Planning around the planning fallacy

The planning fallacy is our inability to correctly estimate how long things take:
Buehler et. al. (1995) asked their students for estimates of when they (the students) thought they would complete their personal academic projects. Specifically, the researchers asked for estimated times by which the students thought it was 50%, 75%, and 99% probable their personal projects would be done. Would you care to guess how many students finished on or before their estimated 50%, 75%, and 99% probability levels? * 13% of subjects finished their project by the time they had assigned a 50% probability level; * 19% finished by the time assigned a 75% probability level; * and only 45% (less than half!) finished by the time of their 99% probability level.
We are extremely bad planners; even if we've turned in a hundred essays at the last minute, we still think we're going to turn in this one on time. Every night I plan on not hitting the snooze button, and then morning rolls around and I crave ten more minutes of sleep. These instances are trivial but the planning fallacy imposes real costs: think about all of the government projects that balloon way over budget and past schedule, because the contractors and government overseers failed to plan well. I've found two ways to get around the planning problem. #1: Move up the deadline. Usually this involves texting one of my friends and telling them, "If I don't finish this essay by 3pm, then I owe you $20." Very effective, and because I'm pretty competitive I usually avoid paying out, although I don't do it often enough. When you consider how much it costs to go to school, and how much good grades help you get a job, it's not too ridiculous to use $20 as an incentive to get things done. #2: Leave yourself no wiggle room: If an essay's due at 3pm, then schedule a whole bunch of other work from 9 to 12. Deliberately ignore thinking about the essay until then. Then, write your essay in three hours. That way, instead of spending six hours working on the essay (and procrastinating), you get it done in three hours, and you get three hours of work done in the morning as well. If you hit the snooze in the morning, work late, so you have no wiggle room for sleep (Generally, I have to get up by 9 to get to breakfast). These aren't great alternatives but they're better than mindless procrastination, and spending three hours surfing YouTube before getting down to business. If this doesn't sound appealing, you can always plan on becoming a person who finishes their work ahead of time.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are heavily moderated.