‘To-do’ lists take the fun out of free time
Life moves fast, and finding enough hours in the day to get everything done is, at times, a seemingly impossible task.
Scheduling—whether keeping a calendar, a to-do list, or setting a smartphone reminder—is a saving grace for many people trying to accomplish as much as they can, as efficiently as they can.
But a new study suggests it’s best to ditch that to-do list when it comes to having fun.
Researchers conducted 13 studies examining how scheduling leisure activities affects the way these events are experienced—and discovered that assigning a specific date and time for leisure can have the opposite intended effect, making it feel much more like a chore.
Further, both the anticipation of the leisure activity and enjoyment from it decreased once it was scheduled.
“A few years ago, I was traveling back home to Turkey and was very excited to catch up with old friends and visit places I had missed,” says Selin Malkoc, associate professor of marketing at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. “To make sure that I would be able to do everything I want, I scheduled most of these activities.
“To my surprise, however, I soon started to feel reluctant and unenthusiastic at the prospect of the long-awaited reunions that I had scheduled. I began to think of each scheduled activity as more like an obligation, even a chore, rather than an enjoyable outing. I even made statements like ‘I have to go get lunch with my friend.’ Was it really possible for such fun and leisure activities to start feeling like work?”
“Looking at a variety of different leisure activities, we consistently find that scheduling can make these otherwise fun tasks feel more like work and decrease how much we enjoy them,” says Gabriela Tonietto, a doctoral candidate in marketing.
So, what’s the answer?
The researchers propose a sweet spot, roughly scheduled leisure activities (on a certain day, but with no set time, for example) to ensure that leisure is included in a day but still keeps some flexibility, making it feel less like work. “We find that the detriment of scheduling leisure stems from how structured that time feels,” Malkoc says.
“While we may tend to think of scheduling in structured terms by referring to specific times—such as grabbing coffee at 3 p.m.—we can also schedule our time in a rougher manner by referring less specifically to time—grabbing coffee in the afternoon,” Tonietto adds.
While the research shows less scheduling is a good thing when it comes to fun, we shouldn’t feel free to throw away our calendars.
“On the flip side, we find that scheduling helps us get things done,” Malkoc says. “We find that scheduling indeed increases our chances of engaging in them. But, once we do, we tend to enjoy it less.”
“So it really is a balancing act, and it comes down to knowing what you will gain and lose when you schedule fun activities,” Tonietto says.
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing Research.