Most of us underestimate how long things will take.  This is true on a macro scale (9 out of 10 megaprojects overrun according to the University Of Oxford*) and it is also true on a micro scale where we put together a realistic To Do list everyday and consistently only manage to do between one and two thirds of it.

Why is this?  Well there are three main reasons.  Interruptions, the Planning Fallacy and Email.



 Most of us get a lot more interruptions than we tend to think.  This has accelerated in recent years with the fashion for open plan offices.  We are all within touching distance of each other so we can collaborate effectively.

That’s great, but we get dragged in to conversations we just don’t need to be in. Plus everyone else’s conversations distract us.

We end up multitasking, not literally doing two things at once, but switching rapidly between topics.  The research is absolutely unequivocal.  We are not good at this!  Even people who think of this as a real strength perform far more poorly switching between tasks rather than focusing on one at a time.

Make sure you do work that requires focus (Deep Work) somewhere quieter.  And for time spent in an open plan office, reduce what you expect to get done by maybe a third!


For more detail on managing interruptions please click on this link


The Planning Fallacy

Daniel Kahneman talks about the way we tend to plan as being the ideal route between A and B, less about 10% for contingency.  This applies to budgeting, risk management and time management.  Luckily, our organisations probably delve more deeply in to the first two, but time management still tends to suffer.

We don’t tend to anticipate the unusual events which happen a bit more frequently than we imagine and we build in practically nothing for the unknown unknowns. Again the quick antidote is to cut down your expectations by at least a third, but if it’s a real issue, then keeping a time log (tedious I know.) Getting closer to what you actually spend your time on can be really eye opening.



Finally Email.  Obviously there’s some overlap here with interruptions as many of us dive in to email (or text, or What’s App etc.) as soon as an alert goes off.

Moreover, we tend to check email in a quiet moment in the mistaken belief that we are being time effective.   This is made worse as often we store regularly needed information in old emails and so get drawn back to that ever-growing inbox, and how hard is it to resist opening a few quick emails whilst we’re there?! Managing email is a major battle for all of us these days.


For some tips on how to control email rather than vice versa please click on the attached


And in the meantime, as a quick test of how much on an issue this is, note down how many times you go in to email during a workday – starting from when you wake up and check your phone! What time of the day is it before you hit 10 times?  If its before the middle of the afternoon than that’s bad, but no worse than most.  If its still morning, then I’d strongly urge you to rethink how you work with email!


*  Based on research by Brent Flyvebjerb, University of Oxford, “What You Should Know About Megaprojects and Why: An Overview”.  Project Management Journal 45(2) · February 2014