Estimating Labor Hours

“Mr. Scott, have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of 4?”
“Of course, sir. How else can I maintain my reputation as a miracle worker?”
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

There’s no way around this, so I’ll just say it: I’m a fast worker. I can write or edit text at a rather rapid pace. My peer writers roll their eyes when they hear how long it takes me to kick out a draft of a ten-page paper. One guy calls me a member of The Borg. It’s a little embarrassing, so I’ll just state one more example and move on. Awhile back, my manager asked me how long I thought it would take for someone to write a particular set of documents. I did the number in my head and added an arbitrary fudge factor, to which she replied, “No, I mean how long would it take a normal writer?”

The point of this is not to brag. The point is to call attention to how long it takes you, the writer, to do your work. For instance, how long does it take you to write one page of new content? How long does it take you to proofread a page, if you’re unhurried and have a distraction or two? These are important numbers to keep track of in your head because eventually, like me, someone will ask you how long it would take you to do a project. You should know–out of self-defense, if nothing else–whether you can say yes or no (or, “Yes, if…”). A lot of this takes time and practice. As I get older, I add a larger fudge factor to my work time estimates, though obviously my manager doesn’t always believe me.

One last thing on this topic re: the “fudge factor.” I do not, in fact, multiply my repair estimates by a factor of four to make myself seem like some bloody miracle worker. I know how long it takes for me to do something. So does my boss. My fudge factor is my way of assigning myself enough time to do the work comfortably, to my satisfaction. You should add your own fudge factor as well because leaving yourself no margin for error is a great way to stress yourself out. Yes, you want to keep your employer and customer happy, but you also want to be respectful of your own time.

So if you haven’t already done so, take some time to measure how long it takes you to do the various things that you do in your job. In the end, it will be better for you and those around you if you know exactly how much time it takes to save the ship.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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