How To Stop Procrastinators


I keep a running list of interesting things to blog about. Some of them are even partially complete posts that will probably be really good if they ever get done. The problem is that there are no deadlines for the posts, and according to the Social Science Statistics blog, that's why I am procrastinating.

In one of their experiments, they asked participants to proofread three meaningless synthetic texts. Participants received financial rewards for finding errors and submitting on time (just like in a problem set…). They randomized participants into three categories: three evenly-spaced deadlines every 7 days; an end-deadline after 21 days; or a self-imposed schedule of deadlines within a three week period.

Which one would you select if you could? Maybe the end-deadline because it gives you the most flexibility in arranging the work (similar to a final exam or submitting your dissertation all at once)? Ariely and Wertenbroch found that the end-deadline does the worst both in terms of finding errors and submitting on time. Participants with evenly-spaced deadline did best. But that group also liked the task the least, maybe because they had several unpleasant episodes of reading silly texts, or because they spent more time than the other groups.

Clearly defined goals with clearly defined deadlines have amazing power, don't they?

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Hat tip to Dave Munger for the link.