Please raise your hand if you add a time estimate to every single task that you put on your to-do list. Well, having worked with many clients to help them take control of their time, my guess is that you probably don’t. Read on to learn why it is so important to add a time estimate to each of your tasks and how to come up with a robust time estimate – and no, you don’t need to be mathematically inclined to achieve that!
Why you need a time estimate
People who don’t estimate the time it takes them to complete the tasks they put on their to-do list have no basis to build a realistic workload and often end up with more than what they can handle in one day. They find it difficult to proactively re-adjust their schedule on those days when they have over-scheduled themselves. As a result, they feel overwhelmed and end up working very long hours. Or they feel frustrated because they can’t complete all the tasks on their to-do list.
Also, time is intangible. There’s often a big discrepancy between how long we THINK it takes to complete a task and how long it ACTUALLY TAKES. Things we enjoy doing seem to go very fast, while on the other hand, things we don’t enjoy doing seem to be taking forever. This may lead us to select the tasks on our to-do list based on what we feel like doing and to procrastinate on those we think take a lot of time when in fact they might not be so time-consuming.
How to come up with a robust time estimate
The good news is that learning how to estimate how long tasks take is not rocket science. There are a few simple things you can start doing to master the art of time estimating.
Be specific. Let’s say you want to book your next holiday, you’ll need to look at dates, brainstorm and agree on potential destinations with your spouse, come up with an itinerary based on your own research or a travel agent’s inputs, book the airlines, accommodation, etc. You get the point, right? The more details you go into, the more accurate you’ll be to estimate the time it’ll take to book your holiday.
Be realistic. Wishful thinking doesn’t work! If you’re trying to estimate how long it takes your child to get ready for school in the morning, there’s no point indicating 5 minutes for breakfast if she’s a slow eater and needs 15 minutes.
Take external factors into consideration. If you’re in an environment with distractions, whether visual or auditory, while you’re trying to complete a task, you might want to build in extra time for likely interruptions. The alternative would obviously be to move the task to a different time or place so you wouldn’t get distracted and would be more efficient.
Similarly build in “hidden” times, in particular traveling time, set-up time, or wrap-up time. For example, a one-hour yoga class is likely to turn into a 1.5-hour event. Because you may need to add 10 minutes to walk/drive to the studio, 5 minutes to change into your gear, 5 minutes to shower and get dressed afterward, and 10 minutes to walk/drive back.
If you struggle to estimate the time of certain tasks, then measure it. In particular, those tasks you need to perform on a regular basis or you tend to procrastinate on. Time yourself several times until you’ve got a good understanding of how long it takes to complete these tasks.
Although it may come across as a time-consuming exercise, you’ll soon start to reap the benefits of estimating your time. You’ll also be able to use this information as a benchmark to estimate the time of similar tasks.
If you want to get back in control of your schedule but are not sure where the problem comes from, sign up for my life management program.