Why Upcoming Appointments Can Make People Less Productive

“People also seem to get more done when they don’t have a scheduled task hanging over their heads” is perhaps the most significant part of this research. It turns out that many people can be more productive when given more autonomy.

In a series of eight studies, both in the lab and real life, researchers found that free time seems shorter to people when it comes before a task or appointment on their calendar.

“We seem to take a mental tax out of our time right before an appointment,” said Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and associate professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

“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.”

The study appears online in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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In an online study of 198 people, Malkoc and her colleagues asked some participants to imagine they had a friend coming over to visit in one hour and “you are all ready for your friend to come by.” The others were told that they had no plans for the evening.

All participants were asked how many minutes “objectively” they could spend reading during the next hour and how many minutes they “subjectively” felt like they could spend reading during that same hour.

“Regardless of whether they had a friend coming by or not, participants said that they objectively had about 50 minutes available to read,” Malkoc said.

People also seem to get more done when they don’t have a scheduled task hanging over their heads, the researchers found.

In a study of 158 college students, a researcher told participants when they arrived at the lab that study sessions were running faster than expected so she wanted to wait to see if more participants arrived.

Some participants were reminded that they had a task coming up soon: They were told “they had about five minutes before we could get started. You can do whatever you want before we will get started.”

Others weren’t reminded about their upcoming task and were simply told “they had about five minutes to do whatever you want.”

After the time had passed, all participants wrote down what they did during the five-minute interval. The students indicated they did things like sending a text message, checking email and visiting social media sites.

But those who weren’t reminded they had an upcoming task performed more activities (an average of 2.38) than those who were told they had a task soon (an average of 1.86).

“You don’t feel like you can get as much done when you have a task coming up soon. The time seems shorter,” Malkoc said.

These findings suggest that looming tasks on our calendar make us less productive, according to Malkoc.

“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,” she said.

That may explain why, on days when we have meetings spread throughout, we feel like we have accomplished little. The problem is that we aren’t maximizing the time in between those meetings, she said.

One solution, she said, is to try to stack all your meetings together. That way, you have longer, uninterrupted times when you feel you can tackle the bigger projects on your agenda.

It is also good to remind yourself of how much time you really do have available.

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Using Different Phone Notification Settings for Stress Reduction and Productivity Increases

An alternate approach than what’s usually used now. This is enough of a problem today to be worth posting about.

After you feel a buzz in your pocket or see a flash on your phone, your attention is already fractured.

You could pick up your phone and see if what’s called you away is something you really need to address immediately – or you could try and focus on your work, all the while wondering what you’re missing out on.

Since it can take close to 25 minutes to get back on track after a distraction, according to researchers who study productivity, this is obviously a recipe for a distracted day where not much gets done.

Fortunately, we are learning better ways to handle smartphone notifications, according to research being conducted at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, which was presented by senior behavioural researcher Nick Fitz at a recent American Psychological Association conference.

The research was conducted in collaboration with the startup Synapse, which is incubated at the Center.

Fitz and collaborators have found that batching notifications into sets that study participants receive three times a day makes them happier, less stressed, feeling more productive, and more in control.

Tax Cuts and Growth Revisited

If the U.S. economy does now have a year of GDP growth considerably higher than what it was in the past decade, it will probably lead into some political lies of the future related to tax cuts and growth. If government officials actually care about better economic growth, they’ll implement policies that invest in technological advancements and employment programs that increase capacity utilization. This growth should then go to the general public instead of the minor faction of the population that’s already wealthy.

The Democrats were virtually unanimous in opposition to the tax cuts that Republicans pushed through Congress last year. They had good cause. The overwhelming majority of the tax cuts go to the richest 1 percent of the population, the same group that has gotten the bulk of the gains from economic growth over the last four decades. For those who don’t think making the rich richer is an important priority of government, the tax cuts were a really bad idea.

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While there is little reason to believe that the tax cuts would lead to the sort of boost in growth claimed by proponents, it is actually very plausible that GDP growth could average 3 percent over the next decade.

There are two factors that determine GDP growth: the rate of growth of the labor force and the rate of growth of productivity. The rate of labor force growth is almost certain to be slower going forward simply because the massive baby boom cohort will be retiring over the next decade.

