The notion that watching TV has to come after homework has been drilled into us since the early days, as has dessert after dinner and opening the present after reading the card. But Professor Ed O’Brien from Chicago Booth School of Business says we should reconsider:
“Our findings suggest we may be over-worrying and over-working for future rewards that could be just as pleasurable in the present,” he says.
To gather these findings, the professor conducted three social experiments. One (our favourite) saw researchers build a makeshift day spa in their laboratory and invite students to attend either before or after their midterm exams.
“Students could choose to come during the weeks right after their stressful midterm exam period or during the weeks right before midterms began. (We had essentially the same number of students show up at both time periods, and they were of similar age, gender, etc.) They predicted their enjoyment before visiting and rated their experience afterward.
“We found that while the students who visited the spa before midterms predicted that the experience would be less enjoyable due to looming midterms exams, they actually enjoyed themselves just as much as those who visited the spa after midterms. The intuition was again mistaken.”
So, next time you feel like procrastinating uni work with some Game of Thrones, don’t stress.
“Among other benefits, leisure improves our work,” Professor O’Brien says.
“If people intuitively put leisure last — there’s always more work to do — they may fail to take advantage of such leisure opportunities and end up feeling burned out or dissatisfied at work. We may keep postponing doing something fun for 'the right time,' only to realise that it never seems to come.”