Time management Monday: estimating time

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One of the best time management skills you can learn is how to accurately estimate the amount of time it will take you to complete a task or project. Under-estimating time makes you perpetually late at best, and can get you into big trouble at worst. (Think missed deadlines, missed bills, missed planes…you get the idea.)

One common time-estimation mistake is not taking into account all the steps involved. Often a task requires things to be done beforehand. What at first seems like one task is actually a multi-step project.

Here is an example from my life right now: My daughter is taking a school trip to an outdoor adventure center (which sounds awesome and I want to go too!). She needs to pack her bag. She has her packing list, supplied by her teacher, so she knows exactly what she needs to pack. Packing the bag should take, what, about 30 minutes?

Except that every single item, down to every sock, must have a name label on it. So we need to stick in the name labels. Which I already have on hand, because I ordered them ahead of time. (Lead time: 3 days.)

But before the name labels can go into the clothes, the clothes have to be clean and completely dry so the long-lasting adhesive will stick properly. Any new clothes must be washed first to remove excess dye and any production dust, for complete adhesion.

I have ordered new quick-dry hiking trousers for her, 9 days ago, and they have not yet arrived. In-store pickup was supposed to be in 2 days, which is why I chose it as opposed to 2 weeks for home delivery. I phoned a couple of days ago to ask about my order: the items are on their way and should be in the store ready for pickup tomorrow. I’ll need to travel about 50 minutes in to the store itself to pick the items up. (Lead time: 11 days.)

So what originally looked like 30 minutes of packing turned into 11 days waiting for the order, half a day to travel in to town and back, then a couple of hours for laundry completion, gathering all items, sticking in labels to every single garment (I’m approximating an hour), then packing. Good thing I started this process early!

Two things are necessary for accurate time estimation: thinking through the entire process (as outlined above), and experience to know how long it takes you to complete tasks.

A good exercise for this is to keep a log for a few days detailing how much time you spend on each task. Maybe you think you spend 15 minutes online in the morning while you drink your coffee. If you log your time, you might discover that’s actually an hour spent. Maybe you thought it would take you one hour to write that report but it actually took you two. Or three. Keeping track will help you more accurately estimate next time.

As always you should pad your schedule a little bit to avoid crises because even the most experienced time-estimator gets surprised sometimes, and unexpected things do come up. With practice, you’ll learn how to predict how long tasks will take, which will maximize your productivity and keep those frantic last-minute panics at bay.

3 thoughts on “Time management Monday: estimating time

  1. Field trip is a bad example.
    ( Sweatshop in China probably made them, then transit from China).

    Use a black magic marker on her clothes, and write off the pants. Kids get dirty.
    A great book…”Half broke horses”. the mother in the story, a hearty farm woman didn’t believe in doing laundry for the cowboys….you just have to read it.

    You can go to the local goodwill or Kohl’s and get the same pants or shorts.

    Or yard sales or consignment stores.

    Simplify your life so you can spend more time with your kids and less time with the post office.

    • I agree I would have preferred to spend much less time on the trousers situation. She specifically had to have quick-dry trousers (they will get wet daily and need to dry on the go so she doesn’t spend the day soaked) and unfortunately where we live there were no other purchasing options. This wasn’t a normal situation but I thought it was a good example of how something that seems quick and simple can escalate into something much more time consuming. Luckily I started way early so I was able to get her properly outfitted before her trip.

      Undoubtedly the trousers are made abroad somewhere but the issue was with the warehouse, apparently. It all got sorted out in the end!

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