The Best Way to Avoid Procrastination


They say procrastination is the thief of time – actually deadlines are. New research from the University of Otago has found that if you want someone to help you out with something, it is best not to set a deadline at all. But if you do set a deadline, make it short.

Stephen Knowles, an Otago Business School professor in the Department of Economics, and his co-authors tested the effect of deadline length on task completion for their research published in Economic Inquiry. Participants were 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. While this research began because the team were interested in helping charities raise more money, the results are applicable to any situation where someone asks another person for help. 

The Real Thief of Time

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.

Professor Knowles wasn’t surprised to find that specifying a shorter deadline increased the chances of receiving a response compared to a longer deadline. However, he did find it interesting that they received the most responses 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,” he says.

He says it is possible that not specifying a deadline might still have led participants to assume that there is an implicit deadline. Professor Knowles hopes his research can help reduce the amount of procrastinating people do. “Many people procrastinate. They have the best intentions of helping someone out, but just do not get around to doing it.”

StepUp Note

This research shows how different choices make us more or less likely to procrastinate. Subjects in this study had 3 different response time choices:  respond within 1 week; respond within 1 month; and respond when you want to. Subjects responded the most when they had no deadline, and the least when they had the longer deadline. In other words, they responded best when they had to tell themselves what to do and when to do it.  StepUp exercises give children daily practice in telling themselves what to do and when to do it. Teachers report that children self-organize more quickly when they practice time management with StepUp exercises. StepUp's cloud-based programs enrich any PreK - Grade 2 curriculum. Try it free for 30 days!

Reposted from University of Otago

Note by Nancy W Rowe, M.S., CCC/A