Research uncovers best way to avoid procrastination

Leah Panapa 15/11/2021

LISTEN: A new study has found that deadlines are the thief of time.

University of Otago research has tested the effect of deadline length on task completion and has discovered that if you want someone to help you with something, it's best not to set a deadline at all.

But if you do set a deadline, keep it short.

Professor Stephen Knowles, from the Otago Business School Department of Economics, says the research began because he and his team were interested in helping charities raise more money.

"I'd often receive emails from charities asking me to donate money or I might hear about a charity on the radio and think yeah that's something I should donate to.

I'd have the best intentions of doing so but I wouldn't treat it as urgent - I'd procrastinate," Professor Knowles told Magic Talk.

"I'd keep putting off and putting off and then I'd eventually forget to do it."

The results from their study are applicable to any situation where someone asks another person for help. This could be asking a workmate for help or asking your partner to do something for you.

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.

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.”

Listen to the full interview with Professor Stephen Knowles above.

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