Experts have a calendar scheduling strategy to make even the busiest person happier

millennials friendsVivien Killilea/Getty Images for Henri Bendel

  • If you schedule a time and place for every single leisure activity, you risk missing out on the happiness associated with spontaneity and flexibility.
  • That's according to social scientists, who say "rough scheduling" works better. For example, you might say you'll meet a friend for drinks sometime after work instead of at 7 p.m.
  • And if the plans fall apart? Maybe you didn't want them in the first place.

At a party the other day, I witnessed a scene that all-too-perfectly typified the #millennial #overscheduled lifestyle.

It began when one friend said to the other that they had to get together sometime.

The other friend agreed.

The first friend insisted that they find a time right then and there, since they'd been trying to get together for months now and hadn't.

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The two friends stood there for 15 minutes, scrolling through their calendar apps; one would offer up a date and the other would be busy; then the tables would turn. At some point, I got bored and walked away.

I imagine this interaction will be familiar to most readers, who know that putting a time and place on the calendar is pretty much the only way to ensure that you see even your closest friends.

So what to make, then, of research suggesting that unscheduled activities make us happier than pre-scheduled ones?

According to a paper published 2016 in the Journal of Marketing Research and cited in The Washington Post, leisure activities that are "roughly scheduled" are more enjoyable. Rough scheduling means you say you'll grab drinks after work tomorrow, as opposed to saying you'll meet up at 7 p.m.

"As trivial as the change might seem, it has an important effect on human psychology: It reintroduces the flexibility to the leisure tasks," Selin A. Malkoc, a co-author on the paper, told The Post.

If rough scheduling a dinner date doesn't work out, maybe you didn't want to get together in the first place

Rough scheduling might apply to personal priorities as well. Time-management expert Laura Vanderkam previously told Business Insider that it's important to set one goal for each weekday evening, so you don't waste your precious free time. But the best strategy might be to say you'll read a chapter of a novel, or call a friend, or knit the sleeve of a sweater, at some point tonight.

Read more: A counterintuitive change to your daily schedule can make you feel happier and less busy

Another, somewhat counterintuitive, approach is to schedule unscheduled time, a la happiness expert Gretchen Rubin. "If we put an activity on the calendar, we're much more likely to do, and in this way, make it into a habit," Rubin writes in a blog post - even if that activity is doing nothing.

My favorite takeaway from this research is that if you rough-schedule a get-together and it doesn't work out, maybe one (or both) of you didn't want to be there in the first place, as Malkoc told The Post.

You can also couple this laissez-faire approach to scheduling with a more deliberate mindset.

Duke University psychologist Dan Ariely has said that you can free up some time in your schedule by imagining how you'd feel if an (optional) event were canceled. "If you feel elation, you don't want to do it. You're doing it out of obligation or discomfort with saying no."

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