Want to achieve that resolution? Break out the colored markers.

Research says manipulating your sense of time can make you more productive

A recent article in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests manipulating your sense of time is one of the best strategies to achieve your goals, Phyllis Korkki writers for the New York Times.

People tend to have less concern about their future selves than their present selves—one of the key dynamics that makes it easy to procrastinate. When given the choice between eating a delicious cookie now or of having the satisfaction of better health later, the future payoff loses every time.

What's in a deadline?

However, in two studies, researchers from the University of Chicago (U of C) and University of Toronto (U of T) examined how people can manipulate their sense of time to make future goals seem more immediate.

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In the first study, researchers asked farmers in India to establish a bank account and save a certain amount of money by a deadline. Farmers who were successful would receive a bonus. The farmers were broken into two groups. One started in June and had until December to reach their goal, while the other began in July and had until January of the next year.

Researchers found the farmers who had the December deadline were more likely to open a bank account immediately. Yanping Tu, a Ph.D. candidate at U of C who worked on the study, says those farmers viewed the deadline as more immediate because it happened in the same calendar year, even though both groups had the same amount of time overall to complete the task.

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Productivity strategies

In another study conducted by Yu and Dilip Soman, a professor at U of T, the researchers found people were "more likely to start working on a task whose deadline is in the current month than in the next month," even when both deadlines were the same number of days away.

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But of course, it would be silly to force every project to start and end in the same calendar month or year. Fortunately, Yu says there are ways to manipulate the perception of time so that any deadline feels more immediate.

One simple way is to break out some colored markers and color code the calendar. Yu and Soman found people were more likely to complete their projects if they colored all the days between the start and end of a project in the same color. This tricks the brain into seeing those days as one block of time and making the end date feel more imminent (Korkki, New York Times, 1/3).

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