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Deadlines and Distractions


  • Maria Saez-Marti
  • Anna Sj�gren


We consider a principal-agent model in which a task, demanding a sequence of efforts by the agent, must be completed by a certain date. Effort is not contractible. Agents are subject to shocks affecting their opportunity cost of time such that they are distracted from work when the opportunity cost of time is high. We show that the probability that a task is completed by the deadline is a non-monotonic function of the agent�s probability of being distracted. The anticipation of future distractions induces rational agents to get started earlier for precautionary reasons. As a result, agents who are more often distracted may outperform agents who are distracted less often. Principals can increase the probability that the task is completed, and thus achieve higher profits, by strategically setting "tight" deadlines, provided that these can later be extended with a positive probability.

Suggested Citation

  • Maria Saez-Marti & Anna Sj�gren, 2007. "Deadlines and Distractions," IEW - Working Papers 347, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:347

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Toxvaerd, Flavio, 2007. "A theory of optimal deadlines," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 493-513, February.
    2. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 1999. "Incentives for Procrastinators," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 769-816.
    3. Sjögren, Anna & Saez-Marti, Maria, 2004. "On the Timing of Education," Working Paper Series 614, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    4. Toxvaerd, Flavio, 2006. "Time of the essence," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 129(1), pages 252-272, July.
    5. Fischer, Carolyn, 2001. "Read this paper later: procrastination with time-consistent preferences," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 249-269, November.
    6. Fischer, Carolyn, 1999. "Read This Paper Even Later: Procrastination with Time-Inconsistent Preferences," Discussion Papers dp-99-20, Resources For the Future.
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    Cited by:

    1. Katolnik, Svetlana & Schöndube, Jens Robert, 2014. "Don't Kill the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs: Strategic Delay in Project Completion," Hannover Economic Papers (HEP) dp-533, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät.
    2. Kyle Hyndman & Alberto Bisin, 2009. "Procrastination, Self-Imposed Deadlines and Other Commitment Devices," Departmental Working Papers 0904, Southern Methodist University, Department of Economics.
    3. Toxvaerd, Flavio, 2006. "Time of the essence," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 129(1), pages 252-272, July.

    More about this item


    Deadlines; time-consistency; timing of effort; optimal incentives.;

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • M50 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - General


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