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Schedules

Science Says Healthy Scheduling Habits Make People Happier

Scheduling work makes you more productive but scheduling leisure makes it way too much like work to be enjoyed.
Science Says Healthy Scheduling Habits Make People Happier
Image credit: Alexander Grumeth | EyeEm | Getty Images
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Entrepreneur and Connector
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Schedule everything has been a good management tip since it was first given long ago as "Schedule everything on paper."

The suggestion still makes a whole lot of sense. If something isn’t in your calendar, it doesn’t deserve your time and energy. Having a meeting or event scheduled keeps you ontrack and productive. You'll dedicate a specific amount of time to a specific activity. It also prevents conflicts from arising in your schedule; you won’t take that conference call at noon because you know you have a lunch meeting.

Long-term planning is essential for a business owner or entrepreneur but putting everything on your calendar can be time-consuming and stressful. Do you really need to plan out every single hour of your day for the next week, month or year?  Will you ultimately be happier and more productive if everything is written down? Some research finds that if you are too confined and stressed by an "every minute" schedule  you may find your sweet spot with a "rough schedule."

Related: Why Scheduling Beats Hustling Every Time

What is rough scheduling?

Gabriela Tonietto, a professor of marketing at Rutgers University, and Selin Malkoc, a professor of marketing of Ohio State University discovered that when a leisure activity is planned, it’s less enjoyable than if it had taken place spontaneously.

“It becomes a part of our to-do list,” Malkoc told The Washington Post. “As an outcome, they [the activity] becomes less enjoyable.” Additionally, in the constant quest to improve productivity, we over-schedule activities. If we lineup every minute with an event, it means we’re doing more and enjoying less.

“When scheduled, leisure tasks feel less free-flowing and more forced -- which is what robs them of their utility,” explains Malkoc. To back this claim up, Malkoc and Tonietto analyzed 13 studies. In one, 163 college students were asked to grab yogurt with a friend. One group was asked to plan the outing two days prior and place it in their calendars. The other group was told that the meetup wasn’t planned. They bumped into a friend and decided to get yogurt on the spot. Later, those who scheduled getting yogurt said that they found it to be more like work. When the activity wasn’t planned, the experience was more satisfying.

“As trivial as the change might seem, it has an important effect on human psychology: It reintroduces the flexibility to the leisure tasks,” adds Malkoc.

Of course, you can’t always live life on a whim. You still need to plan things out but you don't need such a regimented calendar app. If you always "fly by the seat of your pants," you’ll never get anything accomplished. That’s when “rough scheduling” comes into play. The idea is that you don’t have to set all your plans in stone.

For example, you could ask your business partner or a friend if they want to get dinner tomorrow. You don’t need to pin them down for an exact time. “If things don’t work out, in all likelihood at least one of the parties was forcing themselves to make it happen -- and thus would enjoy it less. So, maybe things worked out for the best, right?” adds Malkoc.

Related: 5 Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Schedule Their Day

Why over-scheduling doesn’t work.

Rough scheduling is a remedy to time famine -- which is starving for more time to do everything we need to do. “This feeling of time scarcity is linked to many undesirable outcomes, from insomnia to worsening physical health to stingy wallets,” writes Malkoc. As a consequence, you begin to:

  • Hate the things that you used to enjoy.
  • Miss out on quality time with the most important people in your life.
  • Reduce the number of opportunities that may come your way.
  • Suffer from stress-related health issues.
  • Miss out on the little things in life.
  • Not be able to take a break and catch your breath.

People who schedule fewer tasks get more done. The reason? It forces you to prioritize what’s most important. This, "knowing what is most important" varies from person to person. For an entrepreneur, the activities that are helping you achieve your goals and putting money back into the business is the most important. Tasks that are tedious or unimportant need to be delegated, automated or scrapped.

Related: The First Step to Achieving Work-Life Balance? Stop Calling It That

Scheduling back-to-back items in your calendar doesn’t account for the unexpected -- and there will always be the unexpected. In a perfect world, you would be able to stick to your calendar. But, emergencies will always pop up. If your calendar is packed too tightly, you won’t have the flexibility to handle a crisis without completely trashing your calendar for the foreseeable future.

Everyone needs to have some blank space in their calendar. Having flexibility is particularly true for entrepreneurs who need quiet times to reflect, think, process information, or just do nothing. That may sound too good to be true. But, wasting time the right way can help you become more productive.

Related: Why People Who Schedule Fewer Tasks Get More Done

Achieving a happier life balance.

Whether it’s through rough scheduling or leaving blank spaces in your calendar, this isn’t an easy concept for most of us to understand. We have a lot of things to do and only so much time to get them done. If you want to be happier and more productive -- then you need to find that balance.

How you can start adding flexibility to your calendar:

  • Go with the flow. If you were to get a massage before you met up with friends, the massage would be less enjoyable. The massage will be less enjoyable because you’re more focused on what you’re doing afterward. Don’t let the future steal you away from the present. Sometimes you need to allow things to unfold organically and roll with it.
  • Say “yes” to less.” This statement is Time Management 101. Instead of accepting every invite or request for help, be more selective so that you’re not spreading yourself too thin. The easiest way to do this is by only saying “yes” to the things that excite you or that serve a purpose.
  • Set one priority for every weekday evening. Laura Vanderkam suggests that you ask, "What would I like to accomplish today that's meaningful and enjoyable for the people I care about in this block of time and me?" But, don’t schedule it. Have an idea on what you want to do outside of work.
  • Space deadlines evenly. “Deadlines that are evenly spaced increase performance relative to less staggered ones,” write Malkoc and Tonietto. “For example, students with three evenly spaced deadlines throughout the semester obtained higher grades than those with all three deadlines at the end of the semester."
  • Add buffers. Schedule free time between tasks and meetings so that you can take a break. It also avoids hard stops because of time restrictions. Providing yourself with a little wiggle room also prevents you from running late to meetings, like if you got stuck in traffic.
  • Become more present. Mindfulness is all about focusing on what’s going on at this very second. Proven methods are meditation and yoga. But, this could be anything that encourages you to think in the now, such as reading, exercising, doing a simple task like organizing your workspace, or calling a friend.

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