These days we all feel crazy busy. No wonder time use experts consistently recommend carefully scheduling, including of your leisure and even your relaxation time, to fit it all in.
Productivity expert and author Laura Vanderkam, for instance, insists that to get the most out of your weekends, you really need to schedule them in advance. Not only does that save you from wasting time scratching your head about how to fill those precious hours, she contends, but it also increases the pleasure of these activities as you savor them in advance.
"Time travel into the future - otherwise known as anticipation - accounts for a big chunk of the happiness gleaned from any event," she writes.
Vanderkam is a meticulous student of how high performers really use their time (she's a big proponent of time diaries) and generally an extremely trustworthy source of productivity advice, but on this point at least, is seems science might not be on her side. According to one researcher, at least, planning your leisure time is actually a great way to rob yourself of a lot of joy.
Your planning is killing your weekends.
Writing on The Conversation, Selin Malkoc, an assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State University (hat tip to Science of Us for the pointer), contends that his research shows we'd all be a lot happier if we made fewer plans:
Across 13 studies, we found that the simple act of scheduling makes otherwise fun tasks feel more like work. It also decreases how much we enjoy them.
For example, in one, we asked participants to imagine grabbing a coffee with a friend. Half of the participants imagined that they planned this gathering a few days in advance and put it on their calendar, while the other half were told that they decided to grab a coffee on the fly. We found that this simple, relaxing activity was associated more with work-like qualities ("obligation," "effortful," "work") when it was scheduled, compared with when it was impromptu.
In several follow-up studies, we found that simply scheduling something fun - like a movie or social outing - felt like work even if it was something you regularly did, was something new or special or when you had nothing else planned for that day.
Why is planning such a joy kill?
A cookie tastes as good whether you decided to eat it spontaneously or scheduled that snack into your calendar, and you love your friend the same whether you meet them on the street or you planned a get together weeks ahead, so what's behind the difference in enjoying something on the fly or at a prearranged time?
Malkoc believes that the problem with planning is how it forces us to think about time. We tend to associate strict schedules and set blocks of time with work, so that when we apply this type of scheduling to fun activities, they end up feeling more like work. For instance, when student volunteers were simply shepherded through a day of outdoor activities without reference to time, they enjoyed the outing more than if they did the same exact things but were given a set schedule beforehand.
How much fun should you schedule?
As Malkoc sensibly notes, the takeaway here can't be that no leisure activity should be pre-planned. You're not realistically going to wake up one day and decide to go white water rafting that afternoon. You need to gather supplies, coordinate with friends, plan your travel, etc. That's true of lots of highly rewarding pastimes.
But what this research does suggest is that, to the extent that you're able, leaving some blank space in your schedule for spontaneity will bring more joy into your life than filling every spare hour with outings and activities.
"Next time you want to make plans, make them flexible. You'll feel less constrained - and more likely to have fun, too," Malkoc concludes.