We Suck at Estimating

We’ve all done it.

We sit down, plan our day, and end up with ten items on our to-do list.

“That seems reasonable."

The end of the day rolls arrives. We got a couple of our items done, but not the most important one.

How many times have you thought you’d finish something in an hour or two, only to have it drag on for days?

How many times have you had an item on your to-do list that sat there for weeks?

It happens to me all the time.

I used to think it was poor planning.

But as humans, we’re susceptible.

Daniel Kahneman, the well-known psychology researcher, termed it “the inside view.”

When we look at a task or project, we tend to ignore previous examples of how long something took. And we consistently underestimate as a result.

The solution isn’t simple.

I’ve taken to solving it by choosing to focus on only one single thing per day. If I get that one thing done, it’s a good day.

But what about long-term planning?

That’s much trickier.

Building in buffers, being conservative with estimates, and continuous calibration can help.

Taking the “outside view” and looking for previous examples helps too.

But ultimately, we need to recognize that it’s going to be hard to estimate long-term.

Instead, we should be focusing on the first thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing, until we reach our goal.

Accept we suck at estimating.

And then take it one step at a time.