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This matters hugely because there is some reason to believe that productivity is picking up for reasons having nothing to do with the tax cut. Productivity growth averaged 2.1 percent in the second and third quarter of last year. It then fell slightly in the fourth quarter due to quirks in the data, specifically a surge in the number of people reported as self-employed. But with early reports indicating first quarter GDP growth will be well over 3 percent, we are likely to see another quarter of strong productivity growth.

While this uptick cannot be plausibly explained by the tax cut, there is an alternative explanation: It may simply be the result of a tighter labor market. The tighter labor market has led to increased wage growth at the bottom end of the pay ladder.

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This all matters from a political standpoint because it would be unfortunate if the Republicans were to get credit for a pickup in growth which has nothing to do with them. Some of us did try to warn of this possibility last year, but the leading Democratic economists were not interested in our assessment.

Just to repeat what we said then, it is very possible that we will see something like the 3 percent GDP growth promised by the Republicans, but not because we gave more money to rich people. Because so many denied this possibility, Democratic economists may end up helping to convince people that giving money to the rich is the key to a strong economy.

Economic Policy Institute Head Steps Down

Working with Jared Bernstein, Larry Mishel is the originator of the famous graph that shows the split between productivity and wages. Mishel is also notable for helping some important and good economists early in their careers. He’s therefore one of the people I am willing to give a tribute to on this site.

WHEN LAWRENCE MISHEL came to Washington during the height of the Reagan revolution, the options for a young leftist economist looking to make a difference were nearly non-existent.

“The liberal position was represented by the Brookings Institution,” Mishel told The Intercept, “which at the time was very free trade uber alles, hostile to industrial policy, not interested in workers and unions. The debate was between Brookings on the left, and [the American Enterprise Institute] and the Heritage Foundation on the right.”

And then there was the Economic Policy Institute, a new think tank designed to fill the ideological gap and shift America’s economic debate to the left. In 1987, Mishel joined EPI as a research director, later becoming vice president and eventually president in 2002. As his thirtieth year at EPI winds down, Mishel gets to see the Democratic Party finally move closer to the positions the think tank has always had. Now, he is stepping aside.

“The hallmark has been to center that an economy is only working if it’s working for the benefit of the vast majority,” Mishel said. “We hammered that every day.”

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From the beginning, EPI elevated the daily struggle of those on the economy’s margins. Starting in 1988, Mishel and colleagues produced a biennial report, The State of Working America, with comprehensive data on wages, incomes, jobs, and wealth. The reports found a discordant trend in the economy: wage stagnation amid increasing productivity. Prior to the late 1970s, these two measures followed one another: as workers produced more goods, they made more money. When that changed, others made excuses for this bifurcation while EPI insisted that conscious policy choices shortchanged workers and funneled the gains to the very top, as evidenced by rising CEO compensation and the erosion of living wages. In other words, EPI argued, natural forces didn’t lead workers to their plight — those in power pushed them there.

If these themes of rising income inequality sound familiar today, they were practically a foreign concept at the outset. In 1994, Mishel and Jared Bernstein created a now-famous chart showing the split between productivity and the median hourly wage.

productivity

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Much of EPI’s work under Mishel served to reject pernicious myths about the economy, hardened into perceived wisdom by self-interested forces. EPI’s research found that social and economic disadvantage, not failing teachers or schools, depressed student achievement. It refuted that high school graduation rates were collapsing, an alternative fact used to push vouchers or charter schools. It proved that automation played little role in inequality. It laughed off the idea that CEOs were paid nearly 300 times more than the average worker based on a competitive race for talent.

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As Mishel steps aside, he believes America needs a broad set of policies to rebuild worker power, things like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, empowering union organizing, ending worker misclassification in the “gig economy” to deny benefits and overtime pay, preventing arbitration agreements that limit worker options in a dispute, and banning non-compete clauses that stop workers from moving to similarly situated employers. These moves to strengthen worker bargaining power, collectively and individually, cut a path to robust wage growth for the 99 percent. “It will take bold proposals,” Mishel said. “If not, we won’t have a vibrant middle class, or a democracy.”

Mishel’s mission in 30 years at EPI was not only to identify the economy’s problems, but to demonstrate how to fix it. And he consistently brought complex insights down to a level of popular understanding, striving to reach the ordinary worker rather than the academy. The way he talked about the economy mirrored who he fought for. A garrulous man with a shock of white hair, Mishel cherishes that EPI has become a fixture in Washington, and that the poles of the economic debate have finally trended in his direction.