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Prompting People to Make Plans (2015) Rogers


Prompting people to make plans for things they already want to do improves their follow-through.


“Prompting people to make concrete and specific plans makes people more likely to act on their good intentions.”

Rogers, T., Milkman, K. L., John, L. K., & Norton, M. I. (2015). Beyond good intentions: Prompting people to make plans improves follow-through on important tasks. Behavioral Science & Policy, 1(2), 33–41.

Research Story

Four researchers from Harvard and University of Pennsylvania laid out research behind the effectiveness of prompting people to make plans.

Why Planning Prompts Work:
1. Asking about intentions makes it more likely they’ll make some
2. Overcomes tendency to procrastinate without instant gratification
3. Overcomes planning fallacy because you’re planning how and when 4. Helps people remember
5. When you plan, the anticipated discomfort of not honoring the commitment increases follow-through
6. Overcomes tendency for people to not make concrete plans

Evidence for prompting people to plan includes better results and follow-through for people with intentions to exercise, eat more fruit, diet, stop smoking, recycle, and study for a test. Other large studies include:

Voting. 287,000 people were called with a typical “please vote” call, the same call with 3 simple plan questions, and no call. The please vote call increased voting by 2% and the planning call by 4%.

Flu Shots. 3,000 people got flu-shot mail reminders from their company. The plan prompt group increased shots by an extra 4% just with a sentence urging them to write in a box the time they planned to go to the clinic.

Colonoscopy. 12,000 employees were reminded to get a colonoscopy. The planning prompt group with a yellow post-it note with lines for doctor, clinic, and date of the appointment did 1% better than a blank post-it note.

Prompting people to plan works best when they intend to do the goal, it’s internally motivated rather than pressured, there’s an actual obstacle in the way, there’s a limited window of opportunity, they tell someone, there’s just one goal, it can be done in a single session, and the plan is specific and linked to a situation or cue.

One interesting variation is rather than plan a specific time of day, try linking the behavior to when a certain event occurs, or when a specific feeling or thought arises. I can miss an appointment with myself at 1:00, but eventually I have to eat, so tying the behavior to something I’m already going to do can be effective.

So What – Application

If simple prompts to make plans can nudge people into following through with their good intentions, policy makers and industry communicators could add simple planning prompts to forms and advertising used to promote healthy behaviors.

In a family setting two applications could be useful. In self-coaching our way through personal change, adding a planning prompt to our self-checkins could be effective. When coaching a family member to support their own goals, asking a family member to write or make a plan for how and when they will do what they are intending could nudge the possibility that they will carry through with their desires.

Although the evidence only nudges people in the direction of following through with plans, its a concrete step we can do to make a difference in some lives.

Todd Rogers

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