Efficient time estimation: laudable skill

When you're approaching a new task, how well are you able to estimate the amount of time it will take you to complete that task? Because this skill sometimes eludes me, reading What is Productive? by Dena Harris, struck a chord with me yesterday. Because this ability to properly estimate my time has been a struggle for me for as long as I can recall, I thought of it again today. Today when I deluded myself into thinking the photos I needed to shoot would be happily packed in with several other morning tasks. Today when, once again, I found myself wondering where had the time gone.

Dena was writing about the question that no doubt challenges many of the self-employed. We are societally trained, I think, to consider "work" from the perspective of industry and institution rather than from a freelancer's viewpoint. So when freelancers look back through the tasks of their day and wonder where the time went and how many actual "billable hours" they completed, it can be particularly daunting to sometimes realize there have been no billable hours whatsoever, or very few.

This kind of scheduling discovery seems to strike most often when my time is spent involved in creative processes.

A great example of this repeated pattern comes from my college days.  I'd receive phonecalls from friends would ring me again and again and wonder when I was coming to hang out when, in the darkroom for "just a little while longer," I always seemed to have thought the process would take much time less than it actually did. It seems nothing's changed, all these years later.

It occurs to me now that perhaps there's no inherent flaw in my makeup that keeps me from estimating time. Perhaps it's related to creative processes themselves. Could it be that, unlike my friend, Dena, who declares herself to be good at estimating time (and I don't doubt it one bit,) I often cannot because I have no way of knowing how many ideas will come to me while I'm working on the task at hand? When we create from scratch, using trial and error, well making stuff up is the way we creative types work. And so even when shooting photos, I don't know how the light is going to look until I see it. That's just one of the variables I've often failed to account for when planning my time.

My challenge, then, becomes not to expect myself to estimate more closely the amount of time it will take to complete a task, but to acknowledge that some process can simply not be estimated. And to allow for that likelihood. (Or just don't schedule so much stuff in a single day, Melody. That seems simple enough, huh?)

Like I needed a new challenge...