Today we’ll talk about the bane of every over-achiever: Underestimating tasks.
I am talking about tasks we are the only ones knowing what it takes to finish them, and so we are the ones giving out deadlines – and later failing to achieve them. We don’t do it on purpose – on the contrary! We try to estimate how long it will take us, we often even are willing to add buffer time to the initial estimation, just to be on the safe side, and yet, somehow, we still end up either getting to the finish line breathless or not making it on time at all.
Now, you know I love explaining what’s the problem first, and then how you can fix it – but today I’ll take a different approach: let’s work with an example. It will make it easier for you to grasp the concept and start implementing immediately – and we’re all bout the fast implementation here at the Time Hackers:
Let’s talk about power point presentations; We’ve all been there: Your boss asks you to create a presentation about the latest project you’ve been working on, to show what you have accomplished, and he wants to know how fast can you do it.
So ou think about the topic of the presentation, the points you’ll be talking about, you consider it all and then tell your boss that it’ll take you about 2 hours to prepare it. I mean, how long should a simple presentation repression take, right?!
Did you see what you did there? You forgot to break this task into single-step tasks. This means you are basically guessing the time estimation, because you’re going with a hunch on how long should a task take, without listing all it’s components.
But… How much of difference can it be?! It’s just a power point presentation!
Well, here’s my break down to presentations I nee to prepare:
outline topics, create title, create initial file, choose a template, research for relevant material and data in hard-copies, research in soft-copies, gather added data online, assemble the data and find where I have missing pieces (for example if I am doing a presentation about a healthy lifestyle I led I would love to show a comparison between of how much weight the participants lost during the program & how much weight people in similar positions loose outside the program – so I will need to have national data on weight loss for a certain population, this might be something I’ll need to either gather from the internet OR request from the relevant party), ask for the missing data from the relevant parties, wait for the reply, re-group my topics according to the data I’ve found, and then, for each topic to: outline it, write about each bullet point, edit, proof-read, add photos, add external links, add internal links in the presentation itself, create a table of content, go over the presentation to make sure everything is in place and all the links are working, and finally – rehears the presentation to make sure the flow is right.
Now… when you look at it this way – 2 hours doesn’t seem as that good of a time estimation, now does it? 🙂
Taking into consideration all the steps, estimating the creation of a presentation without considering all steps is setting yourself for a failure. in this example I’ve only showed best case scenario – meaning, no rehearsals with your boss, no problems fetching the data and I didn’t even mention the time it would take if you can’t take the data as is but need to actually do something with it first!
We outline big projects or things we’re doing for the first time, but a familiar, every-day task such as preparing a power point presentation doesn’t require us to break it down into steps! We go with a much of “how long should this type of task take” instead of actually looking into it as a project of it’s own, and this is where weird ourselves into a corner;
Now, I’m aware that creating such an outline for a task takes a bit of time, especially when you do it for the first time, and if your initial hunch tells you it’ll take you 2 hours to prepare the presentation, taking 30 minutes to outline it just to make sure your time estimation is correct seems a bit of over-kill; But here’s the thing: you only do it ONCE for a task. Once you have the initial outline of the steps to prepare a power point presentation, once you’re done with the task you can go back and add steps you forgot, and for the next time you’ll have a great base for estimation. This is kind of like creating SOPs for your tasks; The immediate benefit being to ALWAYS be ready on time, because your estimations will be precise, and for the long run you will create a new “hunch” for estimating tasks and perhaps won’t need to take 30 minutes to outline certain tasks.
Long story short – if you stop ignoring what you REALLY need to do just because you feel it’s taking up more time than what it SHOULD – try to REALLY figure out what goes in this tasks, just to make sure you know how long it SHOULD take, instead of guessing.