It’s an all-too-common experience. We set out to do something only to realize somewhere along the way that it’s going to take twice as long to complete it than we planned. (Okay, make that three or four times longer.) It doesn’t matter if the project is big or small, professional or domestic, anticipated or dreaded – our expectations often go unmet in the same ways.
It’s easy to chalk that miscalculation up to optimism, but I want to talk about eight reasons for that miscalculation that I actually observe in myself and my clients – and what to do about them.
1. We underestimate the project.
This reason probably comes as no surprise – and that underestimation has two sources. Either we’re doing something familiar that we haven’t bothered to measure, or we’re doing something unfamiliar that we don’t know enough about to make any sort of accurate prediction.
measuring the familiar
There are tasks you do over and over again – usually routine maintenance and administration, but also your creative work – that can be observed and measured.
For a week or so, keep a timer handy and make notes about how long it actually takes to complete your day-to-day activities. Replace the stories you tell yourself about how long you wish or fear something will take to complete with solid information that you can use when planning a timeline.
Start with the basics. How long does it really take to keep yourself nourished, clean and healthy? To keep your surroundings clean and healthy? To handle routine admin tasks like paying bills or replying to email? Your basics are the backbone of your business and life. You can’t allow sufficient time for these essentials if you don’t know how much time that is.
Then measure your creative work. How long does it take – on average – for you to draft a thousand words? Or the picture that’s worth a thousand words? Sure, one’s muse can be fickle, and some days flow better than others, but there is a consistent pattern you can observe over time.
The numbers that emerge are just information. They don’t say anything about you, the amazing human being who just had the guts to observe her actions. However, the numbers that emerge might say something about your systems. If you don’t like the numbers, consider devoting some time and energy to streamlining those actions.
In the meantime, make your plans based on the reality of your present skills rather than on magical thinking about what you hope they are in future.
measuring the unfamiliar
As creatives, we’re frequently engaged in something new. We might be able to make an educated guess about how long a task or project will take based on past experience, but chances are that guess will be off.
Which leaves us with two options: conducting an experiment and/or padding our timeline.
By experiment, I mean: What’s the initial step or smallest form of this thing that you could do and measure in order to get more accurate information on which to base your plan?
Conducting such experiments is especially important in the context of large, previously untried projects. And even more important if you are excited about that project. Your enthusiasm and optimism will tend to skew your judgment and then, next thing you know, you’re weeks or months off schedule.
Even with the information gleaned from your experiment(s), your project still holds unknowns. So it’s useful to pad your timeline anyway and leave yourself space for your learning curve. I’d allow at least an additional 25% – that is, if you think it’s going to take four days or weeks or months, give yourself five.
And takes notes along the way so you can better plan for next time.
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