Do you experience mornings where you have a written-down list of “to dos?” You are so hyped-up that you feel you can do each task in the list. It’s true what they say that your mornings are better (and yes, less stressful) as you face the day more confidently if tasks are jotted down the night before. But alas, most of the time – you end the day with not one task or maybe most of these tasks left unattended. Do this happen not just one day but more often than that? Does this sound like you?
What did you do wrong?
You usually think of something interesting in what you do and then dig deeper as you wish to be enlightened more or maybe discover a connection. If these are fruitful, random confusing trips lead to creative solutions. But not every journey is wonderful, some paths lead to nowhere.
A similar situation is spot-on for most of our complex tasks. Most of us will assume the simplest and easiest route to the completion of tasks when we gauge time. But the reality is that it is NOT that simple. You have to weigh in a number of factors like hitches, inefficiencies and unexpected results throughout the whole course. There are deviations that seem to be the norm. Why don’t we consider them at all?
It is in this scenario that two popular psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky took notice and they also want the answer to this question.
The Planning Fallacy
Have you heard about the planning fallacy? This was first proposed by the two psychologists in 1979. It is a situation in which guesses about how much time is needed to complete a task in the future will have biases on optimism, thus, making an underestimate of the actual period of time required. It is said that these two are unlikely partners, but their studies proved otherwise. They were interested in judgment and decision-making, one of which is the theory on planning fallacy.
Planning fallacy tags a person as not so good in estimating task timelines. Predictably, we almost always underestimate the time duration on the completion of a task. The task may be applicable individually or to groups of individuals in collaborative projects. Did you know that Sydney Opera House, for instance has been projected to cost $7 million and completed in 6 years? The fact: it was completed for $102 million in 16 years. Studies also show that when asked how long a task will be completed, individuals were very optimistic to the point that even their worst-case scenario estimates were significantly lower compared to real-time data.
The Need to Accurately Gauge Time
It is not enough to know that people tend to underestimate their times in completion of tasks. If we need to contest the planning fallacy – we should be able to understand why it is there in the first place.
Three main ideas below have been taken from related sources – each one with a different solution the problem.
1. Inside Perspective is the norm
As Kahneman and Tversky introduced the planning fallacy – they have an explanation as to why people do task estimates with the inside perspective strategy.
As usually the case, when people are assigned a task – they tend to focus only on one point that has an impact in completing it. What they do not consider are the probable issues or problems – often with the assumption that everything is ideal. Task is going to be finished smoothly. This view is helpful but then again what happens is that assessment as to how much time is needed for the task is miscalculated.
What the inside perspective shows us is that people should see through the task, including the external factors in gauging the time. It is best to use actual history/experience as basis to evaluate time durations rather than just assigning them. From what you or other people you know have experienced, how long usually does it take to complete a similar project of same levels? If it’s a group project – how did the other groups’ experience compare with yours? These are important questions you must have in mind.
2. Task Components is the key
As the task gets more difficult, taking out each of its components lessens the planning fallacy. The solution is to adopt in a more aggressive stance the lessons we learned in #1 – the inside perspective. People should put the task into small portions that are identified easily with accurate timelines.
3. Memory bias is present
But psychologists reiterated that people just refer back to their past experiences wrongly – they are aware, but they have inaccurate recollections. The solution is to just do it simply: depending on the complexity of the task or project – double or triple the length of time duration. This solution is open to a lot of varied possibilities. This is much better in the meantime that we haven’t reached yet full agreement on what makes the planning fallacy work for us.
These three suggested solutions have one thing as a contention: people will take inefficiency as a factor in gauging time. How do we do this is quite questionable but the best path is rarely taken by anyone.
If you need to estimate well the length of time needed to finish a task, planning fallacy will be a helpful tool. A better judgment comes up when you use past experiences, divide the task into smaller chunks or simply increase 2x or 3x the original estimate. With this, you should be able to provide a precise assessment.