Study: Being busy can ruin your workday

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

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.”

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