Brain Food #721
The Planning Fallacy
Thoughts of the day
Every Wednesday, I will be sharing a new cognitive bias or mental model that you can add to your thinking toolbox. Being aware of our biases can help us change perspectives, be better humans, and make wiser decisions. Last week, I wrote about Hanlon’s Razor, a form of cognitive bias that misleads our thinking about the intentions of others.
The planning fallacy is our tendency to underestimate the amount of time it will take us to complete a task, although we know that previous similar tasks have taken longer. In simple terms, we are poor, overly optimistic planners of the future, subconsciously setting ourselves up for failure by choosing to ignore our past.
It is one of the reasons why we fail to keep new year’s resolutions or end up doing late sprints to meet the deadline of a project.
It also makes me think of descriptions in Airbnb rentals, which say ‘200m to the beach, as the crow flies’, implying the most direct path between two points. But the path is rarely direct.
We can protect ourselves from the planning bias by arming ourselves with external information, whether that is the opinion of someone else or setting a project with a similar goal as a reference point. We can also spend more time planning realistically, by breaking down the lofty goal we want to achieve into its individual parts (where we might discover that their sum is much bigger than initially thought).
“Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they likely to be.”
— Daniel Kahneman
More importantly, what the planning fallacy suggests is that rarely will things ever go according to plan. And, eventually, we might get to do fewer things than we had initially planned or hoped for because the path to get there tends to be longer than expected. An essential part of planning, and one we often tend to forget, is choosing what to leave out, so we can create space for what truly matters.
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