Turns Out Making Plans Can Actually Ruin Your Weekend

We spend our week days hanging out for the weekend. But when it comes, we often dread the fun activity we eagerly scheduled a few days earlier. “I have to get lunch with a friend,” we tell ourselves, inexplicably making it sound more like a chore than an enjoyable activity. The reason? It’s got a lot to do with how we make plans, apparently.

Selin Malkoc, assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State University explained this phenomenon in a column on The Conversation. Across 13 different studies, Malkoc found that “the simple act of scheduling makes otherwise fun tasks feel more like work [and] decreases how much we enjoy them.”

Strict scheduling is at odds with how we think about leisure and relaxation. “Structured time is associated with work activities,” says Malkoc, and she’s not wrong. In an average work day we spend a chunk of time scheduling in order to organise our lives, whether that be phone calls, appointments and meetings. So then why would we want to turn an exciting thing you have to do into a thing you have to do?

For real, though.

To test this, Malkoc and her team asked participants to imagine grabbing a coffee with a friend. Half of the participants imagined that they planned this gathering a few days in advance and put it on their calendar. The other half we told that they decided to grab a coffee on a whim. The results? The act of getting coffee (a seemingly innocuous and relaxing activity) became associated with work-like qualities, with participants using words like “obligation” and “effortful”.

Another study saw them set up a pop-up cafe on a uni campus during exam time. Malkoc and her team began handing out two different tickets to passing students. One ticket asked participants to choose and schedule a time for them to take a study break and enjoy free treats from the cafe. The other ticket simply told them that the cafe would only be open during a two-hour window. Again, the results proved that when a strict time was involved (as opposed to a general window), the activity seemed less appealing and more like a task to complete.

So how did making plans (even fun plans) become such a drag? Malkoc thinks it’s about how scheduling fundamentally works: for scheduling, at its core, is about allocating time to activities, giving them both a beginning and end point. But structured time like this is often associated with unconstrained freedom (i.e. work). Meetings have start and end points and there’s always set deadlines to adhere to.

A solution Malkoc suggests is to try “rough scheduling”. Relaxing your scheduling is proven to keep things fun and exciting. So instead of organising every single detail, keep things as flexible as possible. Instead of picking a restaurant, naming the time and setting out how your Friday evening will progress, keep it casual and spontaneous. Maybe you’ll meet at the movies, maybe not! Maybe you’ll go out for dinner at this place, maybe not! Who cares! As long as you have the intention, you’ll have fun.

That’s the spirit!

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

Rebecca Russo is a freelance writer, editor, community radio dabbler, occasional hiker and celebrity autobiography enthusiast. She has written for online publications including Junkee, AWOL, Fashion Journal and Tone Deaf. Find her online here.