Five reasons why project managers use buffer time and why you should too

You’re probably wondering what project management and your personal calendar have in common. Two words: buffer time.

The addition of buffer time in project management is a well established methodology, and we think that the same logic behind allocating buffer time in a project schedule, could - and should! - be applied when scheduling our own daily lives. 

Let's first look at exactly what role buffer time plays within project management, and why we should follow suit when organising our own calendars.  

Five reasons why you should use buffer time: Our lessons from project manager pros

People for whom allocating buffer time is already an essential process are project managers. Here are our five tips we’d love to share with you.

1. Protect your time

Project managers frequently allow for buffer time within a project’s schedule, in a bid to protect the project deadline. According to multiple studies (and as cited here), only 44% of projects using traditional project management methods actually finish on time. 

As a result of this, they will often allow more time than should actually be needed for a task, and reduce the risk of missing the overall project deadline. It’s a similar logic to the ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ philosophy whereby it’s better to set a realistic timeframe that you’ll actually be able to work within - or even surpass - than to be ambitious about timescales and end up disappointing people when you fall behind. 

In the same way as project managers protect their project schedule by allowing buffer time, we believe the addition of buffer time to personal schedules can act as a contingency plan if something takes us longer than anticipated. It’s safe to say that nobody enjoys running behind schedule, or having to admit to colleagues that you won’t meet a deadline, especially if your task has an impact on someone else’s. Adding buffer time as a contingency means you’ve bought yourself some additional time should you need it, and it prevents any knock-on effects of you missing a deadline. 

2. Account for unexpected delays

Project managers utilise buffer time to allow for any unforeseen delays that may occur, and which are often out of their control. 

These delays include things such as subcontractors not delivering on a task in the agreed timeframe, delays in accessing any external resources, or generally just because people are human and sometimes aren’t able to achieve what they’d hoped in time they’d allocated. Years of experience has taught project managers to simply allow time for delays such as these, in order to prevent the entire project being thrown off track. 

Not adding buffer time leaves project managers vulnerable to running behind on overall project deadlines, and disappointing stakeholders and team members. Ultimately, missed deadlines and running behind schedule puts everyone involved in the project under more pressure and stress. Hence, buffer time is added as a form of risk management and to reduce the likelihood of these outcomes.

In our work day or personal life, we could have buffer time added as a contingency around meetings to buy ourselves time in case something takes longer, such as a meeting with a client or a team meeting.

3. Give yourself space to think

By adding buffer time to our own calendars, we too can reduce the risk of feeling like we’re running behind and letting others down, and putting ourselves under increased pressure. 

Where project managers talk about exceeding their project schedule, we think it is possible to exceed our own schedules if we don’t manage them accordingly. When you pose the question as this: “Could your buffer bring you: peace of mind, a little less stress or time for you to grab a snack and a drink of water?” it soon becomes clear what value can be gained from the smallest addition of time.

4. Improve your focus between tasks

It is thought that the allocation of buffer time in between tasks can actually increase our overall job performance. Allowing breathing space in between completing one task and starting another means we are more likely to feel satisfied with the quality to which each task was completed, rather than rushing to get something finished and potentially having to cut corners. 

This is because we have allowed ourselves time to ‘mentally transition’.  Where switching between tasks on a physical level can happen very quickly, mental transition requires a little more time, and is so important in terms of productivity and quality of work. 

5. Take a break

There is very little to be gained in terms of productivity and mental welfare from working solidly back-to-back on different projects. Especially where a task or project is particularly demanding in terms of concentration and focus, we as humans need some time for a mental break otherwise we risk burning out. 

Taking a walk, meditating or even just stepping away from your desk in between large projects can have a profound effect on the mindset with which you tackle your next task. It’s also worth noting that buffer times don’t have to be an extensive amount of time; just a few minutes of time can make the world of difference.

We think the requirement for this application of buffer time is heightened at the moment, where many of us find ourselves working from home. While there are several benefits to be gained from this method of working, it does mean that the ability to work is there 24/7 which is why managing our schedules and taking care of mental capacities is of particular importance. 

How can help 

Hopefully you’re sold now on why buffer times are such a valuable resource when managing our own schedules. What’s even better is that when you incorporate into your existing calendars, you have the option for Emma to automatically add buffer times for you. 

You can customise whether you would like Emma to add buffer time before and/or after your meeting, and how much buffer time you need. Allowing to apply this feature to all existing and new bookings, means that the time is automatically blocked out of your calendar so that others can’t book that time out. This is particularly important if you also use’s Meeting Pages, where you can provide others with a link to enable them to book an appointment directly into your calendar, as it will show you as being busy during that buffer time, and prevent anyone booking appointments in that block. automatically adds, and protects, your buffer time. 

If you fancy trying this for yourself, you can benefit from a 14-day free trial by signing up here.

The takeaways

We think there is a lot to be gained by applying project management principles to our own schedule management, and allocating buffer times around tasks. For the sake of both our quality of work, and our mental welfare, there is huge value to be gained by carving out just a few minutes of time in between tasks to mentally regroup and gather our thoughts. Taking this one step further we think having an assistant like automatically add and protect this buffer time for you is an even better idea! 

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