Simple nudges to get people started on difficult projects
People are more likely to begin a task when a deadline feels like the present
- Getting started is often the hardest step in any task. One way to nudge people to start is by making a task’s deadline seem part of the present rather than the future, according to Chicago Booth PhD candidate Yanping Tu and University of Toronto’s Dilip Soman.
- The researchers conducted a series of studies to analyze how categorizing deadlines affects people’s propensity to start a task. Study participants began a job sooner when deadlines were set on the same day of the week as the day a task was assigned, and when due dates fell in the same month. In both cases, participants viewed the deadlines as part of the present.
- In one study, the researchers used two calendars, one with the same background color for the entire week, and the second with one background color for weekdays and another for weekends (see graphic). Participants, who were given a task on a Wednesday with a deadline on Sunday, were more likely to start the task sooner when the week was shown in one color than when it was divided into two colors.
- This same idea could get people to save more. In another study, researchers told farmers in India they would receive a financial bonus if they opened a bank account and saved 5,000 rupees in six months. They found that farmers with a deadline in December were more likely to immediately open an account, while those with a January deadline felt less urgency to get started.