Time Estimating Success Tips for Work and School

Always underestimating how long something takes to do? Do you have your manager, teacher or clients always upset that things aren’t done? Here are some time estimating success tips for better estimating your time.

Why is Time Estimating a Problem? #

If you don’t estimate your time properly you run into problems. Here are a few scenarios that show the problem.

  • Telling your boss a task will be done tomorrow but finding when you dive into the task it will take a lot longer than you thought.
  • A student has van assignment due in 3 weeks. They think the assignment will take 3 hours, but on the last day, when they start work on it, they need more research and they find out they can’t finish it in a day.
  • Self-employed people promise a client that their project will be complete in two weeks, but run into a series of setbacks and disasters.


Time Estimating Harm #

When you fall into bad time estimating habits, you are often causing the following harm to yourself.

  • Running out of time to complete
  • Having to hand in work late
  • Having to hand in lower quality, substandard work
  • Undercharging for the project if it was a project you were getting paid for the project

Why Are We So Bad at Time Estimating? #

Here are some reasons we are bad at estimating how long something takes:

  1. We tend to overestimate our speed and focus levels
  2. We don’t anticipate or allow time for obstacles
  3. We didn’t fully plan the scope of the project and allow scope creep
  4. We have’t been measuring how long tasks really take

Track Time for Future Task Estimating #

By tracking your time, this shows how long the task REALLY takes and keeps you focussed on the task at hand.

Over time, you should have a library of time-tracked tasks or projects so you know how long they take.

You can track your time using:

  • hand written time logs
  • spreadsheets
  • apps like Toggl

The “Scotty” Method #

I am naming this one the “Scotty” method after Scotty from Star Trek. Scotty was considered a miracle worker for providing time estimates, then finishing in a fraction of the time he quoted.

This method builds time cushions. If you think something might take you 2 hours, allow 4-6 hours. This allows for things that take longer than you first estimated. If you are done early, you can always move on to your next project and you avoid all the harms of running late.

And, imagine a client’s face when you bill them for LESS than the time you estimated. You will, indeed be a hero.

Starting New Projects #

Start any new projects WELL before the due date. This helps you find issues and problems quickly and leaves you with the time to overcome obstacles, do additional research or to complete the project if it takes longer than your original estimate.

It also gives your mental “back burner” time to simmer and think of additional ideas or work on obstacles. I can’t tell you how many times the solution to a major obstacle I was facing formed in my mind while I was doing something totally unrelated.


Time Estimating Tips Summary #

To summarize, here are some steps to better time estimating.

  • Track your time so you know how long things really take
  • Add a safety margin to your estimates (The Scotty Technique)
  • Start project well before the due date

Need help with managing your time? Book a coaching session with Captain Time.

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