February 5, 2018

Freakonomics Guide to Completing Assignments on Time

Freakonomics, the book and podcast series with Stephen Dubner, focuses on the hidden side of everyday life. In this blog post, we borrow a few tips from Freakonomics to show how business lessons can also help those interested in strengthening their executive functioning skills.

Freakonomics Insight #1: We underestimate how long projects will take

Students struggling with time management skills know the feeling well: they’re overwhelmed on a project because they believed each step would take less time. Known as the “planning fallacy,” this can cause students to rush or put off the work until the last possible second.

How can students cope?

Freakonomics recommends referring back to similar projects to see how long those took to complete. This tactic, known as “reference class forecasting,” helps students by creating a frame of reference. “Look historically at how well those projects performed in terms of their plan versus their actual,” Yael Grushka-Cockayne, a researcher from University of Virginia Darden School of Business, suggested on the latest episode of Freakonomics. “ See how accurate you were, and then use that shift or use that uplift to adjust your new project that you’re about to start.”

But who can remember how long a project took if there’s no written record of it? Students can use time management planners to compare how long one thinks a project will take and how long it actually takes.

Freakonomics Insight #2: Increase productivity by fighting digital distraction

Students may check their email each time it chimes with a new message or may open a chat window each time they receive a new notification. Freakonomics refers to this as “continuous partial attention.”Research shows that when individuals respond immediately to social media notifications – along with other distractions like email and chat – it can take them up to 23 minutes after each interruption to get back on task. That can increase the amount of time students spend on each activity.

The solution? Freakonomics suggested ignoring those email and social media notifications. We [can] train ourselves how to pay attention to the right things and ignore distractions.” Explained Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter, Faster, Better.

How can students practice this? Have them set aside time in between assignments to check email, text messages or social media notifications. That way, students can focus on an assignment fully without giving in to a momentary distraction.

Freakonomics offers business solutions that, with a few tweaks, can translate to the classroom to help students. To learn more about how to utilize executive functioning tools, schedule an appointment today.


Here’s Why All Your Projects Are Always Late — and What to Do About It (Ep. 323)