The Planning Fallacy & The Effect it Has on Your Promotion in the Fire Service

To pass the firefighter promotional exam you must spend a good amount of time and effort studying. In order to do this you must make a plan of attack when you begin your firefighter promotional exam prep, but when doing so you must not fall victim to the planning fallacy.  

The Planning Fallacy

The simplified explanation of the planning fallacy is that people tend to underestimate how long a certain task will take because they do not factor in previous challenges and issues that arise when they have completed similar tasks in the past and/or are overly optimistic about their own abilities. Basically, you plan for the absolute best case scenario without factoring in any obstacles, when in fact obstacles will arise and add additional time to the task you are trying to complete. This in turn adds a lot of stress and additional work to said task. Nobody wants to think of the negative things that may arise especially in the planning phases of anything but, if you want to pass your firefighter promotional exam the first time around you must. You also must be able to adjust your plan when those challenges occur. 

How to Counteract the Planning Fallacy 

  1. Plan For the Planning Fallacy

Just knowing the planning fallacy exists, is the first step to making sure you do not fall into its power. When you are in that planning stage, scheduling your study sessions, and figuring out what study methods you will use, think of the planning fallacy. Think of things that may add extra time to these tasks and factor them in before you even begin studying. Best case scenario you have some extra time to do something else more exciting than studying. Worst case you use the extra time to study or work on whatever challenges that come up as you had planned. 

  1. What Your Ego

The biggest cause of the planning fallacy is being overly optimistic in yourself. Predicting how long it will take you to read a textbook or review a chapter in a book may be more difficult for firefighters looking to promote. This is because it may have been a very long time since you have even cracked open a textbook to study. You may be making a plan to pass your firefighter promotional exam going off what you remember about yourself and your study techniques in high school or college ten plus years ago. You may think that it will be easy to study and easy to ace your promotional exam because you got good grades back then so why wouldn’t you now. You may even be right, but check your ego before you even begin studying. Studying as an adult is very different from studying as a student in school. You have a full time job, likely other familial commitments to tend to. Being an optimist is a beautiful thing, but allow yourself to think of some of the things that could go wrong before you even begin your promotion journey so you do not get surprised when you start studying and it takes a lot more time than you thought it would or it is a lot harder than you anticipated. If you don’t check yourself and truly look deep and remember your old study habits you may end up being shocked with how long certain tasks take and you will end up not getting enough done resulting in a failed written exam and no promotion. 

The Takeaway 

Having a positive attitude going into the beginning of your firefighter promotion process is a wonderful thing, but being overconfident and then shocked once you actually start studying about the time it will take will be a big blow to take. Be realistic about your own abilities, that honesty from the get go will save you a lot of time and frustration once you start studying for your firefighter promotional exam and keep the planning fallacy a fallacy.