The Best Time To Ask Someone For A Favor
- -- Excerpt:
"people tend to underestimate how long it will take to finish a task.
The new study also suggests people "don't understand the competition
for their time from other things they need to do", says Zauberman."
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org,
TIME IN THE FUTURE SEEMS TO GO FURTHER
By Maggie McKee
February 10, 2005
The best time to ask someone for a favour is at least several weeks in
advance, a new study suggests. The research finds that people
consistently over-commit because they expect to have more time in the
future than they do right now.
Previous studies have shown that people generally "value things less
in the future than now", says Gal Zauberman, a consumer-behaviour
researcher at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, US. For
example, many people prefer to pay for something in a week's time
rather than today -- even if it costs slightly more.
Now, Zauberman and colleague John Lynch at Duke University in Durham,
North Carolina, have found that this tendency is even stronger for
time than for money.
"When asked to do something far in the future, we usually say 'yes'.
Sure, I'll be happy to help you write a paper or move apartments,"
Zauberman told New Scientist. "People always like to delay things, but
they are more optimistic about changes in time than in money."
Time in a month
The researchers came to their conclusions after giving groups of
students a range of questionnaires. In one questionnaire, for example,
the students were asked how much spare time and spare money they had
that day and how much they expected to have in a month. The students
believed both resources would be more available in a month's time, but
they believed more strongly that they would have more time in the future.
That suggests people gauge their financial situations better than
their schedules. "Barring some change in employment or family status,
supply and demand of money are relatively constant over time, and
people are aware of that," the researchers report.
Zauberman says the perception of a surplus resource, or "slack",
determines our propensity to delay things.
Previous research provides a hint about this time perception -- people
tend to underestimate how long it will take to finish a task. The new
study also suggests people "don't understand the competition for their
time from other things they need to do", says Zauberman.
He would like to study how people can be taught to realise they will
be just as busy in the future as they are today. But in the meantime,
he says: "If you want to get people to commit to things or to help you
in a charity organisation -- it's always better to ask for the future."
Journal reference: Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (vol
134, p 23)
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