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New research from the University of Otago has found that if you want someone to help you out with something, it is best not to set a deadline.
But if you do set a deadline, make it short.
Otago Business School Department of Economics Prof Stephen Knowles said he and his co-authors tested the effect of deadline length on task completion, by inviting participants to complete an online survey in which a donation goes to charity.
They were given either one week, one month, or no deadline to respond.
The research was inspired by his research team who were interested in helping charities raise more money and the results were applicable to any situation where one person asked another for help.
The study found responses to the survey were lowest for the one-month deadline, and highest when no deadline was specified.
No deadline and the one-week deadline led to many early responses, while a long deadline appeared to give people permission to procrastinate, and then forget, he said.
Professor Knowles was not surprised that a shorter deadline increased the chances of receiving a response, but he was surprised they received the most responses when no deadline was specified.
‘‘We interpret this as evidence that specifying a longer deadline, as opposed to a short deadline or no deadline at all, removes the urgency to act, which is often perceived by people when asked to help.
‘‘People therefore put off undertaking the task, and since they are inattentive or forget, postponing it results in lower response rates.’’
He said it was possible that not specifying a deadline might still have led participants to assume there was an implicit deadline.
Professor Knowles hoped his research would help reduce the amount of procrastinating people do.
‘‘Many people procrastinate. They have the best intentions of helping someone out, but just do not get around to doing it.’’