The Time Monkey Effect: How It Leads to Inaccurate Estimations and Project Failures

Author: Manuel Bruschi

Do you remember sitting in class, your eyes fixated on the clock, not moving forward, no matter how long you stared? E.t.e.r.n.i.t.y. On the contrary, during an exciting class, the bell rang after what felt like a few minutes, not an hour.

In both scenarios, our emotions dilate our perception of time.

While it’s known and confirmed by science, this time-dragging and time-flying feeling didn’t have a name. So we called it the Time Monkey Effect.

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What is the Time Monkey Effect?

The concept drives inspiration from what most of us know as the inner brain monkey, which Tim Urban visualised well in his TED talk with more than 60 million views.

When our inner monkey is having fun, time seems to fly. Conversely, when it’s disinterested or unhappy, time appears to drag and we tend to procrastinate. This subjective dilation and contraction of time is what we’ve coined as the Time Monkey Effect.

In reality, it’s not the monkey. It’s our emotions that control our perception. Researchers have documented this phenomenon extensively but have never given it a name. So we did it because we believe the Time Monkey Effect is the #1 thing messing up our daily plans.

It is the root cause for misjudging how long things take and therefore setting us up for failure on a daily basis. Luckily, it can be fixed.

The Advantages of the Time Monkey Effect

The Time Monkey Effect manifests its advantages when we are in the “flow state”, a mental state of complete absorption in a task coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In this state, you can accomplish complex tasks with high efficiency and quality.

You can stay laser focused without realizing how time is passing, which leads to further advantages. Individuals are up to five times more productive, can learn up to 230% faster, and are more happy. If you’ve experienced it, you certainly can remember, that you were almost more energized after doing the work than before, right? Everything just flows. Time. Energy. Progress. That’s why we tend to be very optimistic about estimations of similar tasks.

The Disadvantages of the Time Monkey Effect

On the flip side, when things are uninteresting, the disadvantage of the Time Monkey Effect kicks in. Time drags by in slow motion and it feels like you’re going uphill. In some way, it’s a good thing as your monkey is telling you that time would be better spent on something else.

However, sometimes, less pleasant work needs to be done too. We all know that, but it doesn’t help. You have certainly once felt the pain and friction of every minute spent on such tasks. They consume a lot of energy, hence making you almost allergic to them, and make you overestimate how long similar tasks take if you’d have to do them again.

Projects fail because of the Time Monkey Effect

As the Time Monkey Effect causes interesting and uninteresting tasks to have different time weights, we tend to estimate things incorrectly. Inaccurate time estimation at the planning stage is one of the main reasons projects often exceed their budget and lead to cost overruns.

For instance, a survey by KPMG showed that 60% of firms reported one or more underperforming projects in the previous year, with inaccurate time and cost estimates being a significant factor. The Time Monkey Effect is the main cause of wrong estimates along with scope creep and changing priorities.

However, these significant challenges in time estimation and project planning can be overcome. You can train your perception of time by tracking how long things take for real.

Train the time monkey by tracking your time

To mitigate the risk of wrong estimations, it’s important to train your time monkey. You should develop an accurate understanding and estimation of time, by tracking time. This way, you’ll build awareness of how long things take for real.

  • You’ll realize activities like answering emails aren’t taking that much time, but on the other hand, this one “quick” todo that sneaked into your afternoon, took 1 hour.
  • You’ll realize that all those small things in between at the end of the month added up to 10 hours.
  • You’ll realize that one type of task takes X hours and the other Y.
  • You’ll realize that you’re spending 30% of your time on unplanned work.
  • You’ll get confirmation that it’s impossible to get your job done without hiring another person, but now you have numbers to make your manager realize.

All those realizations and insights, train your perception of how long things take for real and as a result, will make your estimations, budgets, and plans more accurate and reliable.

Suddenly, all your daily plans will not be that chaotic anymore and your ToDo list will get shorter, not longer.

There is just one caveat – time tracking isn’t easy unless you pick an easy solution. Luckily, that’s where Timeular comes in.

Track time with the most effortless and accurate solution

Tracking time is not the most exciting thing on earth. However, the massive benefits make it worth it. But the most important thing is to track time immediately. This is crucial to learn how long things take for real. If we end up tracking on Friday what we did on Monday, the Time Monkey Effect will make us lie to ourselves as with every other estimation. The Time Monkey needs a short feedback loop. Only this way it can be trained.

To track time immediately, it’s important to pick a time tracking solution that is easy. That’s why Timeular combines the simplest time tracking methods into one solution: You either just hit one shortcut on your computer, flip our 8-sided dice, or activate automatic tracking. If you don’t believe it’s simple then look at our reviews.

After a few days of tracking you’ll already experience the first Aha moments. After a few weeks, you’ll have a much better idea of where your time is going, allowing you to set much more accurate estimations and reliable plans. And while doing so, you might even be able to bill more of your time.

But that’s another story. First, let’s tame your Time Monkey! Ready to get started?

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Tame your Time Monkey Effect with a powerful time tracking solution

“If you’re not tracking then you could be giving your time away for free. Using Timeular allows us to be intentional about how we plan and spend our time” – Richard Wingfield, Head Geek at Envision Design