Do persons who spend an hour switching from task to task feel happier than the ones who spend this hour focused only on a single task? Similarly, would you enjoy more a Saturday spent bouncing between shopping, preparing dinner, playing with the kids or a Saturday dedicated exclusively to playing with your kids? In brief, does the variety of one’s actions affect his or her happiness?
To be able to have an answer for this question, a series of experiments has been conducted among a broad range of participants who were asked to work on a variety of activities. And the degree of their happiness was measured by combining their answers to these two questions: How happy do you feel right now? And how satisfied do you feel right now?
The results were unexpected. More variety only made people happier for sufficiently long periods such as over a day, a week or a month, whereas over shorter periods such as 10 minutes or an hour, more varied activities made people less happy.
One experiment conducted on college students, asked one group to spend an hour working on materials from a variety of classes and asked another group to work on materials from one class. At the end of the hour, happiness and productivity of these persons were measured. It appeared that the students who spent the hour on materials from a variety of classes felt less productive than the ones who spent the hour on materials from only one class, and this resulted in them feeling less happy.
Another experiment also asked students to perform a series of activities with several types of candies for 15 minutes. One group conducted a variety of tasks with the candies, while the other group did the same task across the candies. At the end of the 15 minutes, the students who did the same task felt more productive, thus happier, than the students who spent the time on a variety of tasks.
Does spending shorter time intervals on more varied activities make people less happy? It is all about productivity. People assess productivity in how they spend their time. According to a research done by UNC University, people who switched between a variety of tasks in a short time period are less productive than the ones who do a similar set of activities over that same period. Bouncing between activities exhausts cognitive resources, takes up memory space, thus making people feel stressed, and limits their ability at the task they are currently performing. Shorter time periods do not offer a sufficient occasion to pay off for these costs. Thus, rising the variety among the activities that fill these shorter time periods reduces happiness by making that time feel less productive.
So, how should people plan their time in order to feel happier and more productive? They should start by scheduling more varied activities in their days, weeks and months and remove variety from their hours and minutes. If activities cannot be changed, they should focus on the characteristics that minimize the variety.