Sunday, November 6, 2016

Should you fill out your calendar in great detail? Experimental evidence

My instinct has been that you should only put things in the calendar that absolutely have to go there. Another point of view says you should fill the calendar with tasks and use your calendar as the to do list. The question is, who’s right? There’s some very interesting research done by three psychologists nearly 35 years ago. They split students into control groups and these various groups got different advice. Students who were advised to plan in detail, day by day -- the psychologists thought that would work best.

But in fact that was catastrophic. Students got very discouraged very quickly. What seemed to be happening is you block out your day, and then a friend comes for coffee. The washing machine breaks down. An unexpected phone call just gets in the way, and you’re immediately running behind. So now what do you do? These students became very discouraged and they stopped working. Their study time was way down.

On the other hand, the students who were told to just set out their goals for the month did way better. I think that speaks to the idea that you need that degree of flexibility. It’s fine to have a goal in mind, but the moment I start blocking out particular bits of time, the whole thing doesn’t survive contact with reality and people get very disheartened.
--Tim Harford, Washington Post, on the value of schedules with give