July 27, 2018

The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dali

Imagine you have a meeting in 30 minutes. Are you more likely to spend that half hour A) catching up on email and the news or B) getting a start on that report you’ve been putting off? If you answered A, you’re not alone. It turns out that people aren’t very productive in the time before a scheduled activity. We talked with Rutgers Business School professor Gabriela Tonietto about why free time feels diminished when we have an upcoming task.

Three Takeaways:

  • Simply being aware of a commitment makes it seem closer than it actually is. This makes us underestimate how much we can get done in the interim. As a result, we tend to work on small, less daunting tasks, even if we have time to complete larger ones. 
  • Even when Tonietto’s team paid participants to spend 45 minutes of a free hour on a survey, people who had an activity scheduled at the end of the hour opted to fill out a 30-minute survey that was less lucrative. 
  • To counteract this tendency, Tonietto suggests putting commitments back-to-back so you have larger blocks of free time. If you do have an activity coming up, break down important tasks into meaningful subtasks. You’re more likely to start and complete smaller tasks and feel accomplished as a result.

More Reading: 

Meetings, Business, Scheduling, Gabriela Tonietto

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