Dr. Mark Frohman

Dr. Mark Frohman

Running late? Again? You shouldn’t be surprised

By Dr. Mark Frohman
Business Columnist

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‘Oh no, late again!”

How many times have you heard yourself or someone else say that when an important project or assignment was woefully behind or, worse yet, late? Each situation has its own reasons and excuses, but here is advice to help you avoid the situation.

Reams of research in work and personal situations shows we are wildly optimistic when estimating the time it takes to complete a project and how much work we can accomplish in a given time. We are just plain terrible judges of how long things will take. The time frame doesn’t matter; research indicates we have unrealistic estimates for how much we will finish today, this week, this year and longer.

This pervasive tendency, called the “best-case planning fallacy,” can be attributed to several things. First, we usually ignore the very real possibility that things won’t go as planned; our future plans tend to be “best-case scenarios.” As a consequence, we also budget only enough time to complete the project if everything goes trouble free – which it never does. Remember this cardinal law of time management: Nothing ever goes as planned – plan on it.

Second, we routinely fail to consider our own past experiences while planning. Even having done a task or assignment before, most people can’t seem to be realistic about how long it will take to do it again. They ignore past experience. (Just ask my Rocky Mount Telegram editor about the frequency of late submissions from regular columnists. This one was on time.)

Lastly, we don’t think about all the steps that make up the task or how long each will take. When you think about painting a room, you might picture yourself using a roller to slap the paint on the walls and figure it won’t take much time at all. But you neglect to consider how you’ll first have to move or cover the furniture, tape the fixtures and window frames by hand and so on.

To minimize the awful consequences of the best-case fallacy, consider these four steps:

  • Consider how long it has taken to complete a similar project in the past. If you don’t recall, ask someone else who worked on that or a similar project in the past.
  • Try to identify the ways in which things might not go as planned – a “premortem” examination – and factor them into your estimate.
  • Break the project down into all steps you need to get it done, then estimate the time necessary to complete each and total them.
  • Then double that amount of time!

Dr. Mark Frohman is the owner of Frohman Consulting Corp. and a counselor with SCORE, a nonprofit business-consulting group.