• Leila Ainge

Planning fallacy and optimistic bias

Updated: Mar 19



There are numerous news articles supporting the view that we are more productive at home. So what about zoom fatigue, how can we be more productive when we are missing social interactions? does working alone makes us more depressed?


Implementing productivity tools and tech can be challenging in itself, but the core issue is how to use them effectively.


There is no doubt that online productivity is having it's big moment. Microsoft Teams, Slack and Asana can really enhance the way teams interact with each other, if they are used effectively they can automate tasks and make collaboration easier.


Despite the introduction of new online tools, we are still feeling overwhelmed by emails, notifications and to -do lists. Do online collaboration tools actually make us more productive?

The key is to understand how our productivity works. Collaboration is different to personal productivity, adopting new ways of working can increase the 'overwhelm' in our online lives. Notifications in browsers, application and on our mobiles. Then there's the duplicate emails telling us that we've been mentioned in a thread about dancing cat, and the notfications everytime there is a response.


Online working is a whole new world, consuming and using our precious 24 hours in a day.


There are a fixed number of hours in a day. Pandemic or not, that has not changed.

How do some people appear to achieve so much in their 24 hours?


Here’s where it gets interesting, I’m talking time bending, time warping interesting. I’m going to compare and contrast two equal 24 hour days for me recently


On day one

I got up at the usual time, too the dog for a walk, made breakfast, school run, meetings, wrote a report, caught up with whatsaaps chats, virtual coffee, lunch, online training, an hour of scrolling on Instagram. Online shopping, sent a birthday card, ordered the weekly shop… had dinner, went to bed/

On day two

I got up at the usual time, had breakfast, went online and facilitated two workshops with a lunch break, did the school run, made beans on toast and then fell asleep on the sofa.


  1. Which day was more productive?

  2. Which day saw the most interruptions?

  3. How tired was I the next day? How productive was the day after my busy day?


Our 24 hour days are not equal pots of productive hours. The hours look the same, but how we view them, and our perspective on quality, efficiency and our available energy starts to shape the way we see and use time productively.

Often when I’m talking to clients who want to be more productive I’m actually hearing ‘ I want or/ need periods of time where I can focus or concentrate’ our energy levels are impacted by how stressed we feel, how much we have on our plate, and importantly how much of that stress is good stress.


The stress that gets our juices flowing, motivates us and pushes our goals forward is good stress, we need it. Then there is bad stress, the stress that drains us, overwhelms us and physically and mentally slows us down.


In order to create and find time to focus and concentrate we sometimes need to take a look at what is in our stress buckets.

The time you clear in your diary is impacted by the energy, efficiency and perspective you bring to it. Not all hours are created equal.

So when you consider online productivity tools you really need to think about what busy and quiet feels like on a day to day and a week to week basis. If your tools assume that each day is equal, your planning will fail.


When it comes to planning itself, we are subject to cognitive biases that make us more optimistic than we should be. We underestimate the time it takes or the cost of completeing projects. This 'planning fallacy' is part of our optimistic bias according to the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, although it's not all bad news, being optimistic is good for our mental health and wellbeing!


My suggestion is that you become more intentional with your planning, expect the slow days, anticipate the busy days.


Here are my alternative tips looking at productivity.


  • When you make decisions you are mentally clearing space in your head and creating more focused time. Stress can cause slower decision making. What decisions do you need to make? Do you need to share the decision with someone to reach a speedier conclusion?

  • Factor in for timewarps, you are going to have fast and slow days, bring this perspective to your planning. If you have a busy day, will the next day be just as energetic? thinking about the natural ebb and flow of your energy is important.

  • How easy are your tasks? Have you made the best use of automations and are you efficient in what you do?

I’m a business psychologist, management consultant and coach. I’m help people create and achieve meaningful goals, to get the best from themselves and their teams.



If you would like to talk to me about productivity coaching sessions then get in touch. You can book a free consultation here

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