Grad school will test your time management skills. You won’t be able to graduate without successfully scheduling and completing events. But did you know that your preference for planning your day can have long-lasting implications on your psychological well-being?

Scheduling Style: Clock-Timers vs. Event-Timers

Are you the kind of person who wakes up when you feel like waking up? Or do you wake up when your alarm tells you to wake up? If you’re working on a manuscript, do you stop when you’re satisfactorily finished, or do you stop because your time is up? People who prefer to schedule events around the clock use what time it is to determine when events start and stop (Sellier & Avnet, 2014). If the clock says that it’s time to go home, they will cut short activity even if it’s not complete. In contrast, people who prefer to schedule events around the events themselves will begin a task only when the previous task is complete. They will go home when whatever they’re working on is done and they’re happy with it. You’ve probably noticed that certain cultures seem to adhere to one style versus another. Researchers have also documented this effect, finding that Europeans and Americans are more clock-timers, whereas Latin-American cultures are more event-timers (Levine, 1997).

Scheduling Style and Personal Control

Scheduling style affects more than just day planning. It can also influence how you interpret cause-and-effect relationships. This concept is called locus of control, and it can be either external or internal. You can either feel like things just happen to you because of fate or chance (external), or you can feel like you had a part in your circumstances (internal). Researchers found that clock-timers express higher external locus of control than event-timers, and event-timers express higher internal locus of control than clock-timers (Sellier & Avnet, 2014). So if your advisor pushes back your graduation date (again), you will interpret this situation very differently depending on your scheduling style. If you’re on clock-time, you may feel like your fate is in the hands of your advisor, and there’s nothing that you can do. In contrast, event-timers will feel like the situation was the result of their own doing and will work to resolve the problem so that everyone is happy (or at least minimally unhappy).



Scheduling Style and Well-Being

The story of scheduling style and control doesn’t just stop there. Scheduling style can also influence your overall well-being because of personal control. If you have an internal locus of control, you will feel more empowered to change your well-being than if you have an external locus of control. So how can you actively improve your well-being? One option is to focus on the positive and savor positive emotions like a delicious dessert. Savoring positive emotions involves remembering or anticipating positive events, celebrating positive events with others, and outward expressions of joy and happiness. Previous research has found that savoring positive emotions is strongly linked with psychological well-being (Quoidbach, Berry, Hansenne, & Mikolajczak, 2010).

Given the connections between control and well-being, it makes sense that scheduling style also influences savoring positive emotions. In one experiment, event-timers reported enjoying playing a card game more than clock-timers. Event-timers were also more likely to remember how much they enjoyed playing the game after it was over than clock-timers (Sellier & Avnet, 2014). Therefore, compared to watching the clock, when you plan your day around the order of tasks, you will feel more responsible for events that happen to you. As a result, you will be more likely to focus on the positives in life and work toward improving your well-being.

Admittedly, it’s hard to work on event time when you’re in grad school. You’ve got appointments, classes, teaching assignments, and lab meetings. Still, there’s something to be said about planning your day based upon completing one task at a time. So now that you know the research behind scheduling style, how will you plan your day today?


Levine, R. (1997). A geography of time: The temporal misadventures of a social psychologist, or how every culture keeps time just a little bit differently. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Quoidbach, J., Berry, E., Hansenne, M., & Mikolajczak, M. (2010). Positive emotion regulation and well-being: Comparing the impact of eight savoring and dampening strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 368–373. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.048
Sellier, A.-L., & Avnet, T. (2014). So what if the clock strikes? Scheduling style, control, and well-being.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, 791–808. doi: 10.1037/a0038051


Image used with permission by frikota via iStockphoto .


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