Want to put an end to procrastination? Stop setting deadlines.
That might strike you as counter intuitive. After all, we’re conditioned to work on deadline. But recent research suggests that deadlines – especially long ones – allow us to postpone tasks until the last minute, or even forget about them altogether.
In a study conducted at Australia’s Macquarie Business School and published in the Harvard Business Review, participants were given different deadlines to complete a survey. One group had a week to turn in the survey, another group had a month, and the third group had no deadline at all.
The group with no deadline not only returned more surveys (8.3 percent response rate) but did so quicker than the other two groups. The group with the monthlong deadline had the lowest response rate (5.5 percent), while those with the weeklong deadline had a 6.6 percent response rate.
“Deadlines motivate us to do things we might otherwise put off, but the relationship isn’t always clear-cut,” said one of the researchers in this article. “A deadline signals the importance and urgency of a task, so not surprisingly, people often interpret a long deadline as permission to delay. You might assume that the lack of a deadline would be viewed in much the same light. But in fact people tend to interpret it in just the opposite way, as meaning ‘Get this done as soon as possible!’ The urgency and pressure are implied.”
A key point: participants in the third group were not told they had unlimited time to complete the survey; they just weren’t given a time deadline at all.
“One person returned the survey on day 52,” according to the study. “Another returned it on day 145! These are people who are clearly procrastinators, and because they weren’t given a deadline, they could keep postponing and postponing. Those very late responses represented a tiny minority. Almost half the people in the no-deadline group who returned the survey did so right away; it’s clear that their superior response rate wasn’t driven by belated recall. By comparison, there were very few prompt responses from people who were given a month to send the survey in, supporting the notion that the main factor affecting response time was a sense of urgency—or the lack thereof.”
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ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3: Diligence
A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
Comment  Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more widely resented than procrastination. A client’s interests often can be adversely affected by the passage of time or the change of conditions; in extreme instances, as when a lawyer overlooks a statute of limitations, the client’s legal position may be destroyed. Even when the client’s interests are not affected in substance, however, unreasonable delay can cause a client needless anxiety and undermine confidence in the lawyer’s trustworthiness. A lawyer’s duty to act with reasonable promptness, however, does not preclude the lawyer from agreeing to a reasonable request for a postponement that will not prejudice the lawyer’s client.
Source: ABA Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3
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