The authors of a research study investigating different ways to spend time have suggested a counterintuitive solution to the problem of not enough time: Give some of it away.
The researchers from Yale School of Management and Harvard Business School note that while “the objective amount of time people have cannot be increased (there are only 24 hours in a day), the research demonstrates that people’s subjective sense of time affluence can be increased”.
The research team compared spending time on other people with “wasting time” (completing a time filler task), spending time on yourself, and being given “extra” time (asked to complete a task which was then shorter than expected). The consistent finding was that spending time on other people gave the research participants the perception of having more time. They reported that they felt less time pressure after doing the “spending time on others” exercise.
The researchers suggest that helping others increases self-efficacy (feeling more capable), “I can accomplish more within a given amount of time”, as well as a sense of interpersonal connection, meaning and enjoyment. An increased experience of positive emotion (connection, meaning, enjoyment) also fits with other research that shows we are more likely to see more options and hold the big picture when we are experiencing more positive emotion.
We think this is a finding worth experimenting with. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed and that you just don’t have enough time, try doing something to help or connect with someone else. Does it help you feel less constrained by time and more able to hold on to the big picture?
Mogilner, C., Chance, Z. & Norton, M.I. (2012). Giving Time Gives You Time
Psychological Science, Online First, doi:10.1177/0956797612442551