the next time and aim to get it done 10% faster.
As soon as it feels like you’re working too fast – to the point that quality suffers or you simply fall behind – add 10% back and set that as your time limit.
For me, 2,000 words of raw text in one hour is my time limit. More than that and I’m likely to fall behind. Less and I will fill the hour and get less done. I know this for a fact so I build my schedule around it.

What About Small Tasks?

Small tasks are hard, because you’re always going to have 10-20 of them on your list any given day and they can eat up your schedule if you’re not careful.
At the same time, too much focus on managing these tasks can take up a lot of your time as well. What I do is throw everything into a big pile in OmniFocus (GTD style) and go through it once every day. I set aside one hour around lunch time during which I check off my to do list, make followup phone calls, and check messages that I haven’t gotten to yet.
I try to prioritize those tasks during that time and if I don’t get any done, I push them to the next day. If something is urgent enough, it will get done.
By setting time limits, knowing how much you can get done in any given time period and constantly measuring and testing yourself to improve, you can maximize productivity and with time stop stressing so much about how long any given thing will take to do.