Schedule Less, Enjoy More

I'm not a planner.  Now it looks like I'm right.

A new study has found that scheduling takes the fun out of things.  Vacations.  Parties. 

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 new research from Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis suggests it is best to ditch that to-do list when it comes to having fun.

Research has shown that assigning a specific date and time for leisure can have the opposite intended effect, making it feel much like a chore. Additionally, researchers found that both the anticipation of the leisure activity and enjoyment from it decreased once it was scheduled.

“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,” Gabriela Tonietto, a doctoral candidate in marketing, says at

I kind of agree.

Of course, my life is often very haphazard and not planning has led to problems over the years, like often forgetting to pack my son a lunch or remember a close friend's birthday.   (It would be hard to forget my family's; my husband's June 3, I'm June 2 and my son's June 8.)

 But there's a way around this. Researchers suggest that thoroughly scheduled leisure activities (on a certain day but with no set time, for example) can ensure that leisure is included in a day but still keeps some spontaneity, making it feel less like work.

“We find that the detriment of scheduling leisure stems from how structured that time feels,” Tonietto 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."

She points out that, by reducing the structure of the plans, this rough scheduling does not lead leisure to feel more work-like and thus does not reduce enjoyment.

I've always believed in serendipity -- you know, where things just happen.  A friend planned a singles' weekend away in the Catskills for us many years ago and I went along because I had nothing better to do.  And that's where I met my husband (I'm from Connecticut, he was from Long Island -- we would never have met, if not for that).  I wasn't planning it.  But it happened.  And, for the most part, it's been the best (unplanned) thing that's ever happened to me.

Of course, planning is important.  I get that.  I would hate it if my son thought he didn't have to plan out time for his homework, or get dressed in enough time  for the bus in the morning.  (He does, just barely.) I'm tired of driving him.

A host of past research has shown that scheduling and planning is important in getting things done,” says Selin Malkoc, associate professor of marketing at Olin Business School, another team member. “This work mostly examined non-leisure tasks, such as getting a flu shot. In our work, we find that this is also true for leisure tasks — that is, scheduling indeed increases our chances of engaging in them. But, on the flip side, we tend to enjoy it less."


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