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How to Feel More Time-Rich

Life for a PD professional tends to be busy – there are always lots of ‘to do’ items packed into every day. With time so scarce, it’s easy to become stingy with it. Some interesting research in the September 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review offers a fresh suggestion for how to feel more time-rich. The finding? Spending time helping others leaves you feeling like you have more time, even when objectively, you have less. According to researcher Cassie Mogilner of Wharton, giving your time to others can make you feel more “time-affluent” and less time constrained than spending time on yourself.

The explanation? People who give time feel more capable, confident and useful. They feel they’ve accomplished something significant, and this self-efficacy makes time feel more expansive. So what qualifies? According to Mogilner, anything that entails spending time for the sake of someone else, so for example, grabbing lunch for a colleague, editing someone else’s work, baking treats for the office, etc. Mogilner says that even though you actually have less time because you did something for someone else, you feel less time pressured because helping others makes you feel like you can do more with your day. And the magic number? Mogilner says as little as 10 minutes spent helping someone else will do it.

It’s an interesting hypothesis so I decided to test it. Last weekend I stopped at Toys r Us and picked up some preschooler toys for a colleague down the hall – a lawyer my firm shares spaces with. Why? Her clients occasionally bring their very teary, very irritable children to her office, and everyone else in the space, including me, can hear