Make Better Estimates Through Time Tracking

Intuitive estimates are almost always wrong. A little simple data tracking, however, and you'll be estimating like a pro.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #288

Track Your Unmeasured Overhead

Your favorite web sites thrive off consumer engagement. In other words, hijacking your attention and deliberately seeking to ruin your productivity. They call it “targeted advertising.”

But there’s a trick. Remember when you wanted to make sure you used the word “omphaloskepsis” correctly? You looked it up in six different dictionaries. That wasn’t time spent writing, but it was time spent in a task so closely related that it’s likely to factor into future writing sessions.

Track these related tasks separately from your main task. Below “write 5 pages of book,” label a line “writing-related tasks.” When your fingers are actually on the keyboard, check the “write 5 pages” line. When you’re doing related tasks that aren’t actually writing, check off the “writing-related tasks” line.

Now you’ll have an idea of how long writing takes you, and how much of that time is actually spent doing the related activities we never remember in our intuitive estimates.

Track Unrelated Overhead

And then there’s the web. Remember when you visited that web site to look up “ompheloskepsis?” You spent 20 seconds reading the definition, then 20 minutes browsing “50 Reasons to Be Jealous of Billionaires’ Dogs.” It worked. In a jealous rage, you spent 15 more minutes posting a scathing indictment of doggy-owning billionaires on your Facebook page.

That isn’t task-related overhead at all; it’s plain old distraction. Your favorite internet sites thrive off consumer engagement. In other words, hijacking your attention and deliberately seeking to ruin your productivity. They call it “targeted advertising.”

Now you know how long typing takes you. You know how much of that was typing, how much was other writing-related tasks, and how much was distraction.

Use This Knowledge

Knowledge is power. You now have knowledge. Thus you have power. Use it wisely.

Use your data to estimate how long something will take. After writing 450,000 words of Get-it-Done Guy content, I know my writing speed is 400 words per hour without distractions. My heart says “I can write a book in a week!” My data says otherwise. With distractions? Let’s not even go there.

Use your data to control your workload. When you’re tempted to take on something new, assess how realistic it is. If it would overload you, drop existing responsibilities first or just say “No.”

Use this data to understand your business. If you know how long things take, you can estimate the total capacity of your business. A coaching client who does marketing studies determined it takes one person 10 days to prepare a marketing study. The 6-person firm uses this knowledge. They know they can handle 6 simultaneous clients, max.

Don’t let your estimating make your life a living heck! Use a grid to track your time, including the tasks and interruptions you often forget. Soon you’ll be able to estimate like a pro.

Estimate ruler image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.