Scheduling a leisure activity like seeing a movie or taking a coffee break can lead people to actually enjoy the event less than if the same activities were unplanned, a new study has found. However, roughly planning an event, but not giving a specific time, can lead to similar levels of enjoyment as unplanned events, researchers found. “People associate schedules with work. We want our leisure time to be free-flowing,” said Selin Malkoc, assistant professor at The Ohio State University in the US. “Time is supposed to fly when you are having fun. Anything that limits and constrains our leisure chips away at the enjoyment,” said Malkoc.
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Malkoc and Gabriela Tonietto, a doctoral student at Washington University in the US, analysed 13 separate studies that looked at how scheduling leisure activities affects the way we think about and experience them. In one study, college students were given a calendar filled with classes and extracurricular activities and asked to imagine that this was their actual schedule for the week.
Half of the participants were then asked to make plans to get frozen yogurt with a friend two days in advance and add the activity to their calendar. The other half imagined running into a friend and deciding to get frozen yogurt immediately.
Results showed that those who scheduled getting frozen yogurt with their friend rated the activity as feeling more like a “commitment” and “chore” than those who imagined the impromptu get-together. “Scheduling our fun activities leads them to take on qualities of work,” Malkoc said. The effect is not just for hypothetical activities. In an online study, the researchers had people select an entertaining YouTube video to watch.
The catch was that some got to watch their chosen video immediately. Others chose a specific date and time to watch the video and put in on their calendar. Results showed that those who watched the scheduled video enjoyed it less than those who watched it immediately. While people seem to get less enjoyment out of precisely scheduled activities, they do not seem to mind if they are more roughly scheduled.
In another study, the researchers set up a stand on a college campus where they gave out free coffee and cookies for students studying for finals. Before setting up the stand, they handed out tickets for students to pick up their coffee and cookies either at a specific time or during a two-hour window. As they were enjoying their treat, the students filled out a short survey.
The results showed that those who had a specifically scheduled break enjoyed their time off less than did those who only roughly scheduled the break. “If you schedule leisure activities only roughly, the negative effects of scheduling disappear,” Malkoc said. One study showed that even just setting a starting time for a fun activity is enough to make it less enjoyable.