Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

The Effects of Previous Misestimation of Task Duration on Estimating Future Task Duration


It is a common time management problem that people underestimate the duration of tasks, which has been termed the “planning fallacy.” To overcome this, it has been suggested that people should be informed about how long they previously worked on the same task. This study, however, tests whether previous misestimation also affects the duration estimation of a novel task, even if the feedback is only self-generated. To test this, two groups of participants performed two unrelated, laboratory-based tasks in succession. Learning was manipulated by permitting only the experimental group to retrospectively estimate the duration of the first task before predicting the duration of the second task. Results showed that the experimental group underestimated the duration of the second task less than the control group, which indicates a general kind of learning from previous misestimation. The findings imply that people could be trained to carefully observe how much they misestimate task duration in order to stimulate learning. The findings are discussed in relation to the anchoring account of task duration misestimation and the memory-bias account of the planning fallacy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1


  1. Block, R. A., & Zakay, D. (1997). Prospective and retrospective duration judgments: a meta-analytic review. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 4, 184–197. doi:10.3758/BF03209393.

  2. Buehler, R., Griffin, D., & Ross, M. (1994). Exploring the “planning fallacy”: why people underestimate their task completion times. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 366–381. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.67.3.366.

  3. Buehler, R., Griffin, D., & MacDonald, H. (1997). The role of motivated reasoning in optimistic time predictions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 238–247. doi:10.1177/0146167297233003.

  4. Buehler, R., Griffin, D., & Peetz, J. (2010). The planning fallacy: cognitive, motivational, and social origins. In P. Z. Mark & M. O. James (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology (43rd ed., pp. 1–62). New York: Academic.

  5. Burt, C. D. B., & Kemp, S. (1994). Construction of activity duration and time management potential. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8, 155–168. doi:10.1002/acp.2350080206.

  6. Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1982). Control theory: a useful conceptual framework for personality-social, clinical, and health psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 92, 111–135. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.92.1.111.

  7. Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1998). On the self-regulation of behavior. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

  8. Claessens, B. J. C., van Eerde, W., & Rutte, C. G. (2007). A review of the time management literature. Personnel Review, 36, 255–276. doi:10.1108/00483480710726136.

  9. Cortina, J. M., & Landis, R. S. (2009). When small effect sizes tell a big story, and when large effect sizes don’t. In C. E. Lance & R. J. Vandenberg (Eds.), Statistical and methodological myths and urban legends: doctrine, verity, and fable in the organizational and social sciences (pp. 287–308). New York, NY: Routledge.

  10. Epley, N., & Gilovich, T. (2005). When effortful thinking influences judgmental anchoring: differential effects of forewarning and incentives on self-generated and externally provided anchors. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 18, 199–212. doi:10.1002/bdm.495.

  11. Fischer, M. A., Mazor, K. M., Baril, J., Alper, E., DeMarco, D., & Pugnaire, M. (2006). Learning from mistakes: factors that influence how students and residents learn from medical errors. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 21, 419–423. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00420.x.

  12. Gick, M. L., & McGarry, S. J. (1992). Learning from mistakes: inducing analogous solution failures to a source problem produces later successes in analogical transfer. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 18, 623–639. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.18.3.623.

  13. Halkjelsvik, T., & Jørgensen, M. (2012). From origami to software development: a review of studies on judgment-based predictions of performance time. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 238–271. doi:10.1037/a0025996.

  14. Halkjelsvik, T., Jørgensen, M., & Teigen, K. H. (2011). To read two pages, I need 5 min, but give me 5 min and I will read four: How to change productivity estimates by inverting the question. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 314–323. doi:10.1002/acp.1693.

  15. Hinds, P. J. (1999). The curse of expertise: the effects of expertise and debiasing methods on prediction of novice performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 5, 205–221. doi:10.1037/1076-898X.5.2.205.

  16. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Intuitive prediction: biases and corrective procedures. TIMS Studies in the Management Sciences, 12, 313–327.

  17. Keith, N., & Frese, M. (2008). Effectiveness of error management training: a meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 59–69. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.93.1.59.

  18. Koch, C. J., & Kleinmann, M. (2002). A stitch in time saves nine: behavioural decision-making explanations for time management problems. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 11, 199–217. doi:10.1080/13594320244000120.

  19. König, C. J. (2005). Anchors distort estimates of expected duration. Psychological Reports, 96, 253–256. doi:10.2466/PR0.96.2.253-256.

  20. König, C. J., & Kleinmann, M. (2006). Individual differences in the use of time management mechanics and in time discounting. Individual Differences Research, 4, 194–207.

  21. Kruger, J., & Evans, M. (2004). If you don’t want to be late, enumerate: unpacking reduces the planning fallacy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 586–598. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2003.11.001.

  22. Macan, T. H. (1994). Time management: test of a process model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 381–391. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.79.3.381.

  23. Prentice, D. A., & Miller, D. T. (1992). When small effects are impressive. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 160–164. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.160.

  24. Rodon, C., & Meyer, T. (2012). Searching information on the web and planning fallacy: a pilot investigation of pessimistic forecasts. European Review of Applied Psychology, 62, 103–109. doi:10.1016/j.erap.2011.12.004.

  25. Roy, M. M. (2003). Memory bias: Why we underestimate the duration of future events. PhD thesis, University of California, San Diego.

  26. Roy, M. M., & Christenfeld, N. J. S. (2007). Bias in memory predicts bias in estimation of future task duration. Memory & Cognition, 35, 557–564. doi:10.3758/BF03193294.

  27. Roy, M. M., Christenfeld, N. J. S., & McKenzie, C. R. M. (2005a). The broad applicability of memory bias and its coexistence with the planning fallacy: reply to Griffin and Buehler (2005). Psychological Bulletin, 131, 761–762. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.5.761.

  28. Roy, M. M., Christenfeld, N. J. S., & McKenzie, C. R. M. (2005b). Underestimating the duration of future events: memory incorrectly used or memory bias? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 738–756. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.5.738.

  29. Roy, M. M., Mitten, S. T., & Christenfeld, N. J. S. (2008). Correcting memory improves accuracy of predicted task duration. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 14, 266–275. doi:10.1037/1076-898X.14.3.266.

  30. Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. New York, NY: Appleton.

  31. Thomas, K. E., & Handley, S. J. (2008). Anchoring in time estimation. Acta Psychologica, 127, 24–29. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2006.12.004.

  32. Thomas, K. E., Handley, S. J., & Newstead, S. E. (2004). The effects of prior experience on estimating the duration of simple tasks. Cahiers de Psychologie Cognitive/Current Psychology of Cognition, 22, 83–100.

  33. Thomas, K. E., Handley, S. J., & Newstead, S. E. (2007). The role of prior task experience in temporal misestimation. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 230–240. doi:10.1080/17470210600785091.

  34. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124–1131. doi:10.1126/science.185.4157.1124.

  35. Weick, M., & Guinote, A. (2010). How long will it take? Power biases time predictions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 595–604. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.03.005.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Cornelius J. König.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

König, C.J., Wirz, A., Thomas, K.E. et al. The Effects of Previous Misestimation of Task Duration on Estimating Future Task Duration. Curr Psychol 34, 1–13 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-014-9236-3

Download citation


  • Planning fallacy
  • Time management
  • Time estimation