You've got half an hour until your next meeting, what do you do: make the most of the time by starting work towards a big project, or answer some emails and make a cup of tea?
Truth is, you're more likely to choose the latter — at least that's according to new research by Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business in the U.S.
Researchers found, in a series of eight tests, that time seems shorter to people when it comes immediately before a scheduled task or appointment. Therefore when we have a meeting booked in our diary, we're inclined to do less work and fill the time prior to the meeting with minor tasks, rather than knuckle down and complete something productive.
[READ MORE: 5 Ways To Shake Up Painfully Dull Meetings]
"We seem to take a mental tax out of our time right before an appointment," said Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study. "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."
In one of the eight tests, researchers asked participants to provide their schedules for the next day, highlighting when any scheduled tasks on their calendar would begin and how much time they would need before each task to prepare. Participants were then offered the opportunity to take part in either a 30-minute or a 45-minute study on that day — the 30-minute study paid $2.50 [~R30], while the 45-minute study paid twice as much, $5 [~R60].
Some participants had their study scheduled during blocks of free time, while others' were scheduled an hour before they had to start getting ready for another appointment. Even though the latter group had plenty of time to finish the 45-minute study before their next appointment, they were significantly more likely to choose the 30-minute study instead of the 45-minute version.
According to Malkoc, the findings suggest that looming tasks on our calendar make us less productive. "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 jam-packed with meetings, it can feel like we have accomplished little. One solution, Malkoc 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. "We seem to overestimate the things that might happen to take up our time, so we don't get things done," she said.
Considering meetings have such a big impact on our day, you'll want to make the actual talks as productive as possible. Experts have suggested having clearly defined objectives, walking meetings and meeting with motivational pizza can help shake up meetings that are painfully dull.