Do you have a problem underestimating how much time it will take to complete projects? I know I do. Plans are made with the lofty expectations of completing projects in a timely manner only to have the tasks continually pushed into the future when, as everyone knows, there will be more time. After all, isn’t the future time itself? It comes at us limitlessly like water from a fire hose, hits us and instantly turns into the present before falling away and puddling around us as the past. It sure feels like there will be time aplenty to accomplish all we desire in the future.

Psychologists found that almost everyone tends to overestimate how much time they will personally have in the future. They call it future time slack and how they use it in a sentence might be something like, “Oh, he suffers from future time slack.”

I’m a perfect example. My to-do lists are very specific; I will itemize four or five projects that must get done the next day. This is not something new. I’ve been making these lists for decades. Still, at the end of the day, I typically check off only one or at the most two projects on the list. Truth be told, some days the only thing on my list that I can check off with no reservations is Take Afternoon Nap.

Large projects are a farce. I told my wife I would have a small house completely remodeled in 14 months. I came to this assessment by making my best estimate and doubling the length. Even though I was very consistent with completing the daily afternoon nap, here we are, six months behind.

Perhaps the items on our to-do lists are often too broad and all-encompassing. For example, you should never include an item on your list like Build Taj Mahal. This is too much for a single line. Consider breaking it down into its component parts: Lay Foundation, Complete Construction and Landscape Grounds. This simple adjustment will prompt you to see that the project will take more time than you may have originally allotted.

You can bet that General Eisenhower didn’t simply have Win World War II on his to-do list. Being a good time manager, he would have at least broken it down to: Invade Europe; Deal with Mussolini; Turn Attention to Japan; Get Elected President. To better manage our own projects, it’s always worthwhile taking a lesson from those that really get things done.

Future time slack not only affects our scheduling but researchers suggest that it also messes with our happiness. One of the studies found that people generally thought that they would have more time in the future but not more money. This perception causes us to sacrifice time in the present to make more money to enjoy in the future, when you think you will have more time to enjoy it, but you really won’t. We don’t do things that make us happy as we busy ourselves making money. It all boils down to our valuing money over time, which decreases our level of happiness.

Finally, someone made it clear how to achieve happiness: start by valuing your time over money and doing more things now that promote happiness like socializing or fishing. Sounds easy, until the landlord is after you for the rent, which you could have come up with if you weren’t so much happier from goofing off. It seems the researchers never fully addressed this rent complication.

Furthermore, if I’m not going to have extra time in the future to get things done, it makes me sad. This is serious. It implies I won’t be able to do everything on my list in my lifetime. I don’t even know why this is so important to me. In the large scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. If I drop dead with my undone to-do list in hand the universe won’t care.

One thing for sure, we’ll all be suffering from “future time affluence” when we’re dead. No commitments on the calendar, no to-do lists and no pending projects. That’ll be a novel situation: where we have all the time in the world but no way to use it.

So, all of this thinking just generated another item for my to-do list: Figure Out What Life Is All About. I would do it now, but somehow I feel I will have more time to think about it next week.