Is this the best way to beat procrastination?

·2-min read

Whether it's a work deadline or daily activity, many of us are guilty of using delay tactics to avoid completing a task.

But while it is often said that procrastination is the thief of time, researchers from the University of Otago have now claimed that's not necessarily the case, but instead argued deadlines are. In fact, the experts believe if you want someone to help you out, it is best not to set a deadline at all. And if you do set a deadline, make it short.

For the study, Professor Stephen Knowles and his team tested the effect of deadline length on task completion, with participants invited to complete an online survey in which a donation goes to charity. They were given either one week, one month, or no deadline to respond.

The study found responses to the survey were lowest for the one-month deadline and highest when no deadline was specified.

No deadline and the one-week deadline led to many early responses, while a long deadline appeared to give people permission to procrastinate and then forget.

"The results are applicable to any situation where someone asks another person for help. This could be asking a colleague for help at work or asking your partner to do something for you," Professor Knowles commented, adding that he wasn't surprised to find specifying a shorter deadline increased the chances of receiving a response compared to a longer deadline.

Yet, he did find it interesting that the most responses were received when no deadline was specified.

"We interpret this as evidence that specifying a longer deadline, as opposed to a short deadline or no deadline at all, removes the urgency to act, which is often perceived by people when asked to help," the expert continued. "People therefore put off undertaking the task, and since they are inattentive or forget, postponing it results in lower response rates."

Full study results have been published in Economic Inquiry.

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