Everyone is pressed for time. But new research shows that spending your time to help others may be one of the best ways to increase productivity.
The analysis comes from professors at the Wharton School, Yale University and Harvard Business School. In fact, the study is so new that the PDF we acquired appears to be a pre-press copy on its way to publication!
Here’s the conclusion from Cassie Mogilner, Zoe Chance, and Michael Norton:
Although feeling starved for time generally leads individuals to prioritize spare hours for themselves over giving this precious resource away, our results suggest that if people instead spent time on others, they would feel less time constrained and more able to complete their myriad tasks and responsibilities.
At first glance, this does not make sense. Shouldn’t spending available time on our own work help us to feel less stressed?
In order to understand what’s going on, it makes sense to dig a little deeper into the research in this field. Psychologists are extremely interested in how people perceive time. For example, you may have found yourself in a conversation in the past where one person says: “We have plenty of time!” and another says “We don’t have much time at all!”
It is possible to conduct experiments that use these types of statements to measure individual reactions to different activities. The research doesn’t actually change time. If you have a week to go before the deadline, then no matter how you decide to spend the days ahead the total amount of time available will not really change.
So what should you do if you’re feeling pressed for time? Generally speaking, we here at Slaughter Development have a problem with deadlines. Certainly, though, one option is to ask for an extension. But most people probably agree with an old saying known as Parkinson’s Law:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
In fact, the study reports the that people who unexpectedly get more time don’t necessary feel less stressed or more productive. Instead, it’s the individuals who have the chance to give away some of their time that have a stronger sense of their own available free time.
So what should you do? The last sentence in the paper explains clearly:
When individuals feel time-constrained, they should become more generous with their time – despite their inclination to be less so.
It may seem odd that using up the time we have would actually increase our effectiveness, but research supports this claim. It may be easier to think of it this way: when you’re feeling short on time, you probably don’t feel great about yourself or your work. But if you’ve just spent time helping someone else, your own self-concept will be much higher. As a result, you’re likely to be more productive, more efficient and more effective overall.
Try it yourself! Volunteer. Give back. Help a friend or a colleague. Escape the time crunch by paradoxically giving some of your time away.