I Am Joe’s Blog:

August 10, 2005 • 12:53 PM

September: the New June

During the years when I managed software development for a living, I came to realize that any time estimate given by an engineer is a complete fiction. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, maybe it’s a desire to please the boss, or maybe it’s simply denial, but engineers always underestimate how long things will take—usually by quite a large margin. I’ve heard of various ways of dealing with this (such as “Double every time estimate, and then double it again” or “Replace ‘days’ with ‘weeks’ and ‘weeks’ with ‘months'”); I eventually learned to pad engineers’ estimates significantly before creating my personal timeline, and pad that timeline again before passing it on to my manager. That usually worked out pretty well. “Underpromise and overdeliver” became one of my mantras.

Alas, it appears I’ve now acquired exactly the same problem: my own time estimates have recently been grossly out of sync with reality.

As recently as April of this year, I imagined that by the end of May, I’d have completed half a dozen ebook projects on my list (new titles and updates) plus several Macworld articles, and be all ready for a nice, relaxing vacation month in June. I was SO looking forward to June. I further imagined that by the end of June, I’d have recuperated from all that writing, completed several much-needed household projects, and polished off umpteen ITotD-related tasks, so that I’d be ready to launch version 3.0 of the site in July.

Well, now that mid-August is here, I suppose I must finally admit that I’m unlikely to meet my May 31 or June 30 deadlines. I could get close to the May 31 deadline by September 1, though. Give or take a month. Although I did manage to take a full week off in June, it was a far cry from what I’d envisioned earlier—and I returned to a huge pile of work.

It’s not that I’ve been lollygagging around all these months. Quite the contrary: I’ve been working quite hard (for the most part)—long hours, late nights, too much caffeine. But things happen. Software misbehaves. Ne’er-do-wells in India try to hack my server to send thousands of spam messages. A magazine asks me to write a “quick” article on something or other. Readers email me with perplexing questions. Friends call me with computer problems. Something that I thought I could explain in a paragraph turns out to require three pages. These are all perfectly ordinary things, but things I didn’t budget for in my time estimates—and they’ve happened again and again. Bottom line: June is now scheduled for September. I am SO looking forward to September.

For those keeping score, however, I have at least made progress on my to-do list: I finished Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact, wrote several Macworld articles, migrated my domains to a new server, fixed half a dozen significant ITotD bugs, pruned our lemon tree, saw a bunch of movies, organized half the junk in my office, bought some colorful new T-shirts, and toured the Sharffen Berger chocolate factory. Just for example.

And for all of you wondering when you’re going to see the next (much-needed) update of your favorite ebook, allow me to assure you that I’ll soon be starting work on the next versions of Take Control of Mac OS X Backups and Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger, doing a major rewrite of Take Control of Email with Apple Mail to cover the new Tiger version of Mail, and expanding Take Control of Spam with Apple Mail to cover not only Mail 2.0 but other Mac OS X email clients as well. And all this will happen as soon as I’ve finished writing yet another brand-new ebook I’m working on, about which more later.