Any business leader worth their salt knows that efficiency matters--every minute counts. We don't see all of our time the same way, however, according to a new series of studies from Rutgers University.

Upcoming events make time seem more scarce

Led by marketing professor Gabriella Tonietto, the studies found that people felt like they'd have a smaller portion of an hour to read if a buddy were coming over at the end of the hour. This was true even if the participants already were prepared and ready for the friend to show up. Additionally, participants who had a looming event were less likely to tackle lengthy but achievable jobs, even if those jobs had some kind of reward attached.

Translated into work speak, the study suggests that, when there's something on the agenda, we have trouble compartmentalizing it to where it belongs in the day. Why is still a bit of a puzzle. But it might be because of the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the constant message of immediacy that technology has helped us grow used to. We might feel like there's less time until the upcoming event because we mentally want to tackle the problem right away and make sure we don't make a mistake.

But it also might be because of the psychological theory that whatever you pay attention to will feel closer than it really is. This is true not only for time, but for physical items, too. If this theory is accurate, then the more you focus on an upcoming event, the more you'll feel a sense of immediacy for it and won't want to cut things close by trying to do additional work before the event.

But how much time do we mentally shift?

Tonietto says the effect usually results in a range of 5 to 15 minutes. That might not seem too awful, but as the studies show, it influences what you choose to complete until the upcoming event arrives. Your ability to prioritize well can become compromised, meaning that project deadlines can get messy and conflicts can result. And in the worst case scenario, that can morph into a damaged reputation that hinders where you want to go in your career.

Countering the perception glitch

Tonietto has two big recommendations that can help you stay productive despite the tendency for upcoming events to slice away time in our minds.

1. Schedule jobs back to back. This way, you're less likely to waste time between events.

2. Split jobs into smaller parts. This gives you a motivating sense of accomplishment as you hit each milestone. It also makes the job seem less psychologically intimidating, increasing the likelihood that you'll actually get started.

Whether you feel like you've got two minutes or 200, when in doubt, remember the wise words of H.G. Wells.

"We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and a mystery."

Published on: Nov 8, 2018