Good time management depends on knowing the value of each minute. If you can correctly tell how long it will take to do a task, your schedule will never go haywire. So here’s how to get good at estimating time.
Wear a Wristwatch All the Time
To learn to estimate time, you need to be able to regularly check what the time is. It’s that simple. So wear a wristwatch. When you check it repeatedly, it becomes a habit, and you will slowly start guessing the time as your hand rotates. I used to have trouble with time, but this simple trick has worked wonders for me.
If you have trouble with time, always wear a wristwatch. In case there’s a large wall clock in your room, you can take off your wristwatch — but make sure you put it on again when you leave to go any place where there isn’t a clock. Having any clock at a quick glance is important.
Set an All-Day Alarm that Snoozes Every 10 Minutes
Appreciating small chunks of time sets you up to better estimate large chunks. Do you really know how much you can get done in just 10 minutes? Stephen M. Meade, Founder-CEO of Magazine Moments, shares his trick in LinkedIn:
Take your phone, computer, outlook, calendar, etc. and set up an alarm. Then, set the alarm to snooze for ten minutes each time it goes off.
As you work through the course of your day, notice each time the alarm goes off.
Over time, track what you get accomplished between each alarm notification.
Ten minutes might be too disruptive for your workflow, so feel free to fiddle around with that. The point is to get better at understanding how much you can get done in a short amount of time.
Procrastination researcher Timothy A. Pychyl suggests taking a whole week to track every single activity you do, even things like showering or eating. He says in the Journal of the American Psychological Association that people tend to overestimate how long it will take to complete short tasks and underestimate the time longer projects will take — in other words, the planning fallacy.
Track Your Moods, Not Just Your Results
When you’re having a good day, you will get more stuff done in 10 minutes. On days where you’re feeling drowsy or lethargic, your productivity will decline. If you don’t account for how you are feeling, your time-tracking will not be accurate.
Daniel Gold, author of Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done, says you should note your moods next to your results in the tracking sheet:
Write down how you spent your minutes and keep notes on how you felt. Be honest. Sometimes you can identify that you feel “on a roll,” which is a good sign that you’re figuring out something about your productivity. So is feeling like you’d really like a nap.
Again, this can’t be done in one day or two. You’ll have to track your results and mood across longer periods — at least a week, ideally a month. Once you do that, you will spot patterns that can be used to refine your judgement of time.
Calculate Your Fudge Ratio to Give Yourself Breathing Room
You won’t suddenly start to estimate time accurately. It takes… time. Personal development coach Steve Pavlina recommends building a buffer by calculating how far off the mark you usually are. He calls this the “fudge ratio”.
The exercise is tedious, but it will help you out in the long run. Essentially, it’s simple time tracking for projects or tasks that require 10-20 hours of work. You could use any of the time-tracking applications or any method you prefer to record yourself.
So write down the list of tasks you have, or break big projects into smaller tasks, and assign how much time you’ll need for each. When you complete a task, write how much time it took you. When you’re done with all the tasks, add up the actual time and divide it by the total estimated time.
For example, if you estimate that a certain list of tasks will take 12 hours to complete, but they really take 15 hours, then your fudge ratio is 15/12 = 1.25. This means you it took you 25% longer than expected to complete the tasks.
My average fudge ratio is about 1.5. This means that whenever I make an off-the-cuff estimate for how long a task will take, on average I’m too optimistic; the task ends up taking about 50% longer than my initial guess.
This fudge ratio is what you need to bring out when someone asks you for a deadline. Think about how much time you’ll take to do that and multiply it by your fudge ratio. That’s the amount of time you ask for your deadline.
If this seems like too much trouble, you can rely on the simpler “Scotty Principle”, which is basically estimating a time, adding 25 per cent to 50 per cent to that, and committing to the longer time. In fact, there are lots of ways to extend your deadlines.
These practices and tricks should help you get better at estimating how long it takes you to get something done. You’re never going to be 100 per cent accurate every time, but do it enough times and you’ll get a rep for being punctual, and that’s a key trait of being successful.