If you’re a chronic procrastinator, science offers plenty of cures, from forgiving yourself for past lapses to strengthening your sense of identity. But what if you’re not by nature the type to put things off and instead simply have a mountain of to-do list items and a bunch of scary, looming deadlines?
At times like these, two problems can crop up. For big projects with distant time horizons, the temptation to leave things for later can, in fact, get the best of even the least procrastination prone. Alternatively, that ever-approaching finish line could cause you to panic and freeze up. Are there also cures for ineffective behavior toward a threatened missed deadline that’s due more to the situation than your character?
Yup, suggests a recent New York Times article by Phyllis Korkki: She delves into what science has learned about how to tweak the mental framing of tasks to ensure you meet your deadlines. Rather than try to heal procrastination as a character trait, the interventions unearthed by Korkki aim to take the pressure, panic, or temptation to put it off out of any given situation. Here are a couple in brief:
1. Rethink Your Due Date
Rationally, it shouldn’t matter if work is due this month or next if, in both cases, you have the exact same number of days to get it done. But research shows that humans are weird animals: It very much does matter.
A study outlined by Korkki found that a deadline that sounded closer—in this year or month rather than next, for example—was more likely to be met, as people are likely to feel the due date is near to the present, ratcheting up the pressure and preventing situational procrastination. The takeaway? When you’re filling up your calendar, try to make your deadlines appear as close to the present as you can (so think of that report as due on December 31, 2015, for instance, rather than January 1, 2016).
2. Cue Yourself with Color
The same team behind the research into due dates also discovered another way humans are irrational about deadlines—and a way you can use this fact also to your advantage.
“Color can also influence the perception of time,” Korkki explains. “Simply by coding a stretch of calendar days in the same color—say, blue—with an assignment occurring on the first ‘blue’ day and the deadline set for the last ‘blue’ day, people were more likely to complete the tasks.”
Could any intervention be simpler? All you need to test this one out is a few clicks in your calendar program or, if you’re super old school, a couple of crayons. Give it a try and let us know if it works.
Looking for more details on the science? Check out Korkki’s complete article. Or, if you’re in the market for more ideas in this vein, read up on other experts’ suggestions, from a “pressure calendar” to better verbs.
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