In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, scholars found that longer deadlines can be a detriment to workers.
The study asked volunteers at a local community center to answer a short survey about retirement planning. One group was given seven days to access the online survey, while another group had 14 days to respond. Results showed that, though the 14-day group gave more thoughtful responses, they were more likely to procrastinate or skip the assignment.
A second study revealed longer deadlines affected outcomes on tax filings. In this research, a short deadline group received their “lost” W-2 tax form later (closer to the filing deadline) and had less time to complete their taxes. Despite the setback, the short-deadline group spent less money than their peers to get the same job done via tax professionals or self-help software.
Beat Those “Last Mile” Blues
Do you struggle to take projects across the finish line in an efficient manner?
There’s a reason! Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Longer deadlines lead people to set easier goals and decrease effort, costing more time and stress overall. Researchers also found that longer deadlines sometimes make workers think an assignment is harder than it is. When people commit more resources to a difficult task, they procrastinate and are more prone to quit.
For managers and workers alike, it is important to set achievable goals and appropriate time limits using four simple strategies.
Procrastinators who avoid finishing struggle to break projects into manageable tasks.
To overcome this barrier, psychology professor Joseph Ferrari (author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done) recommends a narrow focus. “People who have trouble finishing a project don’t have problems seeing the big picture,” Ferrari said. “It’s how to break it into manageable tasks that can be paralyzing. Just do something now. Start something and get going.”
Starting small breaks your fear of failure and shortcuts perfectionistic hang-ups.
Sometimes when the finish line is in sight people accelerate the pace but lose focus.
Discipline slips, which can lead to delays. Overriding budgetary constraints, ignoring quality control checks, or fast-tracking publications can bring painful consequences. Instead, stay on track with small deadlines to ensure work on larger projects is done in a timely, precise manner.
Call in the Closers
Burnout and fatigue are genuine risks near the end of a project, and high-value contributors are often needed to airlift the next big project.
Consider deliberately structuring your team so starters take a project to 90 percent, while fresh eyes step in for the final spit-and-polish.
When deadlines are distant, shift attention to everyday outcomes.
“Can you get that to me by the end of the day?” isn’t a request many people like to hear. But quick turnarounds can actually boost morale because lethargy breeds inertia but accomplishment spurs accomplishment.
From cash incentives to extra work-day coffee breaks, consider attaching small perks to fast-action deadlines. Self-starter rewards can work for yourself too. When writing her thesis, one grad student filled a glass jar with tantalizing chocolates. Throughout a year of writing, she rewarded herself with one truffle per week as she stayed on schedule. Progress was visible, and the rewards were sweet. When the jar was empty, the project was done!
Short turnarounds on urgent tasks elicit attention and improve outcomes. Whether you’re managing yourself or others, consider adding incentives, bringing in closers, or breaking large projects into daily deadlines to achieve better results.
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