Why do otherwise clever people consistently underestimate how long it will take to do something, even when they really should know better? This problem is rampant in the software business. Even veteran developers, people with years of programming experience, will look you in the eye and name an insanely optimistic timeline for their next project. Science Daily (found via LifeHacker) cites some recent research on this topic:
Why Do We Overcommit? Study Suggests We Think We’ll Have More Time In The Future Than We Have Today. I like this summary.
Zauberman and Lynch continue, “People are consistently surprised to be so busy today. Lacking knowledge of what specific tasks will compete for their time in the future, they act as if new demands will not inevitably arise that are as pressing as those faced today.” In short, the future is ideal: The fridge is stocked, the weather clear, the train runs on schedule and meetings end on time. Today, well, stuff happens.
The more I think about it, the less this result surprises me. Compared to today, there is more time in the future. That’s where all the time comes from. That’s where the time factory is, and factory outlets are always the cheapest suppliers. As a result, everything gets discounted in the future, including the price you’ll pay for being wrong. The “you” in the future is not the you of right now, and that person can take the hit for any bad prediction. It’s the same reason you’re willing to make lifestyle choices now (fatty food, no exercise) that imperil your future self: Hey! That person isn’t you. Yet.