• Debra Stang

Time Management Nightmares – Underestimating a Project

Updated: Jan 2, 2019



I'm usually pretty good about time-management. I know how to multi-task and use to-do lists to prioritize my assignments. I don't have trouble making myself sit down at the keyboard and actually get to work. I don't even give in to the usual temptations like checking my email twenty times an hour or playing just one more game on Facebook.


What, then, is my problem? An unfortunate habit of under-estimating how much time any given project will take me.


Under-estimating project time can lead to many different nightmares. It can lead to putting too much on your to-do list, and then getting discouraged when it doesn't all get done.


If you quote clients prices by project, under-estimating how long a project will take you may lead you to charge less than you deserve for all the time you put in. This isn't good for your  morale or your bottom line.


Under-estimating the time a project will take you may also lead you to agree to a deadline you can't possibly meet. Missing deadlines can annoy clients and make them less likely to use your services in the future or refer you to others.


What leads to under-estimation? There are a few factors.


1. Human Nature


It seems to be hard-wired in our DNA to think that we can accomplish tasks in less time than we actually can. If you've ever run late because an errand took longer than you thought it would, or if you've ever spent an hour in a meeting that was only supposed to last twenty minutes, you know exactly what I'm talking about.


Counter your natural tendency to under-estimate by keeping a time sheet for each project you're working on. Keeping track of your time will allow you to see exactly how many hours you've put into each project. The final total will probably shock you. If a client asks you to do a similar project in the future, though, you can look back at your notes and figure out how long the project will take based on your past performance rather than on optimistic guesses.   

2. Project Creep


You've agreed to edit a 500-word article for a client. The next day, the client emails you and asks if you could edit her biographical statement as well, along with a 100-word sidebar. Your half-hour project is now likely to take an hour or more because its scope had changed.


You can deal with these, "Oh, by the way," requests by responding proactively. As soon as the clients starts changing the project parameters, estimate the time that the new assignment will take and notify the client that work not described in the original contract will mean additional fees.  


3. Technical Difficulties


Technical difficulties encompass everything from stubborn computers to sources that won't call back to verify a critical quote.


It's impossible to plan completely for technical difficulties, so I build them into my estimates. Let's say I know I can research and write a 500-word article in about an hour. I then double that estimate to allow for Internet down time, emergency phone calls, or other unforeseen complications.


It's great to be confident in your abilities, but don't under-estimate the time you'll need to do good work on a project. Under-estimating can lead to you not being compensated fairly and your client being annoyed when you miss deadlines.   


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© Debra L. Stang 2020. All rights reserved.

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