The Planning Fallacy and Recovering From Disaster

Another post inspired by a podcast! This one is by Freakonomics and it’s called “Here’s Why All Your Projects Are Always Late — and What to Do About It (Ep. 323)“. As I was listening, I realized that the Planning Fallacy comes into play when a survivor is recovering from a disaster.

Right after the disaster our family was involved with in 2003, we thought a year was a long time. Certainly time enough to do what we needed to do to get a house built, especially since my husband and I had worked in the construction industry for almost 20 years at that point. Little did we know that the average time for rebuilding is 3-5 years and that for us, it would be four years before everything was completely buttoned up.

Our schedule went something like this:

  1. Year one: settle with the insurance company.
  2. Year two: get plans, permits, construction bids and finance settled. (This actually only took about 9 months.)
  3. Year three and four: Construction. This was actually finished at about the 3 1/2 year mark, but by the time everything was moved in, the landscaping was complete (a requirement in our city) and the permit was finalized, it was just at the 4-year anniversary.

Back to the podcast, Wikipedia describes the Planning Fallacy like this:

The planning fallacy, first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979, is a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed.

In layman’s terms, this means that it takes longer than you think to finish a project.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be optimistic about this process. Your brain probably needs the optimism to process the loss and move forward. But in reality, I think it’s also healthy to recognize that it does take a long time to recover. This is especially helpful when you’re dragging into year two and three and you’re putting yourself down because you’re not done yet.

It’s okay to recognize the Planning Fallacy when you’re in the middle of recovering from Disaster. It’s okay to take longer (or shorter) than other people. I’ve heard many people say that disaster recovery is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. In my opinion, it’s not a race at all. You’re not competing against anyone to “finish”. You’re not competing to “do it best”. Everyone has their own path to recovery. Take the time to discover your own path.