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They all include framing deadlines as "in-the-present," as opposed to in the future, according to research by University of Toronto professor Dilip Soman and his colleague Yanping Tu of the University of Chicago. The research appears in the Journal of Consumer Research.
We’re simply more likely to start a task when we link it to the present.
Three tips to try
For example, a deadline at the end of this month is easier to reach than a deadline next month, for instance, even if the number of days you have to get there is the same.
Colour-coding a task on your calendar by linking the assignment finish dates in the same shade helps you visualize the deadline as being connected to the present.
Even setting recurring deadlines on the same day of the week may jog your brain to keep a task active in your mind.
Researchers came to these conclusions after conducting a number of studies on seemingly disparate groups - farmers in India and MBA students in North America. They found strong patterns of behaviour in common.
In one study, two groups of Indian farmers were asked to set up bank accounts and hit a savings target by a deadline. There was an incentive of extra money if they accomplished it. One group started in June with a deadline of December; the other started in July with a deadline of January the next year. The first group was more likely to open the bank accounts immendiately.
While this research was geared toward understanding consumer behaviour, the researchers do suggest their findings could be used to nudge people toward "healthy behaviors, get annual medical check-ups, exercise regularly, and work on a schedule," they write in the study.
The procrastination trap
These findings supplement other research into the nature of procrastination, as a recent piece in the New York Times pointed out. We say “yes” to commitments and deadlines far in the future that we would never agree to if they were happening today or tomorrow.
"But when the present marches into the future, and we are confronted with the work that our past selves refused to do, we pay the price in unmet deadlines, all-nighters and general torment," writes Phyllis Korkki.
Shudder. Here’s to digging out our calendars and highlighters and trying to avoid all that.
Looking for more inspiration? Here are 5 ways to boost your brain power and 5 more tips on career success.