June 2022
The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
Why Does Everything Always Take Longer Than You Expect?


Why Does Everything Always Take Longer Than You Expect?

If you ever watch a reality tv cooking show featuring amateur chefs (or professionals for that matter), you will have noticed that even when they are given advance warning of what they will be cooking on the show and have had an opportunity to practice the dish at home, they almost always run out of time. Sitting on your couch, you shake your head: surely they should have known it would take more time?

Running out of time and missing a deadline or an appointment syndrome is so common that it’s got a name, “planning fallacy.” Wikipedia says, “It 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.

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. This phenomenon sometimes occurs regardless of the individual's knowledge that past tasks of a similar nature have taken longer to complete than generally planned. The bias affects predictions only about one's own tasks; when outside observers predict task completion times, they tend to exhibit a pessimistic bias, overestimating the time needed. The planning fallacy involves estimates of task completion times more optimistic than those encountered in similar projects in the past.” (“Planning Fallacy.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 May 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planning_fallacy).

Researchers have studied how long people think it will take to complete a task, and overwhelmingly they underestimate the time a job will take. As humans, we are overly optimistic about our ability to do just about anything in a set amount of time. Our cooks may well have practised at home and managed to make their dish in the 60-minutes allowed on the show, or maybe a little longer. However, their performance is a disaster on the television show – good television, but still a fail. It is common to hear a contestant, when interviewed, admit something like, “Well, it did take longer at home, but that’s because a few things went wrong.” For some reason, they believe that everything will miraculously go perfectly under hot lights, in a studio, with the pressure on, using strange equipment and appliances, and being constantly interrupted by the show’s host.

So, is it an inevitability that everything takes longer than we expected? Maybe, but there are things we can put in place to minimize the damage our planning optimism does. Here are a few simple actions that will help keep you on track.

  • Don’t deny past evidence that suggests your timeline is too optimistic.
  • Come to terms with the fact of life that what can go wrong will go wrong.
  • Try to be pessimistic about a task and consider all the things that might go wrong, and create a backup plan that will help get you back on track.
  • Break down the task into smaller tasks and give each a block of time. Doing this may highlight how unrealistic your expectations are; think of these as mini-deadlines. Use a timer of some description to keep you on track with each mini-task. If you begin to fall behind, use the backup plan.
  • Add 20-30% more time to your deadline, even when you think it is realistic.
  • Before you decide on a timeline for a project, ask a friend how long they would allow for a similar project. Surprisingly the planning fallacy and accompanying over-optimism disappear when the person assessing the time required is not actually carrying out the task.

Time is a fickle friend. “Where did the time go?” is a common refrain on cooking shows. An hour will seem like two if you are undergoing a root canal. If you are enjoying a coffee or a few drinks with good friends, the time will go by in a flash. Don’t let the planning fallacy and optimism bias make you unreliable. Accept it exists, and you are halfway to overcoming it.

Why Does Everything Always Take Longer Than You Expect?


Spring Clean Your Business

Sometimes, your business can get you down. You still have enthusiasm for what you do, but it feels like a grind. It’s as if your business needs a spring clean. Something that will revitalize you, and your staff, bring in more business and improve your bottom line. Here are six things you might consider doing as we head toward summer to increase your chances of business success.

  1. Hold a retreat with your management team, staff, mentors, advisors, or whoever helps you with your business. Take a good look at where your business stands currently and where you would like it to be by year-end. Set six goals, break them down into objectives and action points, allocate responsibility for each action point to someone, and attach a timeline. The number of objectives doesn’t matter, but it shouldn’t be too many.
  2. Adopt a less is more business philosophy. As a business owner, you can’t focus on everything at once, so decide on your priorities and focus on them.
  3. Reach out to your customers and wish them success. At the same time, provide them with something that adds value to what you already sell them. This doesn’t have to cost you a lot or anything at all. Think about how you can offer something that will add value to their business. It may be as simple as sending them helpful information about your industry or how they can use your product or service better. It could be a discount, or perhaps you could start sending them an eMagazine or newsletter.
  4. When was the last time you took a long, hard look at your finances? Many of us are so busy working “in” our businesses we forget the value of working “on” our business. Make an appointment with your accountant and sit down with them to review your most recent financials. Look closely at your gross and net profits; especially study your expenses and look at where you might save money. Remember, every $100 saved on your costs goes straight to bottom-line profit. Ask your accountant to supply you with quarterly management accounts so you can keep track of your financial performance and take action quickly when things are not going to plan.
  5. This is a fun one - create a bucket list for your business. What dreams do you have for your business if there were no barriers? Maybe you want to end the year with no line of credit, or perhaps afford a new computer or another piece of equipment? Maybe you’d like to double your staff, have the courage to fire someone or hold a sales conference in the sun. No matter, create your list, and you’ll be surprised at how opportunities to check some of them off will suddenly appear.
  6. Finally, for one entire week, note down your workday activities. One way to do this quickly is to use a day book and jot down what you are currently doing, and once you move on to something else, note the start and finish time of that and all subsequent activities. Even easier, use the voice memo feature on your cell phone to make the note. At the end of the week, analyze every activity and decide which made money for your business and which didn’t. Success lies in doing more of the activities that increase revenues and less of those that don’t - the latter cost your business money.

Success relies greatly on a positive attitude and how well you focus on the critical things in your business. If you focus on the areas of your business that make money rather than cost money from now to the end of the year, it will be like you have given your company a tonic – a corporate pick-me-up!

Why Does Everything Always Take Longer Than You Expect?


Coach's Corner - 4 Ideas to Help You Work ON Your Business

In the second article for this month, Spring Clean Your Business, the fourth point, which is focused on finances, states, “Many of us are so busy working “in” our businesses we forget the value of working “on” our business.” As owners and senior leaders, we often get sidetracked with seemingly urgent yet unimportant tasks in our businesses. We get hung up on the things that distract us from the critical job of working ON our business. Urgent is not always important. We need to focus on what things are crucial and make them urgent in furthering our business and career goals. Here are a few ideas to help you work ON your business.

  • Keep your important goals prominently displayed so you can see them every day. Whether they include a one-page business plan incorporating actions and strategies to accomplish your goals or your corporate vision statement, it’s essential to keep them at the forefront of your mind.
  • Make it a habit to write down your weekly intentions. What do you want to accomplish this week? How do those intentions fit into your grand scheme of things? How are they related to your goal? At the end of the week, reflect on them by asking yourself what barriers prevented you from fulfilling your intentions? And, how can you avoid those barriers next week?
  • Drill down by being intentional about everything you do in your day. When you are about to embark on a task, whether emails, phone calls, meetings, etc., ask yourself how each contributes to your desired outcome. Does this need to be done? Can someone else take it on? Are you the best person to do it? Consciously thinking about how an action, activity or proposal ties into your strategic goal helps you make good decisions.
  • Stop Micromanaging! Be clear on your expectations and ensure your employees or colleagues understand them. Have a check-in process in place, let them do the work, take on the responsibility, and let them have ownership of their work. It comes down to having them work IN the business while you focus ON the business.

The important thing is to get into the routine of working ON your business (or career) every day or at least once or twice a week. Setting aside uninterrupted time demonstrates to your colleagues and your staff that this is a priority for you.

Paul Abra, Motivated Coaching


The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
PO Box 517 (26 Chemaushgon Rd). Bancroft ON K0L 1C0
Phone: 1-800-465-4119