The Planning Fallacy


The planning fallacy, first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979, is a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed.

From Wikipedia.


This fallacy has never been more prominent in my life than when it comes to editing. Ideally, I was supposed to be done with my rewrite on December 20th and my edits would be done by January 1st.


My next guess was that I’d be done by February. Wrong. And now it’s the end of March, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that there’s no way I can finish on time.


It seems one of the things I do best is blogging about my problems, trials, etc. 😉 So today, I’m going to see if there’s a way to avoid this fallacy in the future. Maybe it takes you way longer than you think it will to complete projects. If so, this post is for you too.


First of all, procrastination might be a factor in this problem. If so, I’d recommend sorting everything into your schedule into the following categories: important and urgent, important, urgent, and not important or urgent. Important and urgent things would mean the schoolwork, speech, or blog post due tomorrow. Important things are in the same category, but you have a while to do them (big projects that are due next month or in a few months). Urgent things don’t really need to be done, though they demand immediate attention. Like that research on prom beauty tips you have a sudden desire to look up. Or phone calls and emails that are unnecessary. Not urgent or important things include any lazy activity imaginable.


First, identify your most important activities that fall into the first two categories. Schedule them first then plan your week around them. If you’d like more information on this, check out 7 Habits for a Highly Effective Teen.


But what if this isn’t your problem? What if you’ve been working consistently and still miss your deadline?


First of all, have you done this before? Did you overestimate? How long did it take you?


But what if you’ve never done this before? One thing you can do is measure your progress on a day-to-day basis and then make your best guess. But guess what? You’re still going to underestimate how much time you’ll need. So this means your only option is overestimating. If you hop over to Quora and ask about the planning fallacy, you’ll find a few great suggestions, like doubling or tripling how much time you think you’ll need or doubling your estimate before making it a unit larger. (Example: 2 days doubled is 4 days. Up the unit, and it’s 4 weeks. Wow.)


And make sure to track your progress. I’m hoping edit estimates will become easier with practice 😉


What do you do to compensate for the planning fallacy?

Recent Comments

  • Brenna
    March 30, 2017 - 2:45 pm · Reply

    I can certainly relate to this. I overestimate what I can accomplish in an hour, in a day, in a month. And it doesn’t help that I’m easily distracted and a hardcore procrastinator. 😛 A few months ago I was hoping to finish editing by the end of April- now I will be super happy and amazed if I finish by the end of May. Thanks for being honest about your struggle and sharing it with the rest of us- I know planning is a challenge for many people.

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