How to Make Time Estimates?
To make time estimates, you should do the following:
- Identify all the steps required to finish the task/project and break it down into smaller components.
- Estimate the time for each component. Consider the complexity of each component while taking into account your experience level to estimate how long it will take you to complete each step. Be sure to account for any potential roadblocks.
- Add up the component times to get an overall estimate of how long it will take you to complete the whole thing.
- Pad the estimate. Add some extra time to your estimate to account for unexpected delays or complications. This will help you avoid feeling rushed or overwhelmed and give you a buffer in case something unexpected happens.
- Review and adjust the estimate. Ask yourself if it's realistic. If not, adjust it accordingly. Consider how you can optimize it or whether you need to re-evaluate the task components to improve your time estimate.
- Monitor your progress. As you work on a particular task/project, monitor your progress and adjust your time estimate if necessary. This will help you stay on track and make changes to meet deadlines or extend them if needed, not to mention that it will equip you with the knowledge you need to make a better time estimate next time.
How to Avoid Underestimating the Time You Need
A big challenge in estimating time is people’s tendency to underestimate the amount of time certain tasks will take. They do so often enough that psychologists have developed a term for it — “planning fallacy.”
The concept of the planning fallacy was first introduced by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who are often referred to as the “fathers of behavioral economics.”
In their research, Daniel and Amos described how people tend to completely overlook historical data when making time estimations (i.e., how long will a certain task take to complete).
What people typically do when making a time estimation is focus on the task at hand (e.g., writing) and then make estimates based on that, ignoring the historical data (e.g., how long it took to write a text of similar complexity and length last time).
Daniel Kahneman went even further and expanded on the original idea formulated by the two psychologists by asserting that the most common reason for time estimation mistakes can be ascribed to:
- Neglecting to consider historical data, i.e., the length of time it took to finish similar tasks in the past
- Working under the assumption that there won’t be any obstacles or interruptions during our work time
Mistake number 2 is, again, an extremely common occurrence amongst the human population and has a psychological term attributed to it — optimism bias. Optimism bias is explained as our tendency to feel that things will get better/easier in the future.
So our optimism bias, which is likely hardwired into the human psyche, leads us to make the “planning fallacy” when we’re estimating time, as it pushes us into believing that tasks that we’ve already completed won’t take as long in the future. This inevitably leads us to underestimate the amount of time certain tasks or assignments will take to complete.
However, there are strategies we can employ to counteract the effects of the planning fallacy.