When are your projects due? The present or the future?

Are you falling into the timeframe trap?

How long do you give yourself to complete the tasks on your to-do list? An hour? A day? A month?

The more ambiguous the timeframe you place on your work, the less likely it is to actually get done, according to a recent study.

Yanping Tu, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, has published a report that reveals how the perception of time is the biggest time management challenge.

"The key step in getting things done is getting started. If you never get started, you can't possibly finish," Ms Tu explains. "But that urgency, that need to actually work on a task, happens when that task is seen as part of a person's present."

For this study, Ms Tu and her co-author Dilip Soman of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management conducted a series of experiments to test students' ability to get things done.

One such experiment was to give two groups of students five days to complete a project. However, one group was given the task on April 24 and were told it was due on April 29. The other was assigned the project on April 28, which meant the due date was in May.

The researchers found that the group whose timeframe was confined to a single month were much more likely to begin work straight away than those for whom the change in month created a time barrier.

Ms Tu has attributed this behaviour due to the inability to acknowledge that things happening "next month" are in our present. Bringing due dates forward or creating more specific timeframes could be the key you need to boost your time management skills.

"We have shown how goals are perceived in time is clearly linked to people's views of when and whether to begin work," Ms Tu adds. "It would be interesting to look at how these temporal views affect other aspects of success, such persistence in completing jobs and the quality of a job done."


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