Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

The Problem of Procrastination (with few cures)

Mohit Juneja MBA'18, Founder of Meldtrend

Mohit Juneja MBA’18, Founder of Meldtrend

The following post is from Mohit Juneja MBA’18, co-founder of Meldtrend, a fall 2016 hatchery business.

Professor Dan Ariely is author of  New York Times bestseller, Predictably Irrational (Pi).  He has shaped my thoughts with his insights of human behavior using experiments. In his book, he gives an example of the problem of procrastination and presents a few cures.

During his time as a professor in Duke, Professor Ariely asked the students of one of his classes, Class A, to come up with their own deadlines for three different examinations for 12-week semester course. As he mentions , one of the students in the class asked the question “And what are the deadlines?” reasoning why would any rational student choose a deadline earlier than last possible date.

The professor explained that by the end of the week, you must commit to deadline date of each paper. So, the ball was in student’s court. Each student submitted written dates to the professor for the record –

I promise to submit paper 1 on week ________

I promise to submit paper 2 on week ________

I promise to submit paper 3 on week ________

Since students understand they procrastinate, several of them scattered the deadlines across the semester and others chose to submit the last day. The professor would penalize only those students who couldn’t keep their promise, and on this condition, he wouldn’t be read any of the submissions until the end of semester.

Before continuing any further about this specific experiment, as several of you may already aware of, there is a control condition. A control condition means that the variables those can affect the data of experiment are held constant.

Specifically for this experiment, Professor Ariely instructed another class, Class B, a No Deadline condition and thereby suggested students to submit the papers by the end of last class. In this second condition, students would be happier since they are given flexibility and freedom. Additionally, they have minimum risk of penalty since no intermediate deadlines exist and apart from the self induced vs no deadline condition, all other variables were held constant.

In a third class, Class C, Professor Ariely introduced a dictatorial condition stating three distinct deadlines for three papers. These were set at the end of 4th, 8th and 12th weeks. Additionally, these dictated deadlines were non-negotiable.  Given the classes A, B and C did equally well in other exams and grades had been uniformly distributed.

Now, out of the three classes, Class A, Class B, Class C, which one would you think would have scored the best final grades on an average?

Was it the class with maximum flexibility?

Was it the class with “No Rules – Flexibility Rules!” or

Was it the class with dictated deadlines?

Which class would you predict did worst?

When the grades were compared against the three different deadline conditions, it was revealed that the class with firm deadlines got the best grades, the class in which Professor Ariely set no deadlines at all had the worst grades, and the class which was allowed to choose own three deadlines finished in the middle.

So, what do these results suggest?

Deadlines are necessary but biggest aha moment from these results was that a simple offering of a scheduling tool by which students could commit to a promised deadline  helped them achieve better grades.

Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational does an excellent job of analyzing what other findings one could imply from this experiment. Additionally, a few other examples are cited for other big procrastination problems such as Health care and Consumer Debt.

Happy experimenting!