I Am a Vast Underestimator

November 14, 2009

I am guilty of vastly underestimating the time it will take me to get ready to go out of town. I make long lists of the things I need to take. I stack things neatly as I get them ready. I check my lists and cross things off. I check my lists again. I make new lists. And yet here it is, crunch time—I leave today for a conference at Miami University in Ohio—and I’m not ready, so this will be brief. Is there any wisdom here? Probably not, unless you appreciate knowing you are not alone if you too are a vast underestimator.

This is definitely related to school, though. I have learned over the years that I need to make sure my procrastinating about writing a paper, for example, ends soon enough that I have enough time left to get the task done. Today, I may not be packed, but my conference paper is done and printed.

We underestimators are not alone. The December 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine arrived yesterday and I read this morning when I could have been packing that the British Psychological Society asked psychologists the “one nagging thing“ they didn’t understand about themselves. Among the responses posted on the Society’s Research Digest website was this one from David Buss of the University of Texas:

A third [example for me] is undue optimism about how quickly I can complete work projects, despite many years‘ experience in underestimating the time actually required. One would think that explicit knowledge of these well-documented psychological biases and years of experience wth them would allow a person to cognitively override the biases. They don’t. (p. 27)

What always takes you longer than you think it will?

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.
• Albert Einstein


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