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Your manager has  asked you to work on a project, set the criteria, given you the deadline but doesn’t ask for your input.  Your antennae starts to go up when you hear him say “and this should take you no time at all.” He is obviously clueless as to what you already have on your plate and meeting this deadline will push you over the edge. Why do managers have such unrealistic expectations?

Estimating how long something will take is actually something that we all have in common.We are all not so spot on when it comes to estimating the time it actually takes to complete a task. Psychologists refer to this as the planning fallacy.  Studies show that the planning fallacy can be attributed to several different biases we have when estimating how long it will take to do just about anything.

First, we routinely fail to consider our own past experiences while planning. It is a good bet that your manager probably undertook a similar task way back when and is just not taking that into account. It is also possible that your manager is ignoring a very real possibility that things might not go as planned.More than anything he probably isn’t  considering all the steps and stakeholders that might make up the task, and consider how long each part of the task will take.

We are all prone to this planning fallacy to some extent. People in positions of power tend to focus us on getting what they want and  ignoring the potential obstacles that could stand in your way. A recent set of studies by Mario Weick and Ana Guinote shows that such a narrow focus does indeed turn powerful people into very poor planners. In one study, half of the student participants were made to feel powerful (by being told that their opinion would influence the course requirements established for incoming students). Next, all students were asked to estimate when they would finish an upcoming major assignment. Everyone was overly-optimistic, but powerful students were significantly more so. Powerful students estimated that they would finish their assignments 2.5 days before they actually did, while the control group was on average only 1.5 days late. So feeling powerful makes you think you’ll take a whole day less to complete the assignment than you would have guessed had you been feeling a little more ordinary.

So is you Manager feeling powerful,or could it be something else? Are you sure that they are being unreasonable in asking you to complete x in that amount of time? Maybe your Manager does know better. Could it be possible that he is pushing you to stretch beyond your comfort zone to help you develop new skills.  Is this push to do more making you overwhelmed? If that’s the case then the instant you suspect your boss is overestimating your capacity to get the job done, speak up. It will not be considered an admission of failure. Begin by writing down everything that’s on your plate, with particular emphasis on the demands you think are unreasonable. Stop and think through why you’re feeling challenged to get things done.

An obvious stress factor might be time, because your Manager gave you the assignment on Monday, it’s due on Friday, and you don’t have enough time. But what’s preventing you from prioritizing this in order to meet the deadline?

Does your Manager even know what else you have on your plate? Underline everything you’re working on that will be impacted by this deadline and be sure to list who else is involved. Having a detailed timeline of what you’re already working will help you to see your workload in its entirety. Speak up and present this list and it’s impact to your Manager. 
Make certain that  you have a list of possible alternatives to bring up to your Manager. It could be as simple as negotiating to extend the deadline on another project you are working on or delegating.

Taking the initiative to prepare for a constructive discussion about why they might be expecting a bit too much from you is a good step  and will be important for you to understand your Manager’s  meaning of success  and expectations. Work with them to understand why they think the deadline should be this particular way, and get on the same wavelength and that should take you no time at all.