with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

The Time It Takes – Computing Your Time

“How long will this take?” This is the first question most temporary workers are asked. Most companies have a specific task in mind, usually under a deadline. One of the skills most needed in a temporary job is the ability to compute time constraints.

Computing tasks by time requires familiarity with a task. If you’ve transcribed and faxed a letter 300 times, you’ve an idea of how long it takes. If you have set up a web page 50 times before, you have an idea of how long it takes depending upon the complexities involved, since no web page is exactly alike. Keep a notebook to record how long it takes to do certain tasks to increase your accuracy. As an efficient estimator of how long it takes to do a project, your skills and worth increases.
Computing time involves figuring out the following:

    Keep track of how long it takes you to do a task so you can give a reasonable answer when asked.

  • How long is the preparation time?
  • How long will the task actually take?
  • Is help needed from others?
  • How much research time is needed?
  • Is the work dependent upon someone else’s schedule?
  • How long is the wait for equipment to work?
  • How much time is needed to allow for lunch and breaks?
  • How much time is needed to accommodate interruptions?

Add a little padding to make sure to meet your time commitments. Most people are understanding about delays, but if you’ve been hired to get the job done in two days and three weeks later you are still working on it, the reasons had better be good.

Graphic of a clock.Computing your time means categorizing your time. There are 7 basic parts to categorizing your time: Preparation, Task, Help, Interuptions, Dependence Upon Others, Review, and Equipment. The Preparation stage is the the part of the task that involves getting ready to start. It can include finding things, getting the equipment prepared and ready, and gathering the information and resources around you to make this task happen. The Task stage is the actual work done on the project at hand. Often this is the smallest part of the consumed time, but sometimes not. Interuptions are the phages of the project where other work or people interupt your schedule and they must be taken into account.

The Equipment stage is a part of the process that is flexible depending upon the complications of the equipment. For instance, you may think that photocopying a few pages is a quick task to complete, but what if the copier needs the toner changed, or the pages jam, or you have to change the paper. The cost of this time must be taken into account. You can’t plan for every actuality, but you can pad your time to account for the possibilities.

Help, Dependence Upon Others, and Review are all phases of the project that involve other people and their time schedules and constraints. With experience and familiarity with that workplace, you can usually compute the time these phases will take. Help means asking others to help you complete the project in some way, by gathering information, answering questions, or offering assistance. Review is time spent by others to review your work to make sure it is in compliance with their standards. Dependence Upon Others is the time you spend waiting for others working on the project to get their part of the project done so you can continue.

Let’s look at an example of how this works.

Letter Transcription

1 – 2 minutes
Begin: Handed a cassette for transcription of a two page letter, instructions are to type it and return for review and editing. You ask if it needs to be double spaced for editing and what specific letterhead and form it requires.
2 – 8 minutes
Preparation: Hunt for letterhead. Hunt computer word processing program for specific letterhead template or design your own. Prepare transcription equipment and put on headphones.
10 – 45 minutes
Task: Transcribe letter.
5 – 10 minutes
Help: Is the transcription understandable? You get help with three hard-to-understand words. You check with another secretary to make sure you’ve set things up the right way.
5 minutes
Task: Self-edit your work. Spell check. Verify accuracy of information.
2 minutes
Equipment: Print out edit copy. Put away transcription equipment.
3 – 40 minutes
Dependence on Others: Present to author for editing and review (assuming the author is available.)
3 – 15 minutes
Task: Make corrections.
2 minutes
Equipment: Print out final copies ready for signature.
2 – 5 minutes
Dependence on Others: Present to author for final review and signature.
2 – 5 minutes
Equipment: Prepare for mailing and delivery.
5 – 20 minutes
Interruptions: You understand interruptions, the phone calls, delays, people asking questions, getting coffee…and all the things that get in the way of our activity. You have to allow time for these.
5 – 10 minutes
Padding: Just in case you haven’t made enough allowance for interruptions and other things that get in your way, create a safety time zone.

Total: 50 minutes to 3 hours (Once familiar with the process, the time shrinks substantially)

Being able to keep your time commitments makes you a great employee to keep around.There are some down sides to computing your time. If they anticipate the job will take 3 weeks and you tell them it will take 1 week, the company is under no obligation to reward you for your speed. If you tell them the job will take 3 weeks and you complete it in 2, they might compensate you for speed and possibly cover the remaining 2 weeks, or they might not. It is up to you to negociate how and when you are to be paid for your particular services. It’s a matter of balance, figuring out how to keep the company happy and pleased with your work, and still pay rent and put food on the table.

Learn how to say no, too. If you can’t figure out how long a project will take or you don’t feel up to the challenge, admit it. Companies respect people who don’t waste their time. Odds are, they will ask you to return, the key to any good job.


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