Life comes at you pretty fast. Just this morning there was nothing but frolic, fun and festivals on my horizon. Then, our pal Theresa threw a spanner squarely in the works and now I’ve got ’till June 8th to get my act together.
Following the 11:15 announcement that rocked the world, it was probably about 11:22 when I finished registering to vote. Not because I’m some keen political bean, but because I know what I’m like with deadlines. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, as they say. So too, is the road to trying to sort a postal vote for the EU referendum a week before leaving for Glasto.
Planning to stay on top of essays and revision was no fun either, as I imagine it’s not for all the students slogging through textbooks at the minute. No matter how hard I tried, it always seemed to end in tears or an all-nighter, or both. If you, like me, keep missing deadlines because you cut it fine all the time, take heart. Science has isolated the reason why our best laid long-term plans go awry.
The planning fallacy
Anyone will tell you that everything seems to take longer to complete than you think. This can make it harder to plan long term. But why? Here’s what the brainiacs think.
This phenomenon is called the ‘planning fallacy’ and its a cognitive bias held by most everyone that has ever graced the face of the Earth. The theory basically states that people tend to underestimate how long it will take them to get stuff done.
It’s been tested rigorously over the years too. Nicholas Epley, a University of Chicago psychologist, cited an experiment where he asked his undergraduates when they thought they would finish their theses.
He asked for three dates – one where everything goes to plan, one where everything goes wrong and a rough average. The average predictions for these were 27, 49 and 34 days respectively. The reality? It took his students and average of 55 days to complete their work.
See, it’s easy to be cavalier about a task when you’re at the start of it. But for all your initial pep, you don’t account for any possible setbacks or drops in motivation. That’s why all your planning, even when envisioning your worst case scenario tends to be optimistic.
How understanding the planning fallacy can stop you missing deadlines
So now that you know what you’re up against, how do you beat it? Well, to stop your planning optimism from creating problems for you down the road, introduce a healthy dose of pessimism.
A Science of Us column from earlier this year, suggested an unorthodox mode of planning they called a ‘premortem‘. The game? To trick yourself into thinking about the things that could go wrong by pretending they have gone wrong.
How do you apply this to you? Simple.
- Imagine you’ve already missed your deadline.
- Figure out what caused you to do so and all the possible setbacks that you could’ve encountered.
- Plan accordingly, bearing in mind all those negatives.
Once you do all that, it’ll be a lot harder for things to trip you up, especially if you’ve already considered them. With crunch season upon us, I challenge you all to give this a go and let us know how it turns out.