Oliver Burkeman invites you to improve your work life.
Why do we chronically underestimate how long tasks will take, or feel paralysed by indecision over which project to tackle first? There’s an art to planning well. And no, mastering it won’t turn you into an unspontaneous robot.
One potential pitfall is the ‘planning fallacy’ – we tend to be over-optimistic about how long something will take. In one study, students estimated they’d complete an essay an average of 10 days before deadline; in reality, the average was one day.
Things always take longer than you think – part of the problem is that emotions blow your reasoning skills off course; when you really want something to be finished by Thursday, it’s easy to persuade yourself it can be.
The crucial habit worth developing is a short weekly planning session – half an hour might be enough – when you can take an ‘aerial view’ of your work, like an air traffic controller. Otherwise, you’ll only make a plan when you’re overwhelmed, which is when you are most vulnerable to the planning fallacy.
List all projects, make a schedule assigning specific times to tasks – and add at least 25 per cent to your estimates of time required. Don’t try to convince yourself that this once, you’ll do more in less time – that’s the planning fallacy again. And don’t worry that scheduling life will drain it of fun; on the contrary, giving your days more structure will free you from constantly having to decide what to do next.
Now try It out