People procrastinate. The trope (and for many, a not-so-distant memory) of university students writing papers the night they are due simply reinforces that students, especially, are prone to procrastination. 

For some people, procrastination works quite well. They find they have much more motivation the day before a deadline, and some procrastinators are extremely good at managing their time (in some cases, to procrastinate as much as they can). The reason that procrastination can work, especially for students, is simple: there is a clear deadline.

As a student myself, I find that this technique fails in one common circumstance, which I think is relevant to EA group organizers: planning events. The problem is that for many events, the deadline for planning is unclear. As a result, I think people frequently use simple heuristics to try to estimate how far in advance they need to plan, and often think they should start planning later than they probably should. I have attended and helped plan many student-run events, including EA events, that I think could have gone much more smoothly had they been planned earlier. In this post, I will outline some of the reasons why planning in advance can be advantageous.

Why plan events in advance?

People are busy

Many EA events are aimed at people who are very busy. Anecdotally, the top reason college students give for not going to events is that they have too much work to do. For better or worse, they say this much less frequently about planned events.

People often don't think about work they'll do in the future; in particular, I've noticed college students frequently underestimate how much work they'll have in two weeks. In addition, when deadlines are hanging over people's heads, college students seem to overestimate how much work they have. Both of these biases likely lead to a bias against spontaneous events.

In addition, people frequently make plans with friends and other groups they're involved with. If you ask people to come to an event two days before it's supposed to happen, they may have already planned something else. There may be a cost to cancelling those plans, and people are aware of that cost. 

Lastly, planning events last minute selects for people who are not busy. This might mean people with more potential to get very involved with your group, but it also could mean people who don’t like committing to things in general.

You get first-mover advantage

In another forum post, Kuhan described how a cappella groups at Stanford got so many recruits: simply by recruiting early. If you haven't planned the logistics of your event, you can't recruit people early. As a result, groups that organize further ahead of time might have more success compared with groups that organize later. I think this is really important.

You have more venue and transportation options

If you're organizing an event that needs a venue, you might find that the best ones are already booked by the time you want to book them. This might mean you end up in a suboptimal venue. If you need transportation (e.g. a rental car), you can also have availability problems that result from booking too late.

Costs can be much lower

Venues and transportation get much more expensive the later they are booked. Here's an example, for a flight from New York City to London:

 

As you can see, prices almost doubled in the last month leading up to the travel date.

To give another example: a few weeks ago, I purchased a round trip Amtrak train ticket from New Haven to Philadelphia for $54. I just checked the price of a ticket on the exact same trains today (one week before the travel date), and it's $222. That means booking in advance saves more than 75%; this is extremely common for Amtrak.

Organizing takes less time

Paradoxically, planning events ahead of time probably takes less time than planning them at the last minute (all else being equal). Mainly, this is because you have many more venue and transportation options, and so it's easy to take convenience into account when choosing between them. If you're planning at the last minute, you might not have a choice, and have to settle with something much more logistically difficult.

People have more time to plan sessions

If your event has formal sessions or presentations, planning the event in advance gives the people presenting more time to prepare. They also have time to get feedback about their session and do more iterations. Ultimately, the session is likely to be better.

My suggestion: do a cost-benefit analysis

There can be costs to organizing events ahead of time. Perhaps organizers are doing extremely high value projects, and those projects won't end until shortly before your event. Perhaps COVID-19 or some other uncertainty means that you can't be sure ahead of time if you'll actually want the event to happen. Perhaps you need more time to get an accurate headcount so you don't book a venue that's too large. 

That being said, I think people frequently underestimate the costs of organizing events at the last minute. So I urge all event planners: do a cost-benefit analysis. Seriously think through when you should be planning an event, and why. This may be obvious, but you need to do the cost-benefit analysis far enough in advance of the event; if you don't, it's not much use if you conclude that you should have started planning earlier.

Sometimes planning far ahead of time makes sense; sometimes it doesn’t. In most cases, it makes sense to spend a little time thinking about which situation you're in.

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Great post! I think planning ahead could also inadvertently help make retreats and large events more accessible to lower-income students. My thoughts on this are below and are specifically related to events that involve flights that are last second.

This study on Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/316376/air-travel-frequency-us-by-income/) found that about 19% of respondents with incomes over $80,000 are frequent flyers, whereas only 3% of respondents with incomes under $40,000 are. Moreover, 32% of the $40,000-and-less responders said they had never flown, whereas only 7% of the $80,000+ group had never flown. 

I would also say that I've noticed people who have had less opportunity in the past to travel (usually due to having less financial freedom) or are less experienced with attending things like retreats can be more daunted by last-second invitations for flights. Sometimes to the point of not accepting them. A lot of people I know are flustered by the thought of travelling far away or by plane because it's something they aren't used to. The thought of last-second packing or navigating an airport is a lot easier if you have practice for it. If a college student had never flown alone or had never flown at all,  a last-second invitation by a club at their school might present them with more anxiety than the perceived reward of going. 

Since it's more likely that affluent people will have flown more, while less affluent people would tend to have less exposure to flights, especially last-second flights, these last-minute invitations could be unintentionally making it harder for low-income people to attend. Not because of a lack of funding on EA's side, but from a lack of allowing people time to acclimate to the idea of doing something they aren't used to.  I think giving ample time for people to process the idea of traveling helps lessen anxiety around committing to a retreat, which would help us recruit and retain more people with less exposure to flying :) 

Moreover, giving people time to make funding requests rather than refund requests would also likely be less daunting for people who don't have much money to pay for flights or other large expenses up front. I think it's good to keep in mind that there are some people who might be living paycheck to paycheck--especially in student groups--so the expense of a last-second flight, even if you'll get reimbursed, could be a deterrent. 

Another point to add: It's possible that last-minute planning of a retreat might make some people (read: women) hesitant to suddenly spend a lot of time with people they don't know that well.