I got my first real job as an engineer in the beginning of the 1980s. I had finished my university degree in Electronics and Communication and was very interested in anything related to micro-computers.
So, I applied for a job within a research group who had an appropriate open position.
During the job interview I got introduced to one of the engineering tasks which was waiting to be solved. I showed interest in working on it. Then, my interview partner suddenly asked the following question:
“Could you, please, estimate how long it takes you to finish this?”
This question I had not expected. And I got scared like shit! How should I know? I thought that it was the boss’s duty to know about such things. Instead, he handed this problem over to me. I could feel that this was the crucial question in my interview.
So, I took courage and answered: “I guess that I can finish until next Easter.”
The question about time shocked me in a way that I still can remember it very well.
Later, the shock got transformed into the following observation: “Why have I not figured out earlier that this question is probably the most important question related to work?”.
As a young researcher, I developed the habit to write a journal. Among other topics, it included
pairs of “time estimates” guessed before, and actual “measured time”. For a while, my estimates for software projects were wrong by a factor of 5 to 10: When I estimated “1 day”, it took more like a week in reality. And an estimate of “1 week” got more like “2 months”.
Guess what happened: Of course, with these experiments I could increase my experience; my estimates got a lot better within not too long.
Meanwhile, I have been a university teacher for almost 30 years. In most of my courses
I urge the students to write a journal: I ask them
- to write down what they have done,
- to write down what they plan to do,
- to write down how many hours they have worked on a particular task,
- to write down, how much time they plan for a task to be done,
- and much more.
Typically, only the really smart students get the idea. Most of the younger students think that writing a journal is a waste of time.
“I do not have time to write a journal. There is so much to be done and there is so little time left.” sounds a typical excuse.
If you got time enough to read until here — here is a programming model:
- make a forecast on how much time it will take you to accomplish a task;
- use this forecast in your planning;
- add enough extra time for safety;
- measure the time it actually takes to accomplish the task;
- document the hours spent on a task in your journal;
- compare forecast and actual time after finishing the task;
- learn from this comparison;
- tune your ability to plan for tasks to come;
I am sure that applying the procedure sketched above as a continuous effort helps a lot to increase personal comfort and even mental safety at the work place.
As a student you are training to become a professional. To my mind, improving your ability to estimate the time it takes for accomplishing a task is the prime issue in studying.
By the way: Yes, I finished my task before Easter 1982. And the boss then is still around over here.