The Experiment: Participants are asked to perform a complex proofreading assignment and given three deadline scenarios: (1) single deadline, three weeks away, (2) a series of interim, weekly deadlines, and (3) self-paced, interim deadlines. Participants were compensated based on the number of errors they corrected and there was a penalty for missing the deadlines.
The Results: “The way you set deadlines has a profound effect on the degree to which workers procrastinate and even on the ultimate quality of their work.”
The Details: “The worst performance on both counts was turned in by the group with a single, end-of-project deadline. Their work, on average, was 12 days late, and they corrected an average of only 70 errors. The best performance was delivered by the group that was given a series of interim deadlines; their work was only 0.5 days late on average, and they caught 136 errors. The performance of the group that set its own interim deadlines fell in the middle: 6.5 days late, on average, with 104 errors caught.”
Curbing the Procrastination Instinct · Harvard Business Review · October 2001