When you’re completing a project on your own or in collaboration with others, a schedule can be your best ally in ensuring that your plans and ideas come to fruition. Following that schedule can help ensure that you have adequate time to complete the work to your satisfaction; make it easier to stay on budget; and, ultimately, help you meet (or beat!) an established deadline. A carefully written schedule can also serve as a visible reminder that motivates you to stay on track and on task… especially when you’re distracted by other appealing opportunities (such as a summertime picnic, trip to the lake, or swim in the pool).

As you may have discovered, a useful schedule is based on a clear plan for accomplishing the various steps involved in completing your project, married with time estimates that are neither too tight nor too lax. In Contemporary Project Management, Second Edition, Timothy Kloppenborg offers a concise list of suggestions that can help you set a realistic time estimate for the work you need to accomplish. This advice is especially helpful if you’re working with others, but these points can also apply if you’re working independently and want to manage your time and resources in an efficient and effective manner:

1. Verify all time estimations with the people doing the work. Or, even better, have the people doing the work provide the initial estimates of the activity completion time.

2. Estimate times of completion of work without initial reference to a calendar. Just consider how long you believe each activity will take under normal working conditions.

3. Make sure all time units are identical: work days, work weeks, months (consider time off for company holidays), or another measure.

4. Some people tend to estimate optimistically. Keep in mind the following time constraints:

  • Unexpected meetings
  • Inaccuracy in work instructions
  • Learning curves
  • Interruptions
  • Competing priorities
  • Emergencies and illness
  • Vacation
  • Rework
  • Resources or information not available on time
5. Contrary to point 4, some people estimate pessimistically in order to look good when they bring their project or activities in under budget and under schedule. Try to develop an understanding of the estimator’s experience along with their optimistic or pessimistic tendencies and try to encourage balance in estimates.6. Don’t initially worry about who is going to do the work and don’t worry about the mandatory deadline. Figure out a realistic estimate first, and then figure out what to cut later.

7. When using the actual time from a previous project, adjust the estimate up or down based upon size, familiarity, and complexity differences. (p. 181)

Reference: Kloppenborg, Timothy. 2012. Contemporary Project Management, Second Ed. Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

How do you keep yourself on time and on task? Share your suggestions for setting effective schedules below.

Looking for other suggestions? Read our posts on time management.