Serial procrastinators know one of the hardest things about getting things done is getting started.
Research by Chicago Booth PhD candidate Yanping Tu and Dilip Soman of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows the key to motivating yourself to start working on a task may be picking the right due date. It turns out meeting our deadlines requires changing the way we think about time.
If you have trouble getting started on tasks, try these simple time manipulation tricks:
The key to completing tasks and meeting deadlines is getting started, but many of us procrastinate simply because we don’t see the task as urgent. The trick, Soman says, is making the task part of our “present.”
“People don’t think of future time periods as continuous passages of time. They don’t think about the number of days left to make a decision or finish a task, but rather, they tend to categorize future time outcomes–thinking about the deadline coming up next week/month/year, rather than this one,” says Soman. When the deadline is put into the same category as today (this week, this month, or this year), we tend to view the task with more urgency and are more likely to start working on it.
“When a deadline is far into the future, we tend to put the task on the proverbial back burner, believing that we have a lot of time to attend to it,” says Soman. “Things that are on the back burner stay there for longer than they should because there are plenty of other things that take up our attention as relatively more urgent.” Improving our ability to meet deadlines means being able to make those tasks appear more urgent, bringing them to the forefront. Setting a deadline within the same week, month, or year can make the deadline seem more “present.”
A deadline can appear more present if it’s scheduled for the same day of the week as the day it’s assigned. If today is Wednesday, for example, and the deadline is set for next Wednesday, you’re more likely to start working on the task sooner than if the deadline is next Thursday or Friday.
In another study, the researchers used two calendars, one with the same background color for the entire week, and the second with one color for weekdays and another color for weekends. Forty-two undergraduate students were given a task on a Tuesday with a due date of Saturday. Those who had the calendar with all days of the week highlighted in one color were more likely to begin the task than those who were given calendars where the weekend days were highlighted in a different color. The single-color calendar caused participants to view the deadline as being in the same category as the present, and therefore more urgent.