Incentive

Problems with procrastination? Try bribery.

April 25, 2011: 11:00 AM ET

What inspires children to do their chores or adults to go to the dentist? Habit, yes. Fear, sure. Bribery -- or incentive, depending on how you frame it -- also helps. Managers can take a page from this playbook, too.  

By Laura Vanderkam, contributor

Groupon and Lot18 both offer time-sensitive deals that coax on-the-fence consumers to quit their dilly dallying and buy.

Groupon and Lot18 both offer time-sensitive deals designed to coax on-the-fence consumers to quit their dilly-dallying.

FORTUNE -- Let's face it. Most of us procrastinate. Even when we want something (or know it's the right thing to do), the temptation is always to wait for next Tuesday. Or never.

What inspires us to get off our chairs?

Researchers who study human behavior are producing some interesting answers for managers and policy makers alike -- involving bribes and deadlines -- that could boost public health and make smart companies some serious money.

On the health side of the ledger, Esther Duflo and Abhijit V. Banerjee, co-founders of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, design randomized control trials of development projects in poor countries to figure out what actually works. The most successful projects, they have discovered, take the all-too-human tendency to procrastinate into account.

In their new book, Poor Economics, Duflo and Banerjee recount an experiment designed to raise the atrocious immunization rate (roughly 6%) in a section of Udaipur, India. Parents in this area received information about the benefits of vaccines, but they also had a superstition that taking young children outdoors ran the risk of them catching the "evil eye." It was easier not to go, especially when immunization involved walking to a clinic -- which might be closed, due to frequent nurse absenteeism -- and then just dealing with the unpleasantness of a shrieking baby. More

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