The Science Behind Why Deadlines Work

Jack Born

also recommends Voma for creating high-converting offer checkout pages.

August 11, 2023
March 30, 2023

Deadlines are a powerful tool to improve productivity, drive sales, and create a sense of urgency. Some of our case studies document big boosts in sales for course creators using Deadline Funnel.

So what is it about human nature and psychology that makes deadlines so powerful?

Deadlines and Parkinson's Law

Parkinson's Law states that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion." Practically speaking this means our natural response is to take as much time as we’re given and to delay as long as possible. I’m sure you’ve procrastinated on a big project once or twice in your life. I know I have.

Deadlines are a “forcing function” that restrict time and make us focus our attention. And when you’re at the end of your promotion you want as much focused attention from your audience as you can get. The time pressure created by deadlines forces people to make a decision and commit to actions they otherwise might postpone.

We’re all wired to respond to danger with “fight, flight, or freeze”. In today’s modern world the “danger” is no longer a saber toothed tiger but instead choices about our money, our business, our time, and our focus. 

Deadlines help your interested prospects make a faster decision instead of “freezing”.

But there’s more to the power of deadlines besides just forcing a decision, as we’ll cover next.

Deadlines Use the Scarcity Principle

Picture this: you're strolling through a busy marketplace, and suddenly, a vendor shouts, "Only two left, get them while they last!" Your heart races, your palms sweat, and an overwhelming desire to secure one of those scarce items takes over. Welcome to the world of the scarcity principle.

This psychological phenomenon plays a significant role in our decision-making process. Simply put, we're wired to crave and value things that are in short supply. Why? Well, scarcity triggers our fear of missing out (FOMO), compelling us to act fast to avoid potential regret.

Imagine sipping a limited-edition latte at Starbucks. The creamy, frothy delight is available only for a short time, making each sip feel more precious. Or picture yourself scoring the last concert ticket to your favorite band's sold-out show. That ticket instantly becomes more valuable because it's scarce.

One well-known study that demonstrates the Scarcity Principle was conducted by Stephen Worchel, Jerry Lee, and Akanbi Adewole in 1975. The study, titled "Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value," involved participants who were asked to rate the desirability of cookies. The cookies were placed in either a jar with abundant supply (10 cookies) or a jar with scarce supply (2 cookies). Participants consistently rated the cookies in the scarce supply jar as more valuable and desirable than those in the abundant supply jar, even though the cookies were identical.

Deadlines utilize the Scarcity Principle by creating a sense of urgency and limited availability. When a special offer or discount is presented with a deadline, potential customers perceive the offer as scarce, which increases its perceived value. The fear of missing out on the scarce offer compels them to act quickly and make a purchase before the deadline expires.

Deadlines Trigger Loss Aversion

Loss aversion is another psychological principle that plays a significant role in the effectiveness of deadlines. People are generally more motivated to avoid losses than to achieve gains. 

In a classic study by Tversky and Kahneman, participants were given two choices: a sure gain of $50 or a 50% chance to gain $100. Surprisingly, most chose the sure gain. However, when faced with a sure loss of $50 or a 50% chance to lose $100, most participants chose to gamble. This experiment demonstrated how loss aversion influences decision-making, even in the face of potential gains.

By imposing a deadline, the fear of missing out (FOMO) is triggered, motivating individuals to act quickly to avoid losing the opportunity or offer.

Deadlines and the Endowment Effect

You're at a store, trying on a fabulous jacket. The moment you put it on, you feel like a million bucks. Suddenly, parting with that jacket seems unbearable. Congratulations, you've just experienced the Endowment Effect! 

The Endowment Effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to ascribe a higher value to items they possess than to those they don't. In other words, individuals are more likely to overvalue something simply because they own it. This effect is often attributed to the psychological concept of loss aversion, where the pain of losing something is generally greater than the pleasure of gaining something of equal value.

Deadlines utilize the Endowment Effect by creating a sense of ownership in prospects. When a special offer or discount is presented with a deadline, potential customers can feel they already have access to the offer. The fear of losing out on this perceived ownership can motivate them to act quickly and make a purchase before the deadline expires, thereby increasing the perceived value of the offer.

My favorite study showing the power of the Endowment Effect was conducted by Daniel Kahneman, Jack L. Knetsch, and Richard H. Thaler in 1990. Their study, titled "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," demonstrated the existence of the Endowment Effect in various situations. Participants who were given a mug and then asked how much they were willing to sell it for demanded a significantly higher price than those who didn't own the mug were willing to pay for it. This demonstrated that the mere possession of the item increased its perceived value to the owner.

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Evolutionary Theory Behind Power of Deadlines

The evolutionary theory behind loss aversion suggests that this cognitive bias developed as an adaptive mechanism in response to the challenges our ancestors faced in their environments. In the context of scarce resources, survival often depended on the ability to protect and maintain essential resources, such as food, water, and shelter. Consequently, our ancestors who were more sensitive to potential losses were more likely to survive and pass on their genes, embedding this bias in human nature.

One hypothesis explaining why human nature places a higher value on scarce resources is that, in ancestral environments, scarcity often signaled a genuine threat to survival. If resources were abundant, there was little reason to worry about losing them. However, when resources were scarce, losing them could have dire consequences. As a result, humans may have evolved to be more attentive and responsive to potential losses, especially when resources were scarce, as a way of ensuring their survival.

This hypothesis is in line with the ideas of several researchers who have explored the evolutionary origins of loss aversion and related psychological phenomena. For example, Martie G. Haselton and Daniel Nettle have studied how cognitive biases, including loss aversion, may have evolved as adaptive mechanisms. Their research suggests that these biases are not merely errors in human cognition but rather evolved solutions to specific problems that our ancestors faced.

Additionally, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, pioneers in the field of evolutionary psychology, have contributed significantly to our understanding of how human cognitive biases and heuristics may have evolved to solve adaptive problems in our evolutionary past.

How Deadline Funnel Enhances Deadlines

Deadline Funnel is a powerful marketing tool designed to create authentic evergreen funnels with personalized deadlines. It offers several features that can help you leverage the psychological principles discussed above, including:

Deadline Funnel integrates seamlessly with various platforms and tools, such as Mailchimp, Kajabi, WordPress, and more. Comprehensive documentation is available to guide you through the setup and integration process, ensuring a smooth experience for both you and your prospects.


The science behind why deadlines work is rooted in human psychology, tapping into principles like Parkinson's Law, scarcity, and loss aversion. By understanding and leveraging these principles, marketers can create more effective campaigns that drive action and conversions.

Deadline Funnel is a powerful tool that can help you harness the power of deadlines in your marketing efforts. With its easy-to-use interface, advanced tracking capabilities, and seamless integrations, Deadline Funnel can be a game-changer for your business. To learn more about how Deadline Funnel works and how it can benefit you, visit our website and explore which pricing option works best for you.

Sources and Further Reading

For further reading, you can refer to the following resources:

Haselton, M. G., & Nettle, D. (2006). The paranoid optimist: An integrative evolutionary model of cognitive biases. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10(1), 47-66.

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Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1996). Are humans good intuitive statisticians after all? Rethinking some conclusions from the literature on judgment under uncertainty. Cognition, 58(1), 1-73.

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Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2005). Conceptual foundations of evolutionary psychology. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 5-67). John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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