August 2017

IZA DP No. 10955: Motivational Goal Bracketing: An Experiment

We study in an online, real-effort experiment how the bracketing of non-binding goals affects performance in a work-leisure self-control problem. We externally induce the goal bracket – daily goals or a weekly goal – and within that bracket let subjects set goals for how much they want to work over a one-week period. Our theoretical model predicts (i) that weekly goals create incentives to compensate for a lower than desired performance today with the promise to work harder tomorrow, whereas daily goals exclude such excuses; (ii) that subjects with daily goals set higher goals in aggregate and work harder than those with weekly goals. Our data support these predictions. Surprisingly, however, when goals are combined with an externally enforced commitment that requires subjects to spend less than a minute each day on the task to get started working, performance deteriorates because of high dropout rates from the task.