Breaking the Planning Fallacy: The How and Why of Being on Time

Guest contributed by Katie McBeth


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There are two types of people in this world:

“Punctuality is the politeness of kings.” – King Louis XVIII of France

“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.” – Author Evelyn Waugh

Yet, no matter where your personal opinion may lie on the spectrum, the business world has fully embraced the former of the two; be on time, no exceptions. Our world is dependent on schedules and time. Punctuality is a must, even if it’s personally impossible to achieve.

And there are genuinely good reasons why our culture has fully embraced punctuality. For one, showing up late is often seen as a sign of lack of dependability. It also wastes the time of those we are planning to meet up with. By being punctual we are also being respectful. Of course, much of this is cultural, and there are many legitimate reasons why people may often be late.

However, in a more business sense, being on time can be a real chore. Still, there are ways to trick yourself into staying on schedule. Timeliness is a necessity in relationships or business, and to really succeed it’s vital to get to grips with the importance of being on time.

If you struggle with punctuality, here’s how to fix it.

The Planning Fallacy  

Punctuality has been closely tied to human behavior, and psychologists have been studying time habits in humans for quite some time. In the late 1970’s, one psychologist was able to experience it first hand, and even gave it a name: the planning fallacy.

If you are someone that is perpetually late – no matter how hard you try to not be tardy – it could be that you are suffering from this common mental state of mind. As psychologists with the University of Southern California describe, our personal concept of time is biased, and can often skew our understanding of how long a task will take to complete. In reality, it can be easy to overcome, once we master the bias.

Researchers with USC state: “Individuals consistently assume their own tasks will get done sooner and be easier than they actually do or are. This is an optimism bias. On the other hand, a third-party observer assessing how long a task will take for another person will consistently provide a “low-ball” figure representing a pessimism bias – believing the task will take longer.

Besides appearing disrespectful, the planning fallacy can also hurt financially. For large companies, it can cost hundreds of additional hours in labor as well as potentially far overshoot any budgets.

One giant example of this is the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. It took an extra ten years to complete the project, and had an estimated cost of about eight million dollars. The final cost? Over 102 million dollars.

Overcoming the Planning Fallacy  

Time management was created as the core solution to combating the planning fallacy. Whether traveling from point A to point B, or simply getting up in the morning, time management plays a role in all of it. Delegate your time wisely, and you’ll be able to work your way out of the fallacy.

For example, if you’re perpetually procrastinating on projects or homework, create an agenda and set exact start times for your projects. Find a way to minimize outside distractions, and simply buckle down. The sooner you start, the sooner you finish.

However, it’s also important to consider the amount of work needed to complete the task. If you’re researching a topic, then you might need a few more hours of time than if you’re, say, writing an article on the benefits of dog walking.

This is where time delegation can really help. View the task pessimistically, and set up exact times dedicated to researching, compiling notes, and writing your project. Don’t wait for your superior to tell you what to do and when to do it. Instead, show your ability as a self-starter and work to build up your personal confidence and time management skills.

Another important part to breaking the fallacy is to avoid multitasking. Although many feel like they function better when multitasking, the truth is it can end up wasting more time simply by switching mindsets between projects. Zeroing in on the project at hand can help you complete a task on time.

If you’re a perpetually late person – as in physically always late to work or meet ups with friends – then you need to take a different approach. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into tasks when you know you need to be somewhere else, and instead try to get into a routine. Especially for non-morning people: set yourself up for success by creating and cultivating a strong morning routine. You will rarely be late to work if you’re already alert and awake within an hour or so of you needing to leave.


Breaking the planning fallacy can be difficult. It will take time to teach yourself how to manage time. However, once you’ve mastered it, you’ll have a whole new confidence in your ability to get work done, and you’ll be able to easily impress those that are relying on you.

Punctuality may be mandatory in our society, but it certainly has its benefits. Don’t let time and tardiness get the better of you.

Katie McBeth is a researcher and writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. Her favorite subject of study is millennials, and she has been featured on Fortune Magazine, Glassdoor, and the Quiet Revolution. You can follow her writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.

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