Procrastination, deadlines, and performance: self-control by precommitment

Psychol Sci. 2002 May;13(3):219-24. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00441.


Procrastination is all too familiar to most people. People delay writing up their research (so we hear!), repeatedly declare they will start their diets tomorrow, or postpone until next week doing odd jobs around the house. Yet people also sometimes attempt to control their procrastination by setting deadlines for themselves. In this article, we pose three questions: (a) Are people willing to self-impose meaningful (i.e., costly) deadlines to overcome procrastination? (b) Are self-imposed deadlines effective in improving task performance? (c) When self-imposing deadlines, do people set them optimally, for maximum performance enhancement? A set of studies examined these issues experimentally, showing that the answer is "yes" to the first two questions, and "no" to the third. People have self-control problems, they recognize them, and they try to control them by self-imposing costly deadlines. These deadlines help people control procrastination, hit they are not as effective as some externally imposed deadlines in improving task performance.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*