If you feel your organization skills are somewhat lacking, you may be falling victim to the planning fallacy.

We are all guilty of mistaken planning, leaving us rushing to meet deadlines and finish tasks we thought we had plenty of time to finish. However, it happens to some of us more than others.

If you find yourself feeling jealous of the organizational skill of others, you may be suffering from planning fallacy. This optimism bias can affect the planning of many our day to day tasks and leave us stretched by the time deadlines to come around.

What Is Planning Fallacy?

The planning fallacy is one of the most common and consistent cognitive biases humans display.

It is a phenomenon whereby predictions for the length of time a task will take to complete underestimate the actual time needed. These predictions have an optimism bias and, therefore, the individual will plan less time than the task requires.

This is usually down to individuals not factoring in time for mistakes, delays, or other hurdles. Individuals run the risk of missing deadlines because they expect the task to be completed in less time.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky first proposed planning fallacy in 1979. It has been explored by psychologists ever since. In 2003, Kahneman proposed an expanded definition of the fallacy to encompass underestimation of cost and risk, as well as the overestimation of benefits.

When Does Planning Fallacy Occur?

Planning fallacy occurs without the individual realizing it but will only occur in relation to their own tasks. When observing the tasks of others, those who suffer from the fallacy will be more pessimistic and actually overestimate the amount of time needed to complete a task.

The fact you have completed similar tasks in a certain amount of times won’t matter. The planning fallacy will occur regardless of the individual’s knowledge of the length of time previous tasks have taken.

The good news is that there are ways to prevent this cognitive bias in the first place.

  1. Break up big tasks into manageable mini-tasks

Don’t let the large task overwhelm you. When a task feels extraordinarily large, it can be difficult to get started and we procrastinate.

The first step is to actually get started. This may seem silly, but the knowledge a task is left incomplete can be hugely motivating. Start by breaking up your task into smaller chunks and keep a checklist. Once you begin checking off different tasks, you will find yourself more motivated to complete more.

By breaking up your project into smaller tasks, you can plan time for each part. This will keep the planning fallacy at bay because you have a better chance of accuracy with many small tasks than one large one. 

Don’t forget to allocate a little bit of extra time to finish each task, as you never know what delays could occur. Set an optimistic time limit and a hard time limit, then work against the clock.

  1. Find your flow

Flow state is a state of great focus which allows you to think only of the task at hand. When in flow, you may find yourself completely ignoring hunger pangs, stress, and distraction.

By utilizing the flow state, you can improve your productivity and work towards deadlines much more effectively. This can help you to avoid the planning fallacy because you will be more likely to work faster and within the set time limits.

Flowstate can also help to improve your overall performance in the task at hand. So, not only will you work faster, but you will also work better.

  1. Use the Time Management Matrix

The Time Management Matrix is an excellent tool for those who struggle to track time and keep to deadlines. This method helps you to identify urgent tasks from important tasks and devote the right amount of time to each element of a project. By prioritizing the right tasks, you will find your productivity increasing and your project coming to completion sooner.

There are four types of task in the Time Management Matrix which will help you to recognize the tasks you are giving too much time to. A little prioritization goes a long way in avoiding the planning fallacy for good by simply avoiding non-important tasks until you have time for them.

  1. Don’t be afraid to say no

Planning fallacy occurs where we don’t plan for delays. This usually comes in the form of distractions from others. There will always be people who want more of your time than they need. They may ask for your assistance, or simply distract you from your work.

It is natural to want to help anyone you can, but you shouldn’t be afraid to say no when you need to, especially if your task is important. It is always possible to reorganize your assistance to a later date.

Planning fallacy affects us all, but with a little organizing and prioritization, you can rid yourself of it for good and start working better and more effectively. The most important step is to recognize that you suffer from planning fallacy, only then can you take steps to address it.


  1. https://web.mit.edu
  2. https://www.pmi.org

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