Five Time Management Tips to Make Better Time Estimates

Manage_TimeHave you budgeted for a task to take one hour, and then it takes 2 hours… or 30 minutes?

Estimating and budgeting the time a task will take can be very important for our business. How can we learn to make better estimates of project time and keep our project costs on track?

As always, there are many ways to better manage your time estimates. Here are five good Project Time Management  Tips to put you on the high road to time estimate mastery.

  • Step 1: Personal Productivity Log. Start by not only estimating how long you think a project should you to complete, but also record the actual time taken. If you record these numbers in a spreadsheet, it is really easy to, “do the math” for all your projects to determine a “time factor multiplier”… the difference, between how long you estimate for a project, and how long it actually takes. This can be a plus or minus factor… greater or less than one.
    • For instance, you might estimate that it will take you 45 minutes to change the oil in your car, but, it actually takes you a full hour… 60 minutes. The time factor for this is 1.33 since it took 33%, or one third longer, to compete the oil change. On the other hand, if it actually takes you 30 minutes to complete the oil change, you would be under by one third for a time factor of 67%.
  • Step 2: Average your time factors out for the week. Most people actually see widely varied time factors from project to project. But averaging them out (easy with the numbers you have been recording in your spreadsheet), you’ll most likely come up with a number that is pretty consistent from week to week.
  • Step 3: Apply that time factor to large groups of tasks. As you well may guess, applying the Time Factor to individual tasks most likely won’t work well. But when you apply it to a week’s worth of scheduled tasks, you’ll see if you are over or under budgeting your time – before you start your work week, not half way through.
    • How much detail??? Experience and practice will help you avoid breaking down tasks into too small bites. To broad a break will lead to details being missed in the original estimate. Or, break tasks down too small, and you get lost in the weeds of detail and lose sight of the whole project.
  • Avoid time blocks that are too large. For most people, tasks that take one to two hours each seems to work well – but your experience may warrant larger or smaller blocks for your projects. How that works is that if you’re off by 25% for a one-hour task, you’re only 15 minutes off your schedule. But if you’re off by 25% for an 8-hour task, you’re 2 hours off schedule – so keep it tight.
  • Step 4: Goals, Goals, Goals. Without a set goal, you’ll never be certain when the task is complete, and this will mess up your time estimate.
  • For instance:
  • “Make sales calls.” – Not specific… you never know when you are done.
     “Make five sales calls.” – Perfect clarity on when the task is complete.
  • Here’s a trick to keep yourself on track: make sure you can easily verbalize the first and last actions of a process. If you know exactly how – and when you start and how – and when you finish, you’ll know exactly when to mark the task complete (and mark it in your log).
  • Don’t forget set-up/clean-up time. Maybe it only took you 15 minutes to change the oil in your car… but if you don’t budget getting your tools and then putting everything away, disposing of the oil, and washing up, you won’t have an accurate time: either estimate or actual.
  • Step 5: Keep your budget/actual records. As you repeatedly budget and complete tasks, your records – kept in your spreadsheet – will start giving you a much more accurate picture of how long tasks take… and make it easier to correctly budget your time. This accurate picture of the time it takes to complete various tasks in your business makes it easier to actually schedule – and accomplish more in each week.

Accurate time estimating is a valuable skill. Accurate project estimates help you be more productive and reliable. And your customers and clients will really enjoy getting their projects, “On Time and On Budget!” Good time management practices take practice, but they’re well worth the effort.


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