Karan has a productive day planned out. He is going to make his breakfast, go for a run and finish the book he has been reading. He sits down with his book but is unable to concentrate. His phone won’t stop ringing and he is tempted to check the notifications every time. Another day goes by and Karan could read only a couple of pages.

We have all been in Karan’s shoes where we overestimate our capacity to finish an activity. This happens because of the planning fallacy and our inability to tackle it. Let’s take a look at the definition of planning fallacy and ways to overcome it.

Beware, It’s The Planning Fallacy

The planning fallacy is a cognitive bias that affects our critical thinking and decision-making abilities. Like other biases, it has detrimental effects and can negatively impact our lives. We fall into the planning fallacy trap because our minds use shortcuts to reach conclusions. It was Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two behavioral scientists, who identified and defined the meaning of planning fallacy.

Put simply, the planning fallacy is the tendency to predict the amount of time it will likely take to complete a task. It’s a form of optimism bias where people tend to underestimate the time taken to complete a task, despite being aware of the amount of work that needs to be done. Even if similar tasks took more time in the past, we overestimate our capacity to complete them. What’s interesting to note here is that we hold both optimistic beliefs, about the future, and realistic beliefs, concerning the past.

Here are some planning fallacy examples that will help you understand the concept better:

  • Businesses often spend a considerable amount of time overestimating their capacity and underestimating project deadlines

  • While driving somewhere, we often underestimate the amount of time it will take to reach the destination, which is why we’re often late

  • Students often underestimate the time to meet their assignment deadlines and fall behind

The planning fallacy is also known as wishful thinking, as we have unrealistic assumptions about the future. It can have a serious impact on the economic, personal and social aspects of life. Organizations should be careful and find ways to challenge this bias, otherwise, there can be financial consequences.

You Can Challenge The Planning Fallacy

Falling victim to the planning fallacy mindset is quite common. You don’t have to beat yourself up about making a mistake. Instead, you should find ways to challenge it and keep a check on your biases. Here are some effective tips that will teach you how to overcome planning fallacy and make better decisions.

  1. Realistic Deadlines

The most challenging task while dealing with the planning fallacy is estimating the time it will take to finish something. Start by prioritizing your tasks and visualizing your plan. The more you plan your goals and milestones and estimate the urgency of tasks, the more confident you’ll be about setting realistic deadlines.

  1. Break Big Tasks Down

The planning fallacy phenomenon is commonly seen among people who have to work on big projects (e.g., project managers). In such scenarios, people often focus on the outcome, rather than the process. Start paying attention to the step you need to take to complete the project. Break down big tasks or goals into smaller ones and allocate time to each. This makes it easier to figure out what needs to be done.

  1. Resist And Remove Distractions

One of the biggest reasons behind procrastination is the presence of distractions. We often feel the urge to respond to emails and messages, prioritizing these activities. If you want to focus on the task at hand, minimize distractions by limiting screen time. Alternatively, you can dedicate an hour to respond to emails, messages and phone calls.

In addition to these strategies, you need to practice mindful thinking to tackle the planning fallacy. Unbiased thinking comes from processing information and analyzing the data before drawing conclusions about a situation.

Harappa Education’s Thinking Critically course will help you critically think through situations and make sound judgments. The Mental Models Framework will help you analyze situations better while the CAFE Framework will teach you how to ask relevant questions to gain deeper insights. Think critically and make plans that are realistic and achievable.


Explore topics such as What is a FallacyTypes of Fallacies & The Strawman Fallacy from Harappa Diaries and think mindfully to tackle fallacies at work.

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