This is the official manual for the latest Org-mode release.

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8.5 Effort estimates

If you want to plan your work in a very detailed way, or if you need to produce offers with quotations of the estimated work effort, you may want to assign effort estimates to entries. If you are also clocking your work, you may later want to compare the planned effort with the actual working time, a great way to improve planning estimates. Effort estimates are stored in a special property ‘Effort1. You can set the effort for an entry with the following commands:

C-c C-x e     (org-set-effort)
Set the effort estimate for the current entry. With a numeric prefix argument, set it to the Nth allowed value (see below). This command is also accessible from the agenda with the e key.
C-c C-x C-e     (org-clock-modify-effort-estimate)
Modify the effort estimate of the item currently being clocked.

Clearly the best way to work with effort estimates is through column view (see Column view). You should start by setting up discrete values for effort estimates, and a COLUMNS format that displays these values together with clock sums (if you want to clock your time). For a specific buffer you can use

     #+PROPERTY: Effort_ALL 0 0:10 0:30 1:00 2:00 3:00 4:00 5:00 6:00 7:00
     #+COLUMNS: %40ITEM(Task) %17Effort(Estimated Effort){:} %CLOCKSUM

or, even better, you can set up these values globally by customizing the variables org-global-properties and org-columns-default-format. In particular if you want to use this setup also in the agenda, a global setup may be advised.

The way to assign estimates to individual items is then to switch to column mode, and to use S-<right> and S-<left> to change the value. The values you enter will immediately be summed up in the hierarchy. In the column next to it, any clocked time will be displayed.

If you switch to column view in the daily/weekly agenda, the effort column will summarize the estimated work effort for each day2, and you can use this to find space in your schedule. To get an overview of the entire part of the day that is committed, you can set the option org-agenda-columns-add-appointments-to-effort-sum. The appointments on a day that take place over a specified time interval will then also be added to the load estimate of the day.

Effort estimates can be used in secondary agenda filtering that is triggered with the / key in the agenda (see Agenda commands). If you have these estimates defined consistently, two or three key presses will narrow down the list to stuff that fits into an available time slot.


Footnotes

[1] You may change the property being used with the variable org-effort-property.

[2] Please note the pitfalls of summing hierarchical data in a flat list (see Agenda column view).