Think back at how many times you have promised to get something done in a certain amount of time and fell a bit short. Or times where you had to work on something overtime to deliver on a promise on time. If you are anything like me, this has happened a lot. I know I have worked so many extra hours because I failed to accurately estimate how long it would take to do something. Why am we so bad at estimating?
Why Do We Underestimate?
There are many reasons why people underestimate. It could be because of a lack of knowledge or experience. It could be a failure to consider all other items that need to be completed along with the new task to take on. It could be that we forget that life happens. Amongst these reasons is another that I believe applies to many, especially in the business world. What is it?
We Are Afraid Of The Response
Often times we are afraid of what the other person may think if they ask us to do something and we estimate a time frame too large. We are afraid the other person may be surprised if we estimate too much time. Or maybe they will think we are incompetent if it will take us that long to do it? This is true for the workplace and our personal lives. The point here is that we are afraid to let people down or have them think less of us. To avoid this, we over promise and then tend to under deliver. Or we have to work our tails off to deliver on something we did not estimate properly. There has to be a better way.
The Better Way
In my experience, the better way is to add 50% to any time estimate. What I basically do is try to figure out how much time I think is comfortable enough for me to complete the task. So, if I think I can comfortably complete a task within two weeks, I will add one more week to it. By adding 50% to the estimate, I am much more confident I can deliver the task on time. I will feel less stressed and think more clearly knowing that I don’t have to kill myself working to deliver. There is an added bonus with this too.
The Added Bonus
The added bonus is that if you can deliver on the time frame minus the 50% added time, you have over delivered. You have delivered faster than the other person expected. This will be a welcomed surprise and make them very happy. By delivering ahead of time you are showing the other person that you are reliable, a hard worker, and a strong resource to have in their corner.
What If They Question The Estimate
So, what happens if you give someone an estimate with the 50% cushion and they question it? I flat out tell them that I padded the estimate with a 50% cushion. I padded it because things always come up that are unexpected. It could be something in the task you did not plan for, a challenge that takes more time to solve, or something unexpected that happens in life. That 50% padding sets their expectations for when this task should be completed no matter what comes up. With their expectations set, they can plan accordingly. It is also okay for them to know that if nothing unexpected comes up and everything goes to plan, you may deliver before the agreed upon time. But they should not count on that. I think this is a very clear way to operate.
Adding 50% to any time estimate is a sure way to eliminate some stress from your life and deliver tasks completed on time. If it takes the full estimated time, with the 50% padding, no worries. That is what you promised. If you deliver before that time, even better. Get in the habit of adding that 50% padding to anything you have to say will be completed by a certain time. It will eliminate a lot of stress from your life and allow you to be seen as someone who always delivers on time.