Feeling Short on Time? The Problem Might Be Your Calendar

Vidhya Nagarajan

The feeling that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it is called “time famine.” It’s so ubiquitous that researchers at Ohio State University sought to find out what’s causing it. They discovered one surprising culprit: your calendar.


Turns out, when we have appointments, we subconsciously pad our schedule with “just in case” time. Researchers asked a group of people to imagine a friend was coming over in an hour and asked them how much time they had to play with beforehand. Forty minutes, they said, which means they built in 20 minutes of dead time. That explains why, prior to a work meeting, you sit at your desk checking Facebook or fantasy scores. “We’re prone to overestimating how much time we need to build into our calendars,” says study author Selin Malkoc, a professor of marketing. Getting rid of that extra wasted time may mean the difference between going to work on Saturday versus kicking back in front of the game. Here’s how to do it.


Bunch meetings together.

Preferably at the beginning of the day. Get out of the habit of scheduling stuff on the hour, especially short sessions. Block out swaths of uninterrupted time to get in the zone and tackle big tasks.

Ditch fixed appointments.

Obviously, making a time to meet with the muckety-mucks is inflexible. But with peers, agree to huddle during a window of time (maybe between 10 a.m. and noon), then grab colleagues on the fly, so you can go seamlessly from one confab to the next.

Reexamine your family calendar.

It’s hard enough to control your own schedule; wrangling your kids’ lives is even harder. You probably build in “get out the door” time to locate instruments/cleats/group snacks. Make a plan to use that time when it arises. Keep a running list of things to do when you have spare minutes: call your mom, send emails, pay bills.

It’s your schedule to break.

Date books can feel like a vice grip on personal freedom. Give yourself permission to move appointments—or cancel everything on tap for one day to focus on catching up.

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