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03 Oct

Make the days until deadline look alike

Datum: 2023-10-03 08:00
Long rows of grapevines on a slope in the sunset.

A while back I wrote about how we can make it eas­i­er to get going with tasks if we set a due date that appears clos­er to, and more alike”, the present moment by set­ting it on this side of a cer­tain break­ing point such as the turn of the year, the turn of the month, Christ­mas, sum­mer hol­i­days or some­thing sim­i­lar. The idea orig­i­nat­ed from a study recent­ly con­duct­ed by Yan­ping Tu at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go and Dilip Solo­man at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Anoth­er exper­i­ment con­duct­ed with­in the same study was one that test­ed anoth­er type of sim­i­lar­i­ty, and these results are applic­a­ble in a sight­ly dif­fer­ent way than I last suggested.

Nine box­es in a row

In the exper­i­ment, 215 peo­ple were pre­sent­ed with a time­line span­ning over nine days where every day was rep­re­sent­ed by a box — quite sim­ply, nine box­es in a row. The box fur­thest to the left rep­re­sent­ed today” and the box to the far right a final dead­line. The box in the mid­dle, the fifth count­ing from today, rep­re­sent­ed a par­tial deadline.

For half the peo­ple pre­sent­ed with the time­line, the first five box­es had the same col­or, but day six through nine had a dif­fer­ent col­or which made the day of the par­tial dead­line (day five) look like today”. For the oth­er half of the par­tic­i­pants, day one though four were of the same col­or, while day five though nine had anoth­er col­or, hence mak­ing the day of the par­tial dead­line look dif­fer­ent from the box rep­re­sent­ing today” and alike the box rep­re­sent­ing the final deadline.

Like today” is almost today”

A num­ber of tests were then run, and with­out get­ting into fur­ther detail about those, it turned out that in a final mem­o­ry-test a sig­nif­i­cant major­i­ty of the peo­ple who were giv­en a time­line with the same col­or for day one through five, recalled that the day of the par­tial dead­line was clos­er to today than the day of the final dead­line (in spite of it being locat­ed in the mid­dle of the time­line). The researchers con­clud­ed that when the day of the dead­line appears alike to today, we per­ceive it as being clos­er to the present moment than if it looks or appears dif­fer­ent from today. If the dead­line is like today” we tend to begin work­ing towards it soon­er than if it is per­ceived as some oth­er day, lat­er on”.

If we have a propen­si­ty to post­pone things we have to do, we can use these results to our advan­tage by mak­ing our­selves get going soon­er if we make dead­line (and the time run­ning up to it) appear more alike the present day.

Do this

If you want to make your­self start work­ing towards a dead­line ear­ly on, then illus­trate the time until the dead­line (per­haps when you are plan­ning and set­ting your sched­ule) in a for­mat that makes the days until the due date look alike. You can for instance:

  • Use the scrolling mode in the cal­en­dar on your Mac. Set the num­ber of days per week to five, and you will only see the work­days of the week. Then in the week­ly view, swipe left and right with two fin­gers and the more or less iden­ti­cal days will roll back and forth in time before you.
  • Flip through the month­ly view in Out­look. Or, if it is pos­si­ble in the cal­en­dar you use, scroll through the week­ly overview.
  • Cre­ate a time­line in Excel. Here are instruc­tions on how to make one..
  • Cre­ate a nice illus­trat­ed time­line in North­west­ern University’s Knightlab’s ser­vice Time­line­JS.
  • Take an emp­ty sheet of paper or get your­self to your white­board and draw as many squares or box­es as the num­ber of days left until dead­line. Be care­ful not to cat­e­go­rize the days in any way, but draw them as alike as pos­si­ble — same col­or, same sym­bols, same shape. As the days go by, you cross of the days that pass so it becomes clear that the dead­line is approaching.
  • Or, draw the remain­ing time until the project or task is due in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent way, mak­ing sure that the days ahead looks alike.

Less post­pon­ing and high­er quality

If we do indeed regard the days until dead­line as being sim­i­lar to today, such as Tu’s and Soloman’s research sug­gests we ought to, we will progress and accom­plish our goals a lot faster. We no longer have to pro­cras­ti­nate and fin­ish things under pres­sure at last minute. We get things done with greater fore­sight and have time to make final touch­es before every­thing is due, which means that we get to deliv­er a fin­ished prod­uct or ser­vice with a high­er quality.

What is your way?

Do you have some oth­er inge­nious way to draw a time­line than the ones sug­gest­ed above? Show me!

(Time­lines are great, but here are four more ways to make your dead­lines vis­i­ble.)

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