Essential elements of work
For our immediate purpose, let’s define work as purposeful activity—mental or physical.
That definition scales up and down—we can speak of the work done making a mental decision, or writing a novel, or constructing a skyscraper. In all cases, it is purposeful mental or physical activity.
Who cares about work? Anyone who needs to estimate, plan, manage, or do it. The more you understand work in the abstract, the better prepared you will be to handle it in your life and on the job. As I wrote in a recent article, work might be virtually anything you do—including play.
I’m writing about work because I’m a process analyst and work is a kind of process or sub-process common to most other processes. Work-process is fundamental.
We typically itemize work as tasks—things to be done—on a To-Do list or in complex project or business-service plans. Most of us are concerned with tasks we need to do or have done, so let’s focus on tasks.
Let’s try something simple but complex enough to be worth a little planning.
Task: Wash your windows
You want to plan a housekeeping task–wash the windows and screens in your house. I’m going to keep it simple and assume you live in a single-story house with only one kind of window and no glass doors. What do you need to consider?
Available workers: yourself
Materials: Glass cleanser, All-purpose cleanser (for screens)
Resources: Bucket, ladder, spray bottle, wiper, squeegee, sponge, hose
Time available: one week (your in-laws are coming for a visit)
These estimates are arbitrary and serve only as examples of itemized estimation. Your estimates might be higher or lower.
Work Size (how much work?)
- How many windows/screens? 10 windows/10 screens
Work Effort (how much effort?)
- How much effort (in minutes) to remove each screen? 10 minutes
- How much effort to wash and rinse each screen? 10 minutes
- How much effort to replace each screen? 15 minutes
- How much effort to clean the inside of each window? 10 minutes
- How much effort to clean the outside of each window? 10 minutes
- Total Effort (Work Size x Work Effort) (550 minute = 9 hours:10 minutes)
- Windows (10 x (10+10)) = 200 minutes
- Screens (10 x (10 + 10 + 15) = 350 minutes
Miscellaneous Time (190 minutes = 3 hours:10 minute)
- Breaks: 4 x 15 mins each = 60 minutes
- Set up for each window (ladder and tools) 10 min
- Total set up (windows x setup) (10 x 10) = 100 minutes = 1 hour: 40 minutes)
- Replace soap/water in bucket (5 minutes x 4 times) 20 minutes
WORK DURATION (How long will it take?)
Minimum Duration (Work Effort + Miscellaneous Time)
(9 hours:10 minutes + 1 hour: 40 minutes) = 10 hours: 50 minutes
This is the least clock time for one person (you) to do the work.
If you had a second worker (and had the tools necessary) and split the work evenly, or if you divided screen and window work between two people, you could get the job done in a single workday.
Let’s assume you’re on your own and don’t intend to work an eleven-hour day doing nothing but windows. You could “chunk” the work and spread it over as many days as you have available before the in-laws arrive. Of course, each day increases the risk (weather, family emergency, whatever) that you won’t finish in time.
Let’s assume you decide to spread the work over two days, striking a minimal balance between your physical stress and your risk of bad weather.
Planned Work Duration: 2 DAYS
You block out five and a half hours on two days in your calendar.
There’s your simple work plan. I’ll take up tracking and managing work plans in later posts.
It took about one hour to plan eleven hours of work. You might not bother to plan a small task, and I wanted to illustrate the work planning process. When you are planning a project measured in workweeks, months or even years, plan to allocate a proportionate amount of effort and time to do the plan.
Plan the planning process.
There are a couple of key points here to which I will return in future posts:
Effort and duration are both measures of work in time but are different. I’ve seen to many project plans that confuse effort and duration — in doing so they often overestimate the effort and underestimate the duration.
As the saying goes, “Size matters!” You can’t effectively estimate effort without consideration of “how big” “how much” or “how many” things the work will address, whether the things are products (like cleaned windows) or services (like cleaning windows).
When considering work size, you also need to consider work complexity—both affect effort and duration. I’ll elaborate on work size and take up work complexity in later posts.