The Planning Fallacy: What it is and How to Avoid It

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Have you ever planned a task or project only to realize that you didn’t allocate enough time or resources to it? I’m sure I have. And psychologists have a name for it – The planning fallacy. There are even research papers written around the concept.

What is a Planning Fallacy?

The planning fallacy is the human tendency to underestimate the time and resources needed to complete a project or achieve your goals. It is the product of a cognitive bias.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky introduced the concept of planning fallacies in 1979. Forty-three years after, we still find ourselves making the same error. Unfortunately, people who want to give no excuse cannot afford this error. Your plan has to be on point, or you will run into problems along the way, and excuses will be your best resort.

Reasons Why a Planning Fallacy Can Occur

Planning fallacies occur because of the human tendency to do the following;

Assume the Best Conditions

A fallacious plan assumes that everything will go as planned. It gives no room for disruptions; does not factor in last-minute requests that may place a demand on your resources. Often, the add-on effects of these interruptions can be difficult to quantify.

Fail to Consider Past Data

People that commit this fallacy often fail to consider the data presented by similar cases in the past. So a student knows each of his last three assignments took a week each but somehow believes the new assignment will take three days despite the similarity of the assignments.

Common When Others Will Bear the Cost of Failure

When failure is impersonal, many people tend to be terrible planners. It’s because they know (even though it isn’t acknowledged) that the cost of overrun is someone else’s headache and not theirs.

How to Get Around Planning Fallacies

A planning fallacy can be downright costly. However, you can avoid it early enough. Here’s how to do so

Be Objective

Learn to look a little beyond what you think. The most accurate benchmark of a task’s requirement is not what you think personally at the time but what it has cost you and others to deliver similar tasks. Learn to anchor future predictions on objective data from past events/results/performances.

Add Buffers

Buffers give what I call ‘wiggle-room’. Learn to add extra time to your projected time for completing your plan. If you’ve ever added a miscellaneous fee to your budget, that’s a resource buffer. Buffers allow you to absorb last-minute changes to your plan so that things can still go on smoothly.        

Plan for setbacks

We can be optimistic and pragmatic at the same time. So while you may expect the best conditions, plan for setbacks. Challenges are easier to deal with when you factor them into your plan and provide a counter-strategy to deal with them.

 

Good plans are the bedrock for successful tasks and projects. Avoiding a planning fallacy is the first step to developing a good plan. I hope this helps you plan better next time. Let me know if it does help.

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