The Planning Fallacy- How to overcome the planning fallacy and stop running late

Ever looked at a task, confidently slapped a “30 minutes” estimate on it, only to be staring at it two hours later, bleary-eyed and bewildered? 

You’ve fallen victim to the infamous planning fallacy. 

Today we’re explaining that it is, how it happens and giving you a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again so you can estimate more accurately.

The Planning Fallacy is human’s tendency to systematically underestimate the time it takes to complete tasks. We forget unexpected glitches, underestimate complexity, and ignore past experiences where things took longer. 

It’s a cognitive bias that plagues students, professionals, and even seasoned project managers.

Examples of the Planning Fallacy:

  • Thinking a quick email will take 5 minutes, only to get sucked into a reply rabbit hole.
  • Thinking you have time to take a quick shower and grab breakfast before that morning zoom meeting. 
  • Planning a “relaxing” weekend that turns into a whirlwind of errands and chores that were only going to take a few minutes.
  • Estimating a project will be done in a month, only to realize it needs double the time.
  • Writing that paper that you had in your head and thought you would be done by 4pm only to find yourself still working on it at midnight.

The good news is that research shows we can overcome it. A research paper titled Timers of tomorrow: Self-serving biases in the allocation of time published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making offers this protocol: 

  • Break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Each step gets its own time estimate.
  • Factor in buffers. Add 20-50% extra time to your initial estimate. Think unexpected interruptions, emails, and regular daily things that have to get done too.
  • Seek outside perspectives. Ask friends, colleagues, or experts for their time estimates. They might spot things you missed and or have experience doing that task. Hearing it from another person gets you out of your own biases.
  • Track your past performance. Review how long similar tasks actually took. Use this data to inform future estimates.

Remember, nobody’s immune to the planning fallacy. But by being aware of it and using these tips, you can reclaim your time and stop feeling like life is constantly running late.

Your move…

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