Building “Fat” into your schedule

Throughout my career I’ve worked on a lot of IT projects, some consisting of several years, others only a few weeks. One of the things I’ve learnt across those projects, is the concept of building “fat” into the schedule. By building “fat” into the project schedule you’re allowing for things to take longer than expected, for things to go wrong or for things to change. It’s very rare for things to turn out exactly as you plan, so over the last 12 months I’ve used this idea for my life as well.

One of the easiest ways to build “fat” into your schedule is to plan for things to take longer than you expect. If you think a task will take 2 months to complete, plan for it to take 3 months. If your morning commute usually takes 30 minutes, but you have an important meeting at 9am, allow 40 minutes for your commute, just in case. By planning for things to take longer than you expect, you’re essentially allowing for things to go wrong. And when they do go wrong, it’s not that big a deal, because you’ve already planned for it.

Sometimes you can’t easily allow for more time though, particularly if there’s a fixed deadline. So another way to build “fat”, is to change the deliverables or goals. Make the deliverables realistic with the time and resources you have. I have an ultra-marathon coming up in around 4 months, 21st September at 11:50am to be exact. I’m currently training for it in the best way I know how, but life gets in the way sometimes. I’ll get sick or pick up an injury, my daughter will pick up a bug from daycare or there are times when I just don’t have time to go out running. That’s just the way life is. So to build “fat” for the upcoming race, I’ve made my goals realistic. My primary goal for the race, is to simply finish. No matter what happens, no matter how much or how little training I get done between now and the start line, I’m pretty positive I’ll be able to finish. My secondary goal however, is to finish under 10 hours. This would be great, but I know it’ll take hard work to achieve that goal. If I train the way I’ve planned, I should be able to achieve this goal as well, but it’s not certain.

Another way to build “fat” into your schedule, is to remove non-essential tasks or goals from the plan. For example, having a 1 hour project meeting everyday, is non-essential in my opinion and that time could be better used in completing tasks. I’m starting some study later on in the year and I know it’s going to be hard and take up a fair amount of my time each week. I’m planning for the fact that I’ll need to spend somewhere between 10 – 20 hours a week studying. So to make time for that study, there’s a number of non-essential things I can cut-out. Playing video games, that can go. Watching Youtube and Netflix, yep that can go for the most part as well. I’m not saying I won’t have time to do these things, but if I’ve got an hour spare, I’m probably better off spending that time studying, as opposed to playing games.

By building “fat” into your daily, weekly, yearly plans, your planning for life to happen. Things don’t always work, plans don’t always go your way, tasks take longer than you expect, that’s just life. But by planning for it, you’re taking the stress out of the situation when things don’t go to plan.