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Eliminating deadlines may help fight off procrastination, study finds

Taking away time pressures can help consumers get more done

Deadline and time concept
Photo (c) Nora Carol Photography - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Otago explored one potential reason why many consumers may feel compelled to procrastinate on certain tasks. Their findings showed that getting rid of deadlines -- or keeping them short -- may help beat procrastination. 

“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,” said researcher Stephen Knowles. “People therefore put off undertaking the task, and since they are inattentive or forget, postponing it results in lower response rates.” 

Making the most of deadlines

For the study, the researchers had participants complete an online survey in which they were given either one week, one month, or no deadline to respond. By completing the survey, a donation would be given to a charity on the participants’ behalf. The team was focused on understanding how the deadlines impacted how long it took the group to complete the survey. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that the deadlines played an important role in getting the participants to respond. Not having any deadline was linked with getting the most responses. In contrast, having a month to answer the survey questions led to the fewest responses overall. 

The study showed that participants were more likely to complete the surveys faster when given no deadline or given one week. The more time that the participants had to do the survey, the more likely they were to procrastinate.

“While in our study we attempted to deal with participants’ potential beliefs that there might be an implicit deadline by running a field rather than a laboratory experiment, it is possible that not specifying a deadline in our No Deadline treatment might still have led participants to assume that there is an implicit deadline,” the researchers wrote

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