learn to cushion your time by using buffers. Feel less stressed and more prepared with these tips.

How to Cushion Your Time: Building Buffers Into Everyday Life

The only thing we know we can expect in life is the unexpected. Cushions and buffers are going to help us with this by preparing us instead of us simply reacting in the moment. A buffer is defined as something that prevents two things from coming into contact and harming one another.

The problem we face is thinking that no matter what, the timeline we have for our goals/projects will somehow magically work. It will expand to meet our estimates even if we underestimate our time.


Why Do We Need Buffers?


We need breathing room and the white space to allow ourselves to readjust when needed. Giving ourselves grace to get back on track when we fall off from time to time. At times it may not even be your fault when you fall off track, but that’s okay, because we all do it.

Buffers give us time to adapt to any sudden or unexpected events. You know the space you keep between your car and the car in front of you? That’s a buffer. When we get distracted, we can forget about the buffer zone. At this point, we have to do something unnatural, like swerve or slam on brakes in this example. Creating buffers space gives us room for the expansion of ideas and allows us to avoid these swerves in the road.

Most people admit to having a tendency to underestimate their time while simultaneously believing their current estimates are accurate. We like to think that our hours come with more than 60 minutes, when in actuality, we all have the same amount of time. This tendency is called planning fallacy, coined by Daniel Kahneman. He conducted a study and deduced that people tend to underestimate even when they’ve already done the task before. And we do this because we love to rely on the best case scenario.

From Optimistic to Realistic


Remember that one time you drove to work and it only took you 20 minutes? Somehow even if it regularly takes us 30 minutes, we truly want to believe that the 20 minutes scenario is achievable and therefore the norm. When we find out the truth – that these things take longer – we get disappointed.

Constantly doing and believing this will cause our results to suffer because we don’t have that space or breathing room. Instead of assuming the best case scenario, we need to build buffers for unexpected events. If you’re interested in hearing about mine and John’s real life example of before we got married – listen to episode 018, because this may easily apply to your life as well! Sometimes being optimistic isn’t the answer, and being realistic is. It’s all about preparation.

The first step is to take a good, hard look at how you’re doing. Are you consistently missing deadlines or having your timelines not work out? Take a step back and see where you are.


Calculating Your Timelines


An online design project company, Sketch Deck, found that they were consistently underestimating their project timelines. The results of their findings told them that for each step in a project, there was a 50% chance of completion on or before the deadline. You might think that sounds pretty good, but let’s look at it the other way.

This means there’s a 50% chance of it not being completed on time, which just keeps compounding. For the second step, there’s another 50% chance you’re not going to make it on your timeline, giving you a 25% chance of actually making your final deadline. And if you have three steps, that’s a 12.5% chance of finishing it on time.

We want to believe that the steps where we get done ahead of time are going to make up for those steps, right? The make up time you’re getting is really just slivers. We have to remember not to be overly optimistic here. You have to allot for the things you don’t normally anticipate.

“When buffers are scheduled into your time, you’ll find that you can slow down and actually take a breath.”


Tips & Strategies I Use Daily


  1. First, I want to point you to an exercise you can download HERE. This will help you figure out where you are underestimating your time.
  2. The main solution I’ve found is that if you add a 50% buffer to the time you estimate, you’re going to be in much better shape. If it takes you an estimated 10 minutes to get your child to soccer practice, leave the house 15 minutes before you need to be there. Having those five minutes will relieve the stress of being late or allow time for traffic or forgetting something at the house.
  3. If you do have extra time at the end of your drive or finish a project early, I suggest preparing for the next task ahead. I like to do this and center myself. Or have a quick conversation with the kids. Even use this time to check in to your social media. Since I don’t allow myself to do this at work or when I’m with family, these buffer times can easily be used for that.
  4. Note that your buffers aren’t there for you to try to squeeze in one more thing. It allows you to release stress and be prepared. Instead of trying to do that one more thing – I use a personal assistant. I think most of us have one, right? Mine is Siri. Yours might be called Cortana or Alexa, etc. But I simply say, “Hey, Siri, I need you to set a reminder that when I get home, I need take out the trash.” And it works. Because if I try to fit that in in the morning, I may be a little late, the trash could bust, the dog could run out – who knows!


What’s Next?


Buffers are for the task at hand. Not for the extra things. When they’re scheduled in, you’ll find that you can slow down and actually take a breath. Don’t rush around because this will cost you way more time and money than if you had actually slowed down. Enjoy working on a task in the  moment.

No matter how little time you have, take a few minutes, write down your tasks and figure out where you need to start. Like Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Using these buffers allows you to reap in some great benefits: not feeling overwhelmed with a packed schedule, feeling more confident because you’re not letting tasks falls between the cracks and doing what’s important rather than whatever pops up.

CLICK HERE to get your free download and start cushioning your time with buffers!  Connect with me in the comments below and on social media. I would love to hear your thoughts of adding more buffers into your life. Do you consciously already do this? Do you  think you need to start? Let me know!


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Tips and strategies to start cushioning your time by using buffers. Feel less stressed & more prepared on a daily basis.

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Tonya Dalton
Tonya Dalton