Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to Improved Time Estimates

One of the often neglected skills in our personal and business arsenal is our skills for time management. How many times have you fallen prey to having a project go astray for one reason or another and when you dig in you find that if you would have only enhanced your time management skills that you could have saved a lot of headaches (and time)? Do you ever plan for a task to take an hour, but it takes four hours?
A key time management skill is estimating. Your ability to estimate the amount of time a task will take can be very important, at home, at play, in your social life but especially at work. Estimating the length of time it takes to complete a task is an important skill for time management. So, now tell me how can I get better at making time estimates?"

Let me give you these four tips for you to begin your time management skill enhancement quest. Use these tips on a regular and on-going basis and you will be well on your way to mastering your time by strengthening your skills for time management.

1. START WITH NOW - Measure where you are right now. Start by writing down estimates of how long you think it will take you to complete various tasks every day. Finally, calculator your time factor index. To get your "time factor index," or how much of a difference there was between the two, divide your estimate by the actual amount of time used.

• Say you decide to change the oil in your car. You believe that the oil change will take 45 minutes, but it actually ended up taking 60 minutes. Your time factor would be 1.33. 60 / 45 = 1.33 or Sixty divided by forty-five equals 1.33. So the task took you 33% longer than your planned estimate.

• You will most likely see a wide variety of time factors in various 'buckets' of tasks. For example: you might see one range of time factors for home cleaning tasks, and different range of numbers for business tasks versus yet another range of time factors for social tasks.

• You can then apply that time factor to large groups of tasks, such as all those you would do in a day or a week. And although your time factor will not be accurate for single tasks, it does provide a good starting point.

2. Distinguish the level of detail. Break down tasks to appropriate chucks. This in itself is a great time management skill. Tasks that are too big will result in overlooking too many details, which each take time. Experience and practice with your new and growing time management skills will help you determine an accurate level of detail.

• For more accurate estimating, avoid letting your blocks of time be too big. For most people, a task that takes one to two hours is about right.

3. Set specific goals. If you are not able to be certain at which point the task is complete, you are cramping your time management skills and you will not be able to make a good time estimate.
• Some examples: 
"Make sales calls." - Too non-specific. 
"Make five sales calls." - Now you are and can be very clear about when the task is complete.

• One time management trick to help you know you are on the right track: you should be able to easily verbalize the first and last actions that need to be taken for the task you are estimating. You see, if you know exactly how to start and how to finish the task, you will know exactly when you have completed the task.

• Remember to include any clean-up time. It might only take you 15 minutes to change the oil in your car, but what about putting everything away, disposing of the used oil, and washing up? These little but necessary maintenance steps in our tasks often get forgotten and thus cause time loss. Remember time management and organizational skills we are talking here one supports the other and visa versa.

4. Keep track of and review past results. If you vacuumed the entire house last week and it took 72 minutes, then that is quite probably a pretty good estimate to use the next time you do it. Much of our lives consist of tasks that we do over and over. If you measure yourself, you can use that information in the future.
• Having this information handy also makes it a lot easier to plan for the day. You will be far less likely to over-plan or under-plan when you add this step to your time management skill training arsenal.

Making more accurate time estimates is a valuable time management skill. With this skill, you can be much more productive and reliable. Plus, your friends, your spouse your family and especially your boss will be thrilled if you start getting everything done when you claim it will be done (or before)! Although effective time management takes some practice, it's certainly worth the effort.

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