Late people are so annoying, and yet somehow that late person is often you, late with a proposal, late for dinner, late, late, late. And you don’t know why because you are super organised and you’ve allowed for traffic and your heart is pounding and that feeling ruins everything. Why does everything take longer than you think?
It’s not just you. It’s a thing and it has a name. You’re suffering from planning fallacy. This is our tendency to underestimate how long it will take us to get stuff done.
If you need convincing, University of Chicago psychologist Nicholas Epley suggests this little experiment. Think of a task you’d really like to finish by the end of this week. Then write down three things: The day you want to have finished the task, the day you’ll have finished if everything goes insanely smoothly (best case scenario) and the day you’ll have finished if everything goes a bit tits-up.
The chances are, as well as missing your best case scenario deadline you’ll probably miss your worst case scenario one too. In a recent study, participants estimated it would take them 34 days to finish a task, best case scenario 27 days and worse case 49 days. In the end they took 55 days on average. So even our worst case scenarios tend to be unrealistic. Gosh aren’t we such optimists/appalling fate-tempters? But this is why we end up saying yes to all kinds of crazy stuff and then multi-tasking madly and badly.
So if optimism helps create the planning fallacy, we need a shot of pessimism to counter it, says Epley. Next time you’re faced with filling up your diary, committing to something, agreeing to a deadline, don’t imagine what you could do if everything goes your way. Imagine all the bad shit that could happen and then double it. You are only going to end up in a good mood. Because after all that internal negging, once the thing is done, you might feel like ‘Oh that wasn’t too bad’. Which is basically the best outcome we can hope for. Ever.