Estimating Time: An Experiment

Many of my clients want to improve their time management skills. In breaking down the components of time management, one crucial skill is estimating how long different tasks take.

For example, for students to plan homework, it can help to have a general idea of how long various assignments take, such as:

  • How long does it take to read a chapter (or a certain number of pages) in a novel? Or in a textbook?
  • How long does it take to do a set of math problems? Or write up a science lab?
  • How long does it take for various stages of the writing process (brainstorm, research, writing a paragraph, writing a several page paper, proof-reading)?

Of course, each of these will vary depending on the class, the text, the difficulty of the assignment, and so forth. Still, without a general idea of how long things take, it is very difficult to plan one’s time.

At the same time, individuals with ADHD often find time estimation particularly challenging. So, at the beginning of a semester it can be useful to conduct a personal time-estimation experiment to get some baseline information.

Time Estimation Experiment: 

To do this, make a simple chart for each type of assignment, with four columns, like this:


For each class assignment during the first several weeks of a new semester, use the columns to describe the assignment (number of problems, pages, etc.), estimate the amount of time you think it might take, and then time yourself (Use a clock, kitchen timer, the timer function on your cell phone, or whatever works best for you.)

The notes column on the chart is for any pertinent information that might have impacted the time spent on an assignment (e.g. got distracted on Facebook, a friend stopped by, etc.):  these distractions can be addressed separately.

It doesn’t matter whether your estimates are on target with the actual time. What’s important is getting a sense of the actual time involved in each type of assignment. That’s what you will need in order to  identify with some accuracy how much time to allot for different assignments as you plan your study time each week. (Of course, since there is always variation in how long individual assignments take, you’ll want to build in a bit of extra time as a “fudge factor” as well.)

Another advantage of this time estimating experiment is that the more you compare your estimated times for specific tasks with the actual times, the better you’ll get at estimating!

Think About It:

How do you think this experiment might help you?
What will it take for you to give it a try?
When might you start?

Photo Credit: amenic181 at

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