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Relative Estimation

This lesson is a part of an audio course Organize and Prioritize Your Life by Austin Churchill

In our previous lesson, we learned that time management is much more than just time. Understanding what all needs to go into a particular task, helps you make critical decisions to ensure the task is a success.

It can be quite difficult to identify the exact amount of time that each of your tasks will take. By nature, we are all terrible at estimating time accurately. Especially as the tasks get bigger. This is why our first step should always be to break down our tasks into bite-size chunks.

Let's check back in with Employee A at Company XYZ and how they can apply this lesson to the holiday party, they are planning. On the top of their list, they have "order the food." By breaking Order the Food down into Drinks, Pizza, salad, and Cake, they realize that these items will need to be ordered from different stores. Each item carries its own set of criteria and complexity.

This is a simple example, but when applied to more complex tasks, it will uncover details about the task that you did not account for initially. Now that we have our list of tasks broken down into bite-size chunks, we need to understand how big each one is. We could associate time to each one, but as I stated earlier, it is not easy to associate time to tasks accurately. Instead of using time, another method is to use relative estimation. In this methodology, we are thinking about our tasks in terms of complexity, not time. And we are comparing our tasks to each other based on their complexity.

To do this, we leverage the Fibonacci sequence, such that each number is the sum of the prior two numbers. For example, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 13 are the lowest, and for our purposes, the numbers we will use. You can use any number sequence that works for you.

We associate each task with one of these numbers and then compare additional tasks to that number. Let's say that we give ordering pizza a 5 because we need to survey our company for their pizza preference, compile the results, identify the best pizza place, and place the order. But then we realize that we need to order from two different pizza restaurants to meet everyone's needs. Compare that with ordering the salads. Since you figure that you can order several common salad types, this task is relatively less complex than ordering the pizza. Given this, we give this task a 3, because it is relatively less complex than our 5, ordering the pizza.

If we do this over and over, we will only get more accurate. Tasks that we have done before, become more predictable.

Your Task: Identify the tasks that you will complete in the next two weeks or so. Go through the relative estimation exercise with all of these tasks. It is important to have at least two weeks worth of work estimated out. This gives you better clarity into your near-term work. Did you find out anything new about your work by going through this exercise?

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Austin Churchill