Efficient time management is essential if you are to get the most out of your time in the lab. Breaking down projects into individual tasks and planning out when to do them is relatively easy. But the thing I find most difficult is accurately estimating the amount of time to allocate for each task.

I tend to be ridiculously optimistic with my estimates, so experiments and other tasks always take longer than I expect, resulting in a mad rush to get things finished at the end of the day.

But (as is often the case) Steve Pavlina has the solution.

According to Steve, the proportion by which you over/underestimate the amount of time you will take to complete any task is fairly constant. He calls it your “Fudge Ratio”.

He suggests that you note down your expected and actual time taken to complete the tasks on your “to do” list for a couple of days. From this you can calculate your fudge ratio (e.g. expected time=2hr, actual time=3hr, fudge ratio=(3/2)=1.5).

You can then use your fudge ratio to improve the accuracy of your future time estimates for a task by just taking your instinctive estimate and multiplying it by your fudge ratio.

This is a remarkably simple and accurate approach. I tried it and found that my fudge factor is consistently somewhere between 1.8 and 2.0, which is pretty poor really and definitely explains the un-ticked boxes on my task list.

So now armed with my fudge ratio I go forward with renewed confidence in my ability to finish my work by the end of the day.

Steve’s original post, which contains other useful tips on making time estimates, can be found here.