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How To Finally Meet Your Deadlines

Getting started is often the hardest part of any project–and the key might be in how we perceive the finish line.

How To Finally Meet Your Deadlines
[Female athletes: bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock]

You’ll likely run harder toward a finish line if you can see it in the distance. Deadlines are the same: goals framed to feel more immediate, research shows, are met more often than ones that feel distant–even when they’re allotted the same amount of time.

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A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research took that hypothesis to 295 rural farmers in India. The researchers, Yanping Tu, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and Dilip Soman, set up lectures on finance for the farmers in June and July of 2010. They then approached each of the participants individually and encouraged them to set up saving accounts. If the farmers set up their accounts within six months of the lectures, their deposits would be matched at 20%.

The June-lecture group was four times more likely to open an account on the spot, and more than six times as likely to meet the six-month deadline. Had it been a competition, they would have swept their July-lecture peers away in participation points alone. But it wasn’t that one group had more gusto than the other, or that June is a better month than July for a lecture on finance; the six-month time frame put their deadline on the edge of the year. June had to complete their challenge before 2010 ended, while July had until January 2011–the same amounts of time, but one felt longer away.

So, it’s not a matter of having more time, but instead of reframing deadlines. Here are a few ideas on how to finally, once and for all, meet your deadlines.

Position deadlines where you can “see” them.
If you’re a procrastinator, you’ll probably miss a Monday deadline, because it’s just beyond the blind spot of the weekend, so tell yourself that your project is due on Friday. If you’re slammed all week with urgent tasks, a Friday deadline will get lost in the mix, so set your projects to be due on Monday–approaching the project you’ve been unable to get to on a fresh-start day makes it easier to grasp distraction-free.

Be realistic about how much you really work. We tend to overestimate our work hours by 5% to 10%. In a 50 hour work week, for example, that’s an extra five hours we imagine away. Like the farmers in the study, we have equal amounts of time–but how we handle that time makes one person feel frazzled while another seems hyper-productive in comparison.

Schedule for peak times. You can’t always control when something will be due, but you can work on it when you’re most motivated. Scheduling dreaded tasks for times or days when you’re regularly feeling fresh and inspired means meeting that deadline easily.

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About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.

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