A series of studies has shown that scheduling a simple, fun event like seeing a movie or grabbing a cup of coffee led people to enjoy these events less than if they just left them unplanned.
“People associate schedules with work. We want our leisure time to be free-flowing,” said Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and assistant professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
The research team’s results are published in the Journal of Marketing Research.
In one study, participants were given calendars filled with theoretical school activities and social activities, then they were asked to imagine that these were their actual schedules for the week.
Half of the participants were then asked to make plans to get frozen yogurt with a friend two days in advance and add the activity to their calendars. The other half imagined running into a friend and deciding to get frozen yogurt immediately.
Results showed that those who scheduled getting frozen yogurt with their friend rated the activity as feeling more like a “commitment” and “chore” than those who imagined the impromptu get-together.
“Scheduling our fun activities leads them to take on qualities of work,” Malkoc said.
One study showed that even just setting a starting time for a fun activity is enough to make it less enjoyable. And the effect is not just for hypothetical activities.
In an online study, the researchers had people select an entertaining YouTube video to watch. The catch was that some got to watch their chosen video immediately. Others chose a specific date and time to watch the video and put in on their calendars.
Results showed that those who watched the scheduled video enjoyed it less than those who watched it immediately.
“People don’t want to put time restrictions of any kind on otherwise free-flowing leisure activities,” she said.
The good news for calendar fans out there? This doesn’t mean you can’t plan at all.
The research showed that roughly planning an event, but not giving a specific time, led to similar levels of enjoyment as unplanned events.
So the next time you want to get together with a friend or check out a new art gallery, aim to meet “this afternoon” rather than exactly at 1 p.m. Odds are good the event will be enjoyed more if it’s left off the calendar.