The One Thing That Can Ruin Your Productivity During Work, According To Science

Yes, there are always those afternoons that come at work when you realize that for some reason, you seem to have gotten next to nothing done, even though you've been busy or have things planned for the whole dang day. But you might be surprised at what makes you unproductive at work, because it doesn't mean you're being a slacker. It happens to be the time you spend anticipating all that stuff you have scheduled.

Yes, a study published Journal of Consumer Research done at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business found that that time legit seems shorter to us leading up to a task or appointment scheduled for later in the day.

As Science Direct reported, Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study, said; "We seem to take a mental tax out of our time right before an appointment. We figure something might come up, we might need some extra time, even when there's no need to do that. As a result, we do less with the available time."

OK, so now everything I know is officially a lie. Setting meetings can actually make you less productive? It sounds crazy, but the science behind it actually makes a lot of sense.

The study, which was done online, included 198 people. Malkoc and her team told some of the participants to imagine they had a friend coming over in an hour, but that there was no preparation needed to be done for the visit — they were all ready for it.

The other group of participants were told to imagine that they had no plans for the evening at all. All participants were then asked how many minutes that they objectively had to spend reading during the next hour of their imagined evenings, and also how many minutes they felt, subjectively, they could spend reading for that hour.

As reported in Science Direct, Malkoc said that the participants said they objectively had around 50 minutes for reading, whether or not they had a friend coming by.

That's an amazing finding right there. Most people didn't think even objectively they had a full hour to read. People are putting a little 'just-in-case' time into their schedules when there is no real reason to do that.

Now, when the participants were asked how much time they felt they had to read (what the researchers called the "subjective" measurement), those who were asked to imagine a visit from a friend coming felt that they only had 40 minutes to read.

In the next part of the study, researchers asked participants online to give their actual schedules for the next day.

Participants explained when their scheduled tasks or appointments would begin, as well as the amount of time they might need before that particular task for preparation. Then, these participants were offered to take part in a study for either 30 or 45 minutes on that day. While the 30-minute study would pay $2.50, the 45-minute study paid $5.

For some of the participants, the study was to be scheduled one hour before they said they had to start getting ready for their next appointment on their schedules, while the other portion of participants were not scheduled around the time of another appointment.

What did researchers find?

Even though there was plenty of time to finish the 45-minute study, the participants who had something coming up in their schedules in an hour were much less likely to choose the 45-minute study.

So yeah, even money couldn't stop people from giving themselves plenty of time before their next task.

And if that's not enough to prove how people seem to be way more productive if they have nothing slated on their schedules, consider yet another part to this study, which enlisted 158 college student volunteers.

First off, a researcher told the participants that they had a little extra time before they started their experiment. Some participants were reminded that they had a task coming up soon, by saying they would begin the study in five minutes, but were told they could do whatever they wanted to do during that time.Others were simply told they could do whatever they wanted for five minutes.

When the participants were asked to report on what they did during that time (like check email or send a text, for example) those who were not reminded about the pending study and were only told they could do whatever they wanted, ended up doing more during that time than those who did not.

Basically, "looming tasks" made it feel like we didn't have as much time to do things. Kinda crazy, right?

Well, so, what do we do about all this time we eat up waiting to do things?

I reached out to counselor David Bennett for further clarification as to why this may be the case and how you can avoid mentally checking out before a scheduled appointment. Bennett suggests that simply realizing your relationship to getting things done has a lot to do with your perception.

"The study differentiated between 'subjective time' and actual time," Bennett pointed out. "The issue wasn’t that people didn’t really have enough time; they just perceived that they didn’t. One way to alleviate this might be to put the tasks you want to get done during the time leading up to a scheduled activity into a minute-by-minute schedule."

This may begin to help you see the tasks in a more objective and realistic way, and less subjectively and inaccurately, which is what our brains seem to do naturally, Bennett says.