How many times have you taken a pile of work home over the weekend, fully intending to get it all done, and then you didn’t have enough time to complete even half of the work.

And then what happens? Instead of learning from this experience and taking home less work the next time, you do the same thing all over again… and again.

You can apply this scenario to everything from daily To Do lists to major life goals. We genuinely expect to get it all done “in no time,” only to end up feeling defeated when we invariably fail to do so. In fact, according to Heidi Grand Halvorson (Ph.D., rising star in motivational science and Expert Blogger for Fast Company magazine), “Human beings are pretty lousy when it comes to estimating the time they will need to complete a task.”

To learn why, allow me to introduce you to Hoftadter’s Law.

Hofstadter's law, conceived by the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, goes like this: any task you're planning to complete will always take longer than expected - even when Hofstadter's law is taken into account. Even if you know a project will overrun, and build that knowledge into your planning, it'll simply overrun your new estimated finish time, too. This is referred to as the “Planning Fallacy.”

The Planning Fallacy is a cognitive bias–or a distortion in the human mind that has been well documented by psychologists. According to the studies, we know everything always takes longer than expected; we just seem to forget … again and again.

According to research the Planning Fallacy can be attributed to three basic biases:

* We fail to consider past experiences.
* We consider only the best possible outcome.
* We focus on the overall task, not on sub-components.

The next time you’re estimating how long it will take to complete a task or project try the following:

1) Base your estimate on how long the task will take on past experience completing or a similar task. If you find yourself suddenly overflowing with all sorts of reasons why this time it’s going to be different (so of course you’ll be able to complete the task much faster), stop yourself immediately. The amount of time a task has taken you in the past is the best predictor of how long it’s going to take you in the future.

2) Identify all the ways in which things might not go as planned. I know some will view this is negative, preferring to focus only on the best case scenario … but that’s the very thinking that ends up throwing us off schedule in the first place. This exercise will help pull you away from a fantasy world in which everything goes as planned, and back into the real world, in which there will almost certainly be a few unanticipated bumps and detours.

3) Write out all the steps and resources you will need to get the task done. Once you see a task broken down into all of its components, you’ll be better able to determine how long the overall task should take; and considering the resources you need will prevent you from being stalled because you don’t have what you need to complete the task.

These steps can help you overcome the Planning Fallacy for familiar tasks and projects; but what about when you tackle something for the first time … a major project or a really BIG goal?

For larger projects and BIG goals consider a technique called benchmarking.The term benchmarking is most often used when referring to the business practice of measuring a company’s performance against the competition. However it can also be extremely helpful when used for planning larger projects.

Here’s how this might work for your bigger projects or goals.

Establishing a benchmark (standard reference) is simply determining what rate of progress is realistic for YOU. After all everybody’s resources and circumstances are different, and each person will have any number of variables that could potentially affect their progress and outcome.

Let’s say you’re writing a book and you need to commit to a completion date you’re your publisher. Rather than guess or setting an overly optimistic finish date, invest some time focusing on the ‘writing’ before you make a commitment.

I know this is hard to do, not only because setting expectations seems to be an automatic response for most of us, but also because this approach appears to fly in the face of the traditional “SMART” goals requirement of applying a definitive date for the completion of your goal at the onset.

It’s not that I’m suggesting you leave your planning open ended, only that with larger projects or goals you give yourself the opportunity to make some progress, see some results, in order to put yourself in a better position to establish some sort of benchmark before setting a firm target for completion of your goal.

In the case of your book, once you have a feel for the range of your potential progress, you’ll feel more confident because you have a tangible point to build on and it will become much easier to be optimistic as you begin seeing real progress ... all of which adds immeasurably to your motivation to achieve your ultimate goal!

Finally, keep in mind that once you become comfortable with this system, and as you settle into doing the work to achieve your goals, it’s only natural that your benchmark or standard will increase. To continue your growth you’ll simply repeat the same cycle and keep striving for the upper edge of your new range, and so it goes until you hit your target.

Author's Bio: 

Marquita (Marty) Herald writes about personal growth and the art of inspired living. Her professional background includes a successful 20 year career in sales and marketing followed by a decade of practical experience as a life and small business coach working with entrepreneurs.

She is also the founder of the Blog IGG - Tips, Tools & Tantalizing Ideas ... Personal Growth & the Art of Inspired Living about having the courage to be your best, most unique self; the strength to accept the power you have to create the life you really want; and the confidence to spend less time worrying and more time creating memorable moments in your journey through life.

To learn more, and find out how to get your Free copy of the 12-Step Guide to Building Resilience visit the blog at