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How Your Schedule Could Actually Be *Hurting* Your Productivity

Kristin Marguerite Doidge
4 min read
August 07, 2018
How Your Schedule Could Actually Be *Hurting* Your Productivity

Your best gal pals go out for drinks, but you stay in again to catch up on work—only to feel lousy about the great stories you must’ve missed. Your sister posts photos of a gorgeous sunset on the beach—but you miss delighting in its glory because you’re instead stuck on the freeway trying to sneak in one last errand.

We all knowwhat FOMO feels like, but what we might not know is that our attempts to try to fit everything into a neat and tidy schedule might actually be making us feel worse.

Despite our best efforts to balance social time with work and artistic endeavors, recentresearch from The Ohio State Universitysays that scheduling too many tasks or appointments can lead to what researchers call “time famine.” It’s that feeling of not having enough time to do everything you need to do. Sound familiar? No shit. But how can this be possible when the summer days are long and technology (h/t to Postmates Prime) is supposed to make modern life more errand-free than ever before?

The answer: It’s all about perception, saysDr. Selin Malkoc, an associate professor of marketing and the lead author on the studies from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. She says having the right balance of free time versus scheduled time in your daily planner is key to boosting productivity, and the precise ratio is different for each person.

“Having the right balance of free time versus scheduled time in your daily planner is key to boosting productivity, and the precise ratio is different for each person.”

In a series ofeight studies, Malkoc and her colleaguesGabriela ToniettoandSteve Nowlisfound that scheduling could not only make us less productive, but the feeling of a lack of time leads to anxiety, stress, and unhappiness, according tofurther research from UCLA and Harvard Business School.

Here, Malkoc shares the four key takeaways from what she’s learned so we can make the most of our summertime while the livin’ is supposed to be easy:

Don’t mistake “busyness” for productivity

A factor related to FOMO and “time famine”is what recent research calls the “busyness premium,” says Malkoc. “Increasingly, being busy is becoming something that is of value in and of itself. We see many people (humble) bragging about how their busy lives are, trying to signal their own desirability.”She says the trend is contributing to feelings of time famine and as a result, a feeling that we don’t have enough time to get things done. But remember: Being busy doesn’t mean you’re making the most efficient use of your time. In fact, research shows that the feeling of scarcity often makes us misuse the time we do have to get things done, leading us to feel even more overwhelmed.

Setting aside a block of “unscheduled” time can make it seem like we have more

Clearly, the struggle is real in trying to be both a productive person and a good friend-sister-coworker etc. It’s OK. We’re all going through it together. One of the ways to combat this is to schedule tasks and appointments back-to-back to leave a large chunk of time as “unscheduled” free time, says Malkoc.

“Schedule tasks and appointments back-to-back to leave a large chunk of time as ‘unscheduled’ free time.”

She also says it’s important to acknowledge how we’re contributing to our own feelings of time famine: “Will seeing my old coworker from a few years ago will really make me happier? Will going to that last museum while in Amsterdam really make my trip more memorable? The answer might very well be yes. But, it is still worth asking before doing!”

Some people get a good amount of disutility from uncertainty and ambiguity

Some of us truly can’t handle too much unstructured time in the day or too many unknowns. But for people who are more comfortable with uncertainty, planning might interfere with the flow of their life and their flexibility, so finding the right balance is highly personal. Still, it’s clear that too much of a good thing applies to scheduling for almost everyone.Gabriella Tonietto and Malkoc examined this issue in an earlier study in 2016 and found that even funleisure activities — when scheduled in advance — can end up feeling like work. “They become an item on our to do list—and thus decrease our excitement and enjoyment,” says Malkoc.What’s important isaligning with your goals and values and remembering that prioritization is an important and often underutilized tool.

We’re not as short on time as we might think

The good news is that we’re not as famished for time as we think we are. Just realizing and acknowledging this can help us feel less anxious about what needs to be done and therefore more likely to get started on projects—and able to be more productive in the present moment.

Whether you’re scheduling yourself by the minute, hour, or week, remember that you have more control than you realize in choosing activities that bring you joy and create meaning for you—which studies say will often include helping others or engaging socially, even if it’s for a moment with a friend or a neighbor.“Work or family obligations take up quite a bit of our time,” says Malkoc. “But, we still have a say in things.”