Getting started: A tip to meet your deadlines

28 January 2015Antonia Kendall

Categoryresearch

Tagsgoals, research, time

Need an extra push to get started on your goals? Maybe your new year's resolutions? The way you perceive time effects the chances of you starting a task. Specifically, it’s all in how you think about the deadline date.

meeting deadlines

 

Last year, website finder.com.au commissioned a study of 2000 Australians to get a picture of how our New Year’s Resolutions hold up. While around 42% make resolutions, a huge 80% of them failed by the end of March.

This probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise: setting resolutions that actually stick is not easy. We wrote a blog piece last January on some behavioural techniques that can help you maximise your chance of success.

Now some recent research on how we think about time and deadlines gives us a new tip for clearing the first hurdle: getting started on our resolutions.

 

 Different ways to see a deadline

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Yanping Tu and Dilip Soman argue that the way you perceive time effects the chances of you starting a task. Specifically, it’s all in how you think about the deadline date.

Take one experiment they ran with farmers in India. Tu and Soman offered a financial reward to the farmers if they opened a savings account and saved a target amount by six months’ time. They found that the farmers who were offered this in June, and had to save by December, were more likely to open a savings account straight away than those who got the offer in July and had to save by January next year.

Their explanation? Making the deadline “similar” to the tasking date – e.g. in the same year, or on the same day of the week – made the future feel more “like the present”. So people were more likely to get going on that task right now in the present.re offered this in June, and had to save by December, were more likely to open a savings account straight away than those who got the offer in July and had to save by January the next year.

 

In a third study, the researchers found that using colour on a calendar – colouring the days from tasking to deadline in the same colour – also made people more likely to start the task sooner.This was reinforced in another study by Tu and Soman, this time with undergraduate students at the University of Toronto. The students were asked whether they were likely to start a data entry task now or later. The task was always due in four days’ time. On average, students who were asked on 24 or 25 April (whose deadlines were 29 and 30 April respectively) were much more likely to start the task now, than students who were asked on 26 or 27 April (whose deadlines were 1 or 2 May).

 

How can you use it?

Another way to think about it is mentally categorising deadlines into either “similar to now” or “later”. If you can make your deadline in some way similar to your tasking date, you’re more likely to get started now. So to get going on your tasks, home chores, work projects or resolutions, consider:

  • setting the deadline in the same month or year
  • putting the deadline on the same day of the week as you started (this Monday vs Monday in three weeks’ time) or
  • mark the days on your calendar from start to deadline in the same colour.

It’s worth remembering that this technique isn’t proven to get you to keep working towards the deadline. But it could make it easier to make a good start today.

 

How are we using it?

We all know that “making it social” – one of the four pillars of the EAST Framework – is a great tool for encouraging behaviour change. So we’re sharing with you how we’re going to apply Tu and Soman’s research.

We want to bring you interesting BI updates through our blog every month. Trial deadlines and day-to-day work pressures meant we didn’t post as frequently as we wanted to last year (you all know how that goes!).

So to help us stick to our plan to post something every month in 2015, we’re committing to release those blog posts on the same week of every month, and plot that out in a nice colourful visual on our 2015 calendar.

 

Get started… then make the changes stick

Once you’ve made your start, if your resolution is something like “eat more healthily”, “do more exercise” or “spend more time with my family”, consider these two steps to give yourself the best chance of sticking with your resolution:

  1. Don’t think of these types of resolutions as a task to be completed: they are something you want to become, or a habit you want to form and retain as part of your normal life. There is no finish line, just normalisation.
  2. With that in mind, to build a new habit into your life, try this simple three-step flow chart from Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.

 

So next time you want to achieve a goal – be it professional or personal – try choosing or visually presenting a deadline that is similar to today. You might find getting started is just that little bit easier!