Stop categorizing.
High angle view photo of a young woman relaxing while floating in the ocean using swimming tube beach vacation
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The worst part of a vacation is that it has to end.

Everyone gets that feeling of mild panic on their last day before returning to work where they ask themselves, “Where did my vacation go?”

Turns out, how long or short your vacation – or any positive experience – feels has a lot to do with how you think. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that categorizing experiences can make them feel shorter. This might be a good thing to do during a stressful work week, but not on your already-too-short vacation.

“Consumers do not just focus on individual experiences. Instead, they categorize and manage experiences... For positive experiences, consumers are reluctant to eliminate categories, while the opposite is true for negative experiences because eliminating categories makes it feel like more of the experience has passed,” write authors Anuj K. Shah (University of Chicago Booth School of Business) and Adam L. Alter (New York University).

For example, say you’re on a vacation in London and you have four activities planned. You’re going to the British Museum and a play on the West End, and you’ve also got tickets to Wimbledon and a local football match. Separating these activities into two categories as “arts” and “sports” will actually make your vacation feel shorter.

Instead, interspersing the activities, like seeing the play and the football match one day and the museum and Wimbledon on another, would extend the positive experience.

“A day at an amusement park might seem less fleeting if rides and games are interspersed so that guests can still look forward to both rides and games,” the authors conclude.

On the other hand, if you have a less than pleasant experience, like a root canal, if the dentist breaks down the procedure into two phases, the procedure will seem quicker.

This theory seems to coincide largely with another by Marc Wittmann, a psychologist and the author of "Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time,” who says that you can make your vacation seem longer by seeking out memorable, new experiences – and by not planning so much.

So if you want to really get the most out of your next vacation, remember to stay in the moment.