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Like to Plan in Advance? Here is How to Plan to Be Happy

How your schedule impacts your mood

A busy life does not need to be a stressful life, if you plan well. Easier said than done, you might think. If you want to revamp your schedule to give it a shot, however, research is on your side.

Living Hour to Hour

You no doubt know someone who lives by the clock. (Yourself?) Up at 6:00 on the dot, in the gym by 7:00. Lunch at noon, coffee break at 3:00, leave work at 5:00 sharp. Errands and childcare routines are planned and executed at the same time every day, often based on pre-planned assessments of traffic, parking, and other practical circumstances. To an individual whose schedule is rigid and reliable, predictability is priceless.

Impulsivity is a foreign and uncomfortable concept to someone who lives this type of structured life. This is not the type of person for whom you would plan a surprise party or spontaneous weekend in Las Vegas. Not going to happen.

Going With the Flow

On the other end of the spectrum is the individual who prefers to go with the flow. Breakfast is whenever he or she gets hungry, as is lunch and dinner. However, this type of person is not a slacker. Often productively employed, responsibilities are viewed as projects to be completed, as opposed to assignments that are “due” at certain times. While deadlines are preferably fluid, however, someone with an achievement-based orientation might stay at work well past “quitting time” until a project is completed.

This person is uncomfortable with the imposition of strict deadlines or time constraints—in any context. Perhaps this is not your best choice of a movie date if your goal is to arrive in time to see the previews of coming attractions, particularly if he or she is scheduled to be engaged in another task right beforehand—that may or may not be completed in time.

Both types of schedulers are productive members of society, both professionally and personally. But here is the question: who is happier? Considering both types of schedules, which sounds more stressful and anxiety provoking to you? If you chose the rigid, time-based schedule, your selection is corroborated by research.

When the Clock Strikes: A Question of Control

Sellier and Avnet in a study called “So What if the Clock Strikes?” (2014) examined the impact of scheduling style on well-being and control.[i] They examined two distinct scheduling styles: event-time and clock-time. Event-time involved scheduling tasks based on the order in which they are to be completed, and clock-time involved a schedule that is based strictly on time. They found that adopting one style over another impacted individual perception of the world.

Specifically, they found that people who follow clock-time view the world as controlled through fate or chance, whereas event-time schedulers are more likely to attribute circumstances to their own actions.

These distinctions produced significant variances in mood. Sellier and Avnet explain that due to the difference in internal locus of control, people following clock-time were less able to savor positive emotions.

This is a significant finding for busy people, particularly those for whom their daily routine does not naturally provide a sense of pleasure. For people like this, any amount of happiness during the day makes things easier. So how does this work?

Clock-Time v. Event-Time Orientation

Sellier and Avnet explain how different people have different orientations. They note that clock-time indicates an emphasis on efficiency; event-time emphasizes effectiveness. Each orientation appears to produce a different view of the world.

Their research suggests that perhaps people operating within a clock-time framework view the world as a series of separate events that can be scheduled independently, where those with an event-time orientation view life as a series of linked events that flow together in an orderly manner. Regarding the link to well being, they found that relying on a clock instead of internal feelings about when to engage in activities compromises the cultivation of positive emotions.

Going Off the Clock

Of course, there is a compromise position for those who must adhere to a timetable during the course of their day. After all, we cannot just waltz into work when we feel like it, arrive late to pick up our children from daycare, or blow off a doctor´s appointment because we are not done mowing the lawn. Yet in an attempt to maximize happiness, there may in fact be time periods we can leave unstructured, particularly on weekends or other periods of time we are not required to be formally on the clock.

Even the recognition that we might have become a slave to our schedule may itself provide some perspective allowing us to consider whether we really have to run that errand by 2:00 pm on Saturday, or whether we can simply leave it for later, when we are done enjoying quality time with our loved ones.


[i]Anne-Laure Sellier and Tamar Avnet, ”So Waht If the Clock Strikes? Scheduling Style, Control, and Well-Being,” Journal of Peronality and Social Psychology 107, no. 5, 2014, 791-808.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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