Study: Being busy can ruin your workday

Do a little less in your day if you want to do a little more.

Study: Being busy can ruin your workday
Pixabay user: ZPhotoo, Creative Commons

A pretty cool study came out recently that yielded the interesting fact that doing less can actually increase your productivity. 


Basically, you stretch yourself too thin, and the work as a whole suffers. Sure, you might be doing 59 different things in a day, but you'll have a tendency to make more mistakes and not be able to focus. 

How does this actually work? You do what the study itself calls "contracting time.": 

Consumers often organize their time by scheduling various tasks, but also leave some time unaccounted. The authors examine whether ending an interval of unaccounted time with an upcoming task systematically alters how this time is perceived and consumed. Eight studies conducted both in the lab and field show that bounded intervals of time (e.g., an hour before a scheduled meeting) feel prospectively shorter than unbounded intervals of time (e.g., an hour with nothing scheduled subsequently).

Over the course of two years, researchers from the Olin School of Business, the Fisher College of Business, and the Washington University of St Louis conducted 8 wide-ranging tests. One of the tests, I think, is especially fascinating: 158 college students were put in 2 groups, one told that they had "about five minutes to do whatever you want" before an implied appointment and the other told that they had exactly five minutes. Interestingly, those who were not under the clock performed 2.38 tasks to the hurried group's 1.86 tasks. The mere suggestion of time constraints can result in less actually getting done. 

One of the researchers, Professor Stephen Nowlis, doesn't suggest that you use study this as a means to slack off. On the contrary, he suggests using your time wisely: 

“If you have some big tasks, too many scheduled things will affect your productivity. A lot of scheduling is fine for shorter tasks. So find the environment that works for you.”

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

‘Time is elastic’: Why time passes faster atop a mountain than at sea level

The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
  • This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
  • Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Keep reading Show less

Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

Keep reading Show less

Universe works like a cosmological neural network, argues new paper

Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.

Synapses in space.

Credit: sakkmesterke
Surprising Science
  • Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
  • The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
  • The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Keep reading Show less

We studied what happens when guys add their cats to their dating app profiles

43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture.

Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships

If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.

Keep reading Show less
Coronavirus

Quarantine rule breakers in 17th-century Italy partied all night – and some clergy condemned the feasting

17th-century outbreaks of plague in Italy reveal both tensions between religious and public health authorities.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast