Finishing Well

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Estimating how long a project will take to complete can be tricky. A daily balancing act between management expectations and actual time needed. A decade into managing a front office, I hear these conversations throughout the day:

“How long is this going to take you?”

“About an hour?”

“Good. Do it.”

An hour goes by and the project is not completed; another hour goes by and the project wraps up over time. Interruptions, not wanting to displease management, all factor into unrealistic time estimates. We all want to make a good impression, so why do we low-ball ourselves with time?

In his book Finish, Jon Acuff writes:

Have you ever wondered why 92 percent of people fail at their goals?

Because we tend to set goals that are foolishly optimistic.

Scientists call this “planning fallacy,” a concept first studied by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They described this problem as “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.” (page 21, Finish

Acuff continues with an example of college students polled to see how long they think it will take to finish their theses. With poll results showing the students undercut themselves by as much as half. We all do this everyday whether it’s underestimating time on a project for work or setting life goals. Optimism blinds us to the reality of time work takes to complete.

Where are you not giving yourself enough time to finish well?

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