How to trick your brain into meeting your deadlines

When it comes to getting things done, picking the right due date is half the battle

Illustration of a person’s tangled brain connected to a tangle outside the head


It’s nearly two weeks into 2015—how are your resolutions going? Have you even started them yet? If one of your resolutions was to actually start them within two weeks of the New Year then you know that one of the hardest parts of a task is just starting it. Well, new research shows that there might be some ways to help get you going on reaching your 2015 goals.

Researchers from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found that implementing certain tactics, which manipulate our perception of time, are quite effective, despite being somewhat simplistic.

In one experiment, the researchers asked 295 male farmers in India to set up a bank account and to save a certain amount of money within a six-month period. As an incentive they would also be given extra money. The participants were split into two groups: one group was approached in June with a deadline of December that year; the second group was approached in July with a deadline of January the next year.

The study’s authors found that the farmers in the first group were more likely to set up an account right away, despite both groups having the same amount of time. The researchers say it’s because the first group’s deadline was in the same year as when they got the assignment and therefore it seemed more like the present. When the experiment was conducted on undergraduates and M.B.A. students in North America, the findings were similar.

In a separate experiment, the researchers found that participants were more likely to start working on a task whose deadline fell in the current month rather than in the next month, even though the number of days to finish the task was the same.

Colour also played a role influencing the perception of time and having participants complete an assignment . By organizing a series of calendar days in the same colour, like red, with an assignment occurring on the first “red” day and the deadline scheduled for the last “red” day, people were more likely to complete the task because it made the future deadline seem like the present rather than the future.

So if you’re kicking yourself for not starting on those New Year’s resolutions yet, or disappointed for ditching them altogether so soon into 2015, try these mind tricks, because, well, there’s no time like the present.