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6 Tips to Estimate Your Time More Effectively.

6 Tips to Estimate Your Time More Effectively.

Do you have trouble estimating how long it will take you to complete a task or project?

Ever wish you could estimate your time more accurately?

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Below are six tips to help you better estimate and manage your time at home, at work, or anywhere!

1. Use similar past experiences and activities as a guide.

There’s something to be said about learning one from one’s past. If you’re unsure as to how to budget your time for a new activity, simply take a stroll down memory lane to see how much time you spent on a similar activity. If you’re unsure how long it will take you change after your Zumba class and head off to your next appointment, you might consider, for instance, how long it took you to change out of your work clothes, shower, put on a clean new outfit and go out to dinner with a friend. Your past experiences don’t have to be exact replicas of your current activities, just look out for similar components such as preparation and travel time.

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2. Appropriately identify time-dependent activities and actions.

Which of your current activities are truly time dependent and time sensitive? Are there any specific deadlines you need to keep in mind? It might be as simple as shifting your priorities. For example, estimating how long it will take you to complete your preliminary research for a first draft of a brand-new, 2,500 word blog post that is due at work one week from Wednesday is a bit more important than estimating how long it will take you to browse through this month’s issues of your favorite fashion magazines at home.

3. Track your time.

The best way to make sure you’ve actually estimated your time correctly is to track your time. There’s no denying the read-out on a digital timer or analog clock face; it’s crystal clear how much time has passed and/or how much time you’ve spent. Try tracking your time over a series of repeated instances. You could try tracking the length of your weekly check-in meetings at work or how much time you spend on Google+ each day. Your time log will help you make better decisions and will ultimately help you estimate your time more effectively.

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4. Make a detailed list of tasks to complete.

Not sure how long it’s going to take you to plan your grandma’s 90th birthday party? Try writing out a detailed list of smaller tasks related to a larger project. In the example above you might write out, “Create guest list,” “Send out invitations,” “Buy decorations,” “Buy food,” “Order cake,” and so on. You can then estimate how long it will take you to complete each of those smaller tasks. When you’re finished, simply add up all of those time estimates and you’ll have a general idea of how long you’ll need to complete the larger project at hand.

5. Add in a buffer of time.

One of the easiest ways to better manage your time is to simply give yourself a buffer of additional time. A time buffer can be a schedule-saver in case you’re caught in traffic or weather delays, you receive an urgent work request, or you just don’t give yourself enough time in the first place to do something. When in doubt, just give yourself more time!

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6. Know how long it takes you to complete a task.

How long does it take you to go through your emails in the morning? How about walking your dog, running a financial report, or putting on the finishing touches to a newly created logo for a client? Think for a moment about how long it actually takes you to complete a specific task. If you still need to further tune your estimates, ask yourself whether or not the task is something with which you are familiar. If it’s a familiar one, you’ll probably be able to complete it rather quickly; if not, it’s probably wise to add in a bit more time to your estimate.

How do you estimate your time? Do you use past experiences as a guide or do you take an educated guess? Leave a comment below.

Featured photo credit: clocks/blue2likeyou via flickr

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Rashelle Isip

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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