You've got an hour before your next commitment. What do you do? If you're most people, it's not very much — and we have an idea why.
Researchers at Ohio State University have been looking into why we tend to waste time before a meeting, rather than using it productively. There's nothing objectively different about the hour before a meeting, after all. It turns out our brains don't tend to think so. Rather than see that block of time for what it is, we mentally "take a tax out of our time," according to study co-author Selin Malkoc.
"We figure something might come up, we might need some extra time, even when there's no need to do that," she said in a press release. "As a result, we do less with the available time."
Not only did participants in eight separate studies show this tendency in the abstract, but they did so even when a financial reward was involved. When scheduled against another appointment, participants chose to complete a 30-minute task to earn $2.50 rather than a 45-minute task for $5.
There may be other reasons this assumption manifests itself at work and in our daily lives. Interruptions can make us lose up to 23 minutes getting back on task, which can make the time before an appointment seem like not enough. We also lose track of time on social media, self-interrupting; over the course of a lifetime, this can add up to five and a half years of mindless browsing.
Malkoc suggests grouping your meetings together, if possible, leaving a longer stretch of uninterrupted time for you to organize. "We feel that if we have a meeting in two hours, we shouldn't work on any big projects. So we may spend time just answering emails or doing things that aren't as productive."