With Father's Day just past I was reflecting on what I learned from my own father. Actually, I learned it from observation because I am pretty sure he was not intentionally passing on his wisdom.

If fact, like most entrepreneurs of the visionary bent, he was extremely optimistic in estimating effort for new ventures.

It usually went something like this.

"Doug, I am replacing the stairs on the deck and could use some help for an hour or so."

Deck construction time estimating businessNow if he said I need you to mow the lawn, I would have known precisely how long it would take because I've done that task a gazillion times before. 

But in the case of a task we haven't ever done before like building a new product, adding a brand new feature, or building sales momentum we are pretty much guessing.

Sure we delude ourselves into believing we have estimated accurately. 

Remove old stairs = 30 minutes. Attach new stairs = 30 minutes. Misc tasks = "or so".

But realistically, our time estimates are significantly impacted by when we "want" it to be done. Hence the optimistic view.

Time Estimating Shortcut

The trick I learned from many years of observation was a simple formula.

Actual time = Double the estimate then go to the next higher unit of time

So that hour?

1 hour * 2 = 2 hours. Next highest time unit is a day.

Actual time = 2 days.

And that is precisely how long it took to fix the deck. 

It works surprisingly well for many situations where you are doing something brand new, creative or requiring a large team. Of course you can use experience to help guide your estimates but just realize; plumbing is not that same as pouring concrete.

The point here is not the precise formula (though it is a good starting point) but the fact that we very significantly underestimate the work required including learning, rework, trips to seek advice from a professional, missing hardware, painting, etc.

If you realize it is bigger than you think, you may not decide to proceed with it. Or if you do you will take it much more seriously and put the effort into it that is required for success.

And the next time he needed me for an hour or two? There went the weekend.