What a handful of Goldfish crackers can teach about estimating time


How good of an estimator are you? Can you size up a project and accurately guesstimate the time and resources it will take to complete? When you see a glass, is it half full of Goldfish crackers or half empty?

Enough or Too Much?

Here’s a test that I tried for myself.

Ingredients: You’ll need Goldfish crackers, a cup, and a friend.


  • Get yourself some Goldfish crackers and a cup.
  • Without looking at the box, pour yourself what you think a serving of crackers is.
  • Ask a friend to check for you, without you watching, to see how close you’ve gotten.
  • Have your friend empty the cup and tell you what the actual serving size is.
  • Try again to put the actual correct amount into the cup without counting.
  • Check your results.

Spoiler alert: For those of you who either don’t have Goldfish crackers, a cup, or a friend, I’ll tell you the answer. A serving is 55 goldfish crackers.

Most of us have a general picture of what 55 of something looks like (a lot!) but it is not accurate. I was struck by this the other day while getting a snack of - wait for it - Goldfish crackers, and realized that what I thought was correct and what the reality was were two completely different things. I was looking at the serving size, thought I knew exactly what that was, and wound up pouring twice as much. And I thought I was being conservative!

Enough? Not Enough

Just the OPPOSITE is usually true for estimating hours on a project. Overconfident, some people brazenly promise the moon and stars but wind up not even allotting enough time to buckle their seatbelt on the spaceship to get there. This makes for frustrated clients, frustrated workers, projects that run over budget, and most importantly, not enough Goldfish crackers to go around.

When Estimating a Job

Don’t sell yourself short
Your expertise is valuable, otherwise you wouldn’t be asked to participate. Think about what you bring to the table. No matter how fast you work, make sure you give yourself time to engage your brain and think about the best solution.

Revisit the past
When asked to estimate time on a new project, try to review past work that’s of a similar nature to get a good baseline of what this job will take. Recall those pitfalls or innovations that would have streamlined the work, and include them in your estimate.

Review the scope of the project thoroughly
When called upon to produce a time estimate, scrutinize all elements of the project and break it down into segments. How long does it take for prepress and reviewing proofs? If it’s a document with multiple pages/slides/ads, I try to view each page individually to get a feel for how long each will take to design or edit. Then I can come up a base number per page, and start from there. I know that by reviewing all parts of a project, I’ll allow myself the best chance to give it my full attention and best effort when it comes time to complete it.

Don’t go it alone
If at all possible, don’t be the only estimator. Include someone on your team do an independent estimate and see how close you come. If your estimates vary wildly, it’s time for a reality check, or at the very least, a conversation to determine how each of you arrived at that number.

Leave time to check your work . . . and then check it again.
The hallmark of a good job is one that’s been checked, proofed, and thoroughly thought through. Make sure you leave ample time in your estimate for quality control. It makes no sense to devote time to develop a great product, only to skimp on time at the end.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be well on your way towards getting a closer, more accurate estimate that allows you to do your best work. And if you get to enjoy a tasty helping of Goldfish crackers while you’re at it, even better.

Posted by Elena Nazzaro | Design, Best Practices, Business | Comments 0 |
Connect with us on LinkedIn Follow us on Twitter Add us on Facebook Subscribe to our RSS feed

Subscribe to email updates