Freakonomics Radio

Here’s Why All Your Projects Are Always Late — and What to Do About It

Whether it’s a giant infrastructure plan or a humble kitchen renovation, it’ll inevitably take way too long and cost way too much. That’s because you suffer from the “planning fallacy.” (You also have an “optimism bias” and a bad case of overconfidence.) But don’t worry: We’ve got the solution.

Stephen J. Dubner/ Freakonomics Radio
GEN
Published in
8 min readMay 24, 2019

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Credit: NY MTA

In 1968, the governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, received a proposal he’d commissioned. It addressed the mass transit needs of the New York City area. One centerpiece of the plan was a new subway line that would run from lower Manhattan up the East Side and into the Bronx. It was called the Second Avenue Subway.

Four years later, Rockefeller and New York City Mayor John Lindsay held a ground-breaking ceremony for the Second Avenue Subway. But not long afterward, the project was shelved because of a fiscal crisis. Years later, a new governor, Mario Cuomo, tried to restart it. Once again, the budget would not allow — and back it went on the shelf. By then, the Second Avenue Subway had become a punchline. A New Yorker would promise to pay back a loan “once the Second Avenue Subway was built.” It came to be known as “the most famous thing that’s never been built in New York City.”

The story of the Second Avenue Subway is a particularly grotesque example of a blown deadline. But surely you can identify. Surely you’ve been involved in something — maybe a work project or a home renovation, even writing a paper — that was also grotesquely late. And painful. And expensive.

Today on Freakonomics Radio: Why are we so bad at finishing projects on time? And what are we supposed to do about it?

Roger Buehler is a professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. He studies social cognition and decision-making. Buehler has long wanted to know why we’re so bad at managing projects. His interest began during grad school with a personal puzzle. Every night, as Buehler left his office, he would pack up his briefcase with work for the night — but more…

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Stephen J. Dubner/ Freakonomics Radio
GEN
Writer for

Stephen J. Dubner is co-author of the Freakonomics books and host of Freakonomics Radio.