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5 Tips and Tricks for Estimating Time More Realistically

madeby7pace profile image Devs @ 7pace Updated on ・3 min read

Accurately estimating our time at work is something we can all stand to do better at.

Here are some of our favorite tips and tricks for coming up with realistic time estimates that won’t have you missing deadlines or disappointing the people who are counting on you to get sh*t done:

1. Use Historical Data to Make Time Estimates

If you’re not using a time tracker while you work, start now!
Time trackers are not just for nit-picky bosses to keep close tabs on how developers spend their time. They can help coders build a bank of data based on their own historical work habits, and looking at how you spent your time when working on similar projects can help you better estimate the time you’ll need for projects now and in the future.

2. Build in Time for Delays

Donald Rumsfeld famously said this, a quote that is often used by project managers to illustrate the unpredictable nature of the job:
There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

When planning a project, you have to plan for delays — whether they’re setbacks you can already see coming, or they’re hurdles you don’t even know exist yet. If you think something will take you four hours of work, a better estimate is probably around eight hours once you factor in delays from problems, setbacks, and distractions.

3. Have Someone Else Estimate For You

If you have a hard time making realistic estimates about the time it’ll take you to complete a project, a second opinion can’t hurt.


Plus, research shows that while we tend to suck at estimating how long it’ll take us to finish a task or project ourselves, we’re actually pretty good at making time estimates for others. Go figure.

4. Use a 3-Point Estimate

One way to overcome the optimism that makes us so likely to over-promise and under-deliver is to use a 3-point estimate when deciding how long something might take.

This means you actually come up with three time estimates:

  • A best-case scenario
  • A worst-case scenario
  • A most likely scenario

Just the exercise of considering that there might be delays or things that go wrong that lead to the worst-case scenario will make you more likely to land on a more accurate estimate.

5. Make Time Estimates During the Lowest Point of Your Day

You know when you’ve settled in at work and had a cup or two of coffee and you just feel really good and productive? Whatever time of the day that feeling hits you — don’t estimate deadlines during it.

Instead, look for the time of day when you hit a low point. For many people it’s right after lunch, when you’ve already put in half a day’s work or more and just filled your belly with something tasty. You’re feeling a nap, not the rest of the workday.

That’s the time to make time estimates.

I may seem a little dark, but estimating the time it’ll take you to finish projects when you feel least like working is a great way to trick yourself into overestimating how long things will take — which is actually likely to give you a pretty accurate estimate.

It’s possible to work without lying to yourself (or others). It just takes reframing your thinking so you’re allowing yourself as much time as you actually need to get things done.

7pace Timetracker is the only integrated, professional time management solution for teams using Azure DevOps.

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