Work Before Fun? That Might Not Always Be Best

Research suggests people should rethink the idea that they’ll enjoy leisure activities more if they get all their work out of the way first

Work first, play later. That’s the conventional wisdom that promises to make people more productive at work and allow them to enjoy their fun stress-free.

The truth may be very different.

So says social psychologist Ed O’Brien in a recent paper published in the journal Psychological Science on the balance between leisure and work.

“People have this strong intuition that the good stuff will be better if it comes after these difficult things,” says Dr. O’Brien, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. But instead, he says, “cashing in now feels just as good. What they’re missing is that they could have it any time and good stuff will be good, regardless.”

If people understand that, it may mean not only more freedom in how they manage their lives but also greater productivity. “If I first have fun, I’m now in a good mood, more relaxed, I have energy, and work may seem easier,” says Dr. O’Brien, citing numerous other studies that establish a link between a positive mood and productivity....more