Knowing How Long It Will Take is the Mark of a Professional

When the mechanic or plumber can tell you how long it will take to fix your problem, you are instantly more confident that they will do a good job.  If they know how long it will take, then they must already be familiar with what needs to be done…

As a software engineering professional for 30+ years, I have listened to countless programmers trying to convince others that there’s no way to estimate how long it will take to write a program.  The only thing they convince me of is their lack of competence.  When somebody tries to tell me that there’s no way to know long it will take to do something, that’s the surest sign that they don’t know what they’re doing and I need to get as far away from them as quickly as possible.

I guess it takes a certain amount of hubris to say this after screwing up the schedule of my blog posting so emphatically recently.  All I can say is that it’s obvious that I’m not a professional blogger (yet.)  And it becomes a case study in why it’s a necessary skill for a professional to be able to estimate how long it will take to do something.  For bloggers, it’s important to set a posting schedule for their blog and then meet that schedule.  Even if you don’t blow it as spectacularly as I have recently, being rushed will lead to crappier writing and just generally worse articles.

Returning to our blog writing process…

  1. We’ll start by making a single page list of the steps with plenty of room to add blogger hours and elapsed time next to each step.
  2. Before starting our estimating, we need to first verify we haven’t left out any steps.
  3. Now let’s make a best guess estimate at how long it will take to complete each step.  It doesn’t have to be very accurate as we will test and refine our estimates as we go along.  We just need a starting point.  (Of course, the more accurate our best guess estimates are, the quicker we’ll finish our testing and refinement. 😉 )
  4. For each step, try to think of any information that will help you refine or qualify your estimate.  For example, non-technical articles don’t need much, if any, research, so we can eliminate the time needed for research for non-technical articles.  I also know that “Person of Interest” articles take longer to outline than “Site of Interest” articles.  More generically, I believe that writing a draft of an article takes about 3 hours.  Reviewing a draft takes an hour, so if I need one draft to write an article, it’s 4 hours.  Two drafts will take 8 hours and so on, if even more are needed.
  5. Try to write a post within the best guess estimates and adjust the estimates as needed.  Repeat until the estimates match the actual time it takes you to write a post.

Once you have an accurate estimate of how long it takes to write posts, file it with your style and topic guides so you can refer to it when planning posts.  The time you invest now in understanding how long it takes to write a post will come back to you many times over during your blogging career.