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Deadlines and Distractions

  • Maria Saez-Marti
  • Anna Sjögren

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.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 347.

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Date of creation: Dec 2007
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Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:347
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  1. Flavio Toxvaerd, 2003. "A Theory of Optimal Deadlines," Discussion Paper Series dp357, The Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
  2. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 1999. "Incentives For Procrastinators," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 769-816, August.
  3. Fischer, Carolyn, 1999. "Read This Paper Later: Procrastination with Time-Consistent Preferences," Discussion Papers dp-99-19, Resources For the Future.
  4. Sjögren, Anna & Saez-Marti, Maria, 2004. "On the Timing of Education," Working Paper Series 614, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
  5. Toxvaerd, Flavio, 2006. "Time of the essence," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 129(1), pages 252-272, July.
  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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