Today we had a major external deadline for one of my consulting projects. We ended up working from around 8am until 1am this morning and managed to output a significant amount of work. We’d been trying to set internal deadlines for this project but only managed to reach our targets once a deadline was externally imposed.

This reminded me of a paper by Ariely and Wertenbroch that we discussed in my behavioural economics course. It essentially found the same results as what we’d experienced.

To save you from clicking the link (and me from having to explain the paper) here is the abstract:

“Procrastination is all too familiar to most people. People delay writing up their research (so we hear!), repeatedly declare they will start their diets tomorrow, or postpone until next week doing odd jobs around the house. Yet people also sometimes attempt to control their procrastination by setting deadlines for themselves. This paper poses three questions:

  1. Are people willing to self-impose meaningful (i.e., costly) deadlines to overcome procrastination?
  2. Are self-imposed deadlines effective in improving task performance?
  3. When self-imposing deadlines, do people set them optimally, for maximum performance enhancement?

A set of studies examined these issues experimentally, showing that the answer is “yes” to the first two questions, and “no” to the third. People have self-control problems, they recognize them, and they try to control them by self-imposing costly deadlines. These deadlines help people control procrastination, but they are not as effective as some externally imposed deadlines in improving task performance”

It’s an interesting thing to keep in mind. The biggest lesson is that external deadlines are more effective than internal ones 🙂

Image is another one taken on my way to Stellenbosch for work. My project has left me with a weird amount of knowledge about cows

Song of the day: The Middle - Zedd
Blog 114/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here


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