Why You Should Never Schedule Fun, According To This Study

What you probably knew was that it's very important to have a routine — without some form of regulated flow or schedule, it's likely that nothing would get done. What you probably didn't know, however, is that you shouldn't schedule your miscellaneous leisure time — or in other words, you shouldn't schedule fun. New research shows that if you plan the activities you intend to use for relaxation, such as going to the park, meeting for drinks, and so on, it actually detracts from your ability to feel pleasure.

To condense the research into one short sentiment, it's that fun should be fun, something that feels spontaneous and as though you are deviating from the norm. If it's scheduled, it becomes a "must" rather than a "want." If you're already wondering how that could possibly work out realistically, or whether or not it's healthy to just get up and have "fun" whenever you please, you're not alone. The reason people don't have more fun is simply that they think it's irresponsible to — but the fact of the matter is that it's healthy as long as you're keeping up with your other responsibilities.

The study in question was conducted by Gabriela Tonietto, a doctoral candidate at Olin Business School in Washington University, St. Louis, as well as Selin Malkoc, the school's associate professor of marketing. They conducted a series of studies to gauge how assigning times and dates to otherwise relaxing pursuits changes how we experience in them. For example, they evaluated students' emotional responses when they were just given free cookies and when they were told that they could pick up free cookies between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Unsurprisingly, students who had to "plan" their break enjoyed it a lot less.

The results are to be published in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Marketing Research . The authors suggest that while spontaneity is crucial to mental and emotional health, there needs to be a balance. Don't throw your planner in the garbage, but figure out how to level out the time you spend actively engaged in scheduled, routine duties and responsibilities, and how much time you leave "open," to do whatever you want to in that moment.

"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," Tonietto wrote in her study. "We find that the detriment of scheduling leisure stems from how structured that time feels... 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.”

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