Estimate the Time on Your Projects

It can be useful to do a quick estimate of the time it will take to accomplish each of the projects on your project list.

I’ve never really done that before. I used to think that doing so would be an unnecessary exercise that would only serves to take time away from actually getting my projects done. And, beyond that, something that would evoke stares of disbelief from any who heard about it (“you actually do that?? what a waste of time! I just get everything done without any effort, and certainly without wasting in time in trivia like that!).

But I just did it (took less than 2 minutes) and discovered that I have about 63 hours of work staring at me simply from my list of current projects.

That’s very useful to know!

Assuming that I could devote 6 hours a day simply to project work (no email, no new tasks that come up, no meetings), it would take me just over two work weeks to finish that (assuming working only 40 hour weeks). And then, after that, there are a bunch of upcoming projects waiting in the wings.

When I factor in the doing of operational and routine things, that’s probably about a month’s worth of work.

It might be easy to conclude, then, that I have too much work on my current list.

But that’s not necessary too much — it just says that I am looking out about a month at a time on my projects list (not in due dates — many of the due dates are farther out — but in terms of work length). Having about a month active at a time is probably not necessarily a bad thing.

Now, I do try to keep my projects list as short as possible, and so maybe a month’s worth is to much to have on there. I do have more projects than normal active right now.

But the main issue is: Without having done this estimate, I wouldn’t know what quantity of work my projects list really represents.

But now that I know that, I can ask the next question: Is this what I really want to get done over the next month? If I did no other projects over the next month, would I be happy with the result? If not, what should I take off the list, and what should go on in its place?

The payoff in those questions is very high. But if I had not estimated the length of my current projects, my default would have been simply to try to cram new stuff in when it came up — without really knowing the trade-off in time delays it would cause.

Now, I can be more informed about those decisions and make sure I really am getting the right things done over the next month.

  • John

    Hi I raelly love your website. As a young solo pastor such practical planning knowledge is crucial for me. I’m just wondering “how” you went about discovering the amount of time you needed for each project? Thanks

  • Matt

    Glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks for reading!

    My approach to estimating the time on most of my projects is very informal. It’s a combination of (1) past experience, (2) reflecting on what similar projects took, if it’s something I’ve never done before, and (3) making sure to over estimate rather than under estimate.

    For large projects that involve teams, more detail can be given to getting a clear estimate. But for most projects, the most valuable thing is to take an educated guess based on experience and reflection.