Have you noticed that tasks and projects always take longer than you think they will? We have a tendency to underestimate how long something will take, even when we are aware of this tendency and try to compensate for it. This observation is known as the Hofstadter’s Law,
What is Hofstadter’s Law?
For the sake of simplicity, Hofstadter’s Law is the notion that things WILL take longer than you think. This law shapes the double end sword that is planning fallacy as one’s mind drifts towards the best possible scenario while failing to consider the most plausible and realistic avenue. The reason people and our brains shift toward the best scenario can be understood by the Optimism Bias.
The Optimism Bias – How your Brain Tricks You
In a study by Tali Sharot, a Professor of cognitive neuroscience in the department of Experimental Psychology at University College London, the optimism bias was defined as:
“The optimism bias is defined as the difference between a person’s expectation and the outcome that follows. If expectations are better than reality, the bias is optimistic; if reality is better than expected, the bias is pessimistic”
In her study, she asked people of various demographics about simple questions pertaining to the likelihood future events surrounding aversive events, starting salaries and etc. This graph below showcases the results:
A glaring result from this the difference between the prediction and reality surrounding those with positive outcomes. Sharot rationale for why our brains favor optimistic outcomes is simply because they seem more attractive. Our brain likes thinking and considering positive things. According to Neuro- Education consultant, Lou Whitaker, “When positive thoughts are generated, when you’re feeling happy, or optimistic, cortisol decreases and the brain produces serotonin, creating a feeling of well-being. Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward system and pleasure center”. For more on Dopamine and its effects on your brain, check out my last post: The Dopamine Affect.
The Planning Fallacy: The Shortcoming
When you fail to consider the realistic amount of time it takes to complete something and only focus on the most mentally appealing outcome, you face the challenge of Hofstadter’s law and become a victim of the Planning Fallacy.
“The planning fallacy is a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed”
The planning fallacy was first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979.[ In 2003, Lovallo and Kahneman proposed an expanded definition as the tendency to underestimate the time, costs, and risks of future actions and at the same time overestimate the benefits of the same actions. According to this definition, the planning fallacy results in not only time overruns, but also cost overruns and benefit shortfalls.
How to Overcome the Planning Fallacy
Well the answer to this is quite simple in my opinion. Firstly make sure you know on average how much time it takes for you to complete a task. With that you can make a reasonable appraisal with how much time you may need. With that in mind, make sure to account for any possible detriments or interruptions you can face while working in order to truly grasp what you need to do to maximize your productivity.
That’s all for now, Until Next time, stay productive!
Sites I Used for Reference: