Time Management Tip: How to Estimate Time If You Don’t Know How

Time estimation is a key skill in time management, yet many people are either unfamiliar with the concept or have never built up the skills to estimate time accurately.

Some people have a natural sense of how long they will take to complete anything – even if it’s something they’ve never done before. For the rest of us who have no clue or perhaps we’ve always been off with our estimations in the past, a simple estimation formula to start with is:

double your gut guestimate.

For example, if you think something will take you 30 minutes to complete, allow for 60 minutes.


As an experiment, you can begin timing yourself to see how long it takes you to complete various daily tasks to give you an idea of:

  1. roughly how much time the tasks take, even when you’re interrupted.
  2. how much time you lose to distractions.
  3. what various amounts of passing time feel like (five minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.), since many people can’t accurately gage this.


If you want to get serious about your time estimation, which will help you exponentially when it comes to creating more realistic daily to do lists as well as timelines for project management, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Recall similar tasks or projects from the past and how long they took to complete. You can use this as a rough estimate until you work through the following:
  2. Break the task or project down into smaller steps.
  3. Estimate how long each step should take to complete.
  4. Add in some extra or “cushion” time to allow for problems or glitches.
  5. Check your calendar to see what your workload is.
  6. Schedule in appointments with yourself in the “empty spaces” on your calendar to work on the steps, allowing room on each day to complete other work (since chances are you have more than one task or project to work on).
  7. Based on this planning, determine how much time in total you need for the tasks / project as well as how long the project should take to complete.
  8. When you complete the task, be sure to notate somewhere – in your task management system or your memory – how long the task actually wound up taking so you can build up your library for experiences to recall in order to help you with future time estimations.

You’ll find that when you begin paying attention to how much time you choose to use, you not only become a better estimator, but you also work at a higher productivity level because you know how much time you want to spend on those tasks.

That, in essence, are the basics of time estimation.



Want more advice related to how to estimate time? Check out The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer.

About Helene Segura, M.A. Ed., CPO®

As The Inefficiency Assassin™, Time Management Fixer Helene Segura empowers professionals on the go with the tools to slay lost time. Personal inefficiency at work leads to increased stress levels, lower morale, higher absenteeism, more turnover – and rising spending on employee health care and hiring. Why not improve productivity, decrease stress levels, and increase profits instead?The author of four books – two of which were Amazon best-sellers – Helene Segura has been the featured organization expert in more than 200 media interviews. She has coached hundreds of clients to productivity success and performance improvement by applying neuroscience and behavioral modification techniques to wipe out destructive, time-wasting habits.Helene turns time management on its head by sharing both client case studies and pop culture examples to teach her mind-bending framework for decreasing interruptions, distractions and procrastination so that companies can spend more time generating revenue.

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