Dread and Uncertainty Cause Us to Overestimate How Long Things Take

I’m on a late flight back from Vegas, I didn’t get enough sleep, and I’m exhausted. I hadn’t done my German tape for the day yet, so I put my headphones in, propped my head against the window, closed my eyes, and did it. I’m sure my neighbor, if she could hear my stilted German mumbles, thought I was crazy.

I finished the tape and the captain announced that we were forty minutes from our destination. Factoring in the time it takes to do the final descent, where I won’t be allowed to use my computer, that gives me about fifteen minutes of time to make use of.

My first inclination, tired as I am, is to waste the time. Close my eyes and take a lttle nap, read a book on my phone, listen to some music, or just flip through screens on my phone aimlessly. Fifteen minutes seems way too short for me to write a blog post.

But then I think about how tired I’m going to be if I get home and still have to write the post. Begrudgingly, I whip out the laptop. May as well outline the post or get the intro down or something. Now I’ve got more of a post written than I thought I’d get done in fifteen minutes.

This is such a common experience now that I have to write about it, just to cement it in my own head. Very very often, tasks take less time than I expect. Sometimes there’s a small amount of dread associated with the blog post, like coming up with a topic, and that dread factors into my calculus by making me think that a task will take longer than it actually will.

Frequently there will be a big nebulous Sett campaign that I need to complete and I’ll deprioritize it for a week or two because it seems so weighty and difficult that I don’t ever feel quite ready to clear a week and figure it out. When I inevitably do clear the time, it takes a day or two. My discomfort in not knowing exactly how to tackle the project makes me overestimate how long it will take.

So this is a note to myself, and to you if you need it. When you’re estimating how long a project is going to take, think rationally about how much you’re dreading it, and ask yourself if that dread is causing you to overestimate. There’s a good chance it is. Remember that estimating time is much easier once you’ve started the task, so just get started immediately, using whatever time you have.

We’re descending now and I’m about to be caught using my laptop. Got the post done just in the nick of time. That was about ten minutes, and I thought it would take twenty or twenty-five.


Photo is another shot of the Oasis in Palm Springs.

Heading to the island this weekend! We just bought a boat and are ready to begin real work. Expect an update around the 21st or so. I’ll be posting some photos to my twitter throughout next week as well.


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