Time management tips from project managers

There are a number of things that experienced project managers know about realistic scheduling that can benefit everyone when it comes to better time management.

The first is that people underestimate far more that they overestimate. It has something to do with the way the mind works in relation to the speed of thought  – you can envision something as complete in a split second, but when it comes to doing it the body has to work in the reality of the physical world.  So when someone gives a first time estimate, the wise project manager asks them to go away and think through the detail of what’s involved and come back with a second estimate.  Invariably the second estimate is longer. In thinking through what’s actually involved in a task, detail is thought about which adds to the estimate.

The second thing project managers do is to add a productivity factor to the estimate. They know that people will assume they can be 100% productive when they give their estimate – but the reality is people are generally only around 70% productive with their time.

Another crucial aspect in relation to scheduling is contingency. A schedule is a forecast into the future, and so often schedules are made without the awareness that you can’t predict exactly what will happen.  Life is dynamic – problems come along, priorities shift, emergencies happen and if your schedule doesn’t take this into account it will be unrealistic before you start.

Adding contingency to a schedule means adding a buffer of time to cope with the unexpected. Even in a well planned and thought through project it is usual to add around 20-25% of contingency time.
Another common mistake in scheduling is that people forget to add review time.  It’s rare that something is satisfactorily completed first time. Usually things need checking and tuning – and often people forget to allow time for this in scheduling.

When schedules are unrealistic, people end up under pressure, always running late. Too much is done in a hurry when it wasn’t really urgent in the first place.

If your schedule is stressed it’s likely you are too. So resist the temptation to cram too much in to too little time – try to estimate your time more realistically and include contingency.  If you end up with contingency not used its great!  You can do whatever you want with recovered time like this – bring other things forward, tackle something important that you never get around too, or take time off. The choice is yours and your work-life balance will improve!


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