It’s 3 pm on a Friday. You’re sitting at your desk staring at the computer screen knowing you have a project due at 6 pm -- your employees are waiting on you. The question is, why did you wait ‘til the last second when you knew you had over a week to get it done? We’ve all been in this situation. And as a small business owner, you know your window to get things done is pretty small with everything else on your plate.
So, what do you need? A lesson in productivity and meeting deadlines. And recently, a study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research which reveals the key to getting motivated to meet deadlines and increase productivity. We’ll talk about the study, why you’re waiting til the last second to get tasks done, and how to trick yourself into meeting deadlines.
Why You’re Procrastinating
Let’s face it, procrastinating is what many of us are good at. In fact, we’ve been doing it since we were little. In grade school we were given projects and homework with a deadline and as we got older it only got worse: high school, college, careers.
Why do we procrastinate? It’s a choice we make.
In fact, 20 percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators, and, it’s a lifestyle. And just like any other lifestyle, procrastination can be changed. How? Let’s take a look at the results of a recent study conducted at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Findings of the Study
The study titled “The Categorization of Time and Its Impact on Task Initiation” conducted by Chicago Booth PhD candidate Yanping Tu and Dilip Soman of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management revealed that individuals are more likely to initiate a task when a deadline is categorized in a like-the-present category than in an unlike-the-present category. In other words, If today is Wednesday, and the deadline for a project is set for next Wednesday, you’re more likely to start working on the task sooner than if the deadline is next Thursday or Friday.
Tu and Soman also concluded that when a task deadline is categorized in a like-the-present category, individuals see it as a more urgent task. However, when a task deadline is categorized as an unlike-the-present category, individuals are less likely to start on the task.
What does this all mean?
Evidence from the Tu and Soman’s studies suggest that you’re more likely to get a project or task done if you change the way you think about time and due dates.
The Remedy to Meeting Deadlines and Higher Productivity
It’d be nice if you could go to your local Walgreens and say “Hey there, can you point me in the direction of your procrastination remedies” wouldn’t it? Sadly, this isn’t the case.
So, in order to start meeting deadlines, you’ll need to change the way you think about time and due dates. How can this be done? Here are a few ways to trick yourself into thinking something is due:
Schedule deadlines on the same day of each week. If you schedule deadlines for the same day of the week as the day it’s assigned, it will appear more present (or like-the-present according to the study). If you have a deadline of next Friday, set the deadline on a Friday exactly one week before.
Color code your calendar. Tu and Soman used two calendars, one with the same background color for the entire week, and the second with one color for weekdays and another color for weekends. To test the theory that color coding makes a difference, Tu and Soman gave 42 undergraduate students a task on a Tuesday with a due date of Saturday.
The undergraduate students who had the calendar with all days of the week highlighted in one color were more likely to begin the task than those who were given calendars where the weekend days were highlighted in a different color. The single-color calendar caused participants to view the deadline as being in the same category as the present. As a result, the students saw the deadline as more urgent.
Set deadlines within the same week or month. Many of us set tentative deadlines rather than hard deadlines in a foreseeable future. The result? The task is on the backburner for a very long time. Soman says “People don’t think of future time periods as continuous passages of time. They don’t think about the number of days left to make a decision or finish a task, but rather, they tend to categorize future time outcomes—thinking about the deadline coming up next week/month/year, rather than this one.”
Set deadlines in the near future -- within the same week or month. Doing this will allow you to feel a sense of urgency and complete the task sooner.
Improving Your Productivity
With Tu and Soman’s study in mind, how will meeting deadlines play a role to improve your small business’s productivity?
Your small business needs to meet deadlines in order to be productive. But meeting deadlines isn’t just a way to check off a box, it has an impact on your company culture as well. What this means is that when you and your employees are meeting deadlines, stress levels are down and employees have the opportunity to feel accomplished.
Yanping Tu and Dilip Soman’s study revealed important findings to help you and your small business become more productive through meeting deadlines. Mainly, Tu and Soman found that the way you think about time and when you schedule a task to be completed have a direct impact on how quickly you’ll initiate it.
As a small business owner, these findings are highly important to integrate into you and your employees’ daily schedules for higher productivity.
Do you and your employees struggle to meet deadlines? If so, why? Leave a comment below.
Survey source: uchicago.edu