Life hacks: How to overcome procrastination

  • IANS, New York
  • Updated: May 04, 2015 10:02 IST

Do you tend to put off an important task till the eleventh hour, often resulting in embarrassment and loss? Well, you can get rid of this habit by thinking of deadlines in terms of days, and not months or years, suggests a new study.

Procrastination is defined as the practice of putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the last minute before a deadline.

"The simplified message that we learned in these studies is if the future doesn't feel imminent, then, even if it's important, people won't start working on their goals," said lead researcher Daphna Oyserman from the University of Southern California.

Through a series of scenarios, Oyserman and co-author Neil Lewis Jr of the University of Michigan found that study participants perceived that the future was much more imminent if they thought of their goals and deadlines in days, instead of months or years.

Oyserman said through this shift in time metrics, people can motivate themselves to accomplish their goals.

"So when I think in a more granular way -- when I use days rather than years -- it makes me feel like the future is closer," Oyserman said.

In an initial series of studies, 162 participants were asked to imagine themselves preparing for future events, such as a wedding or a work presentation, and then they were asked when this event would occur.

Participants were randomly assigned to think of the event in either days, or months or years.

The researchers found participants who thought of the event in terms of days reported that the event would occur on average 29.6 days sooner than those who thought of the event as months away.

A second series of studies explored whether this sense of time affected plans to start long-term saving. More than 1,100 participants were asked when they would start to save money for college or retirement.

In the first case, participants were told college would start 18 years or 6,570 days in the future. In the second case, the participants were told retirement would begin 30 or 40 years in the future, or in 10,950 days or in 14,600 days.

Researchers found the participants planned to start saving four times sooner when they thought of the event in days instead of years.

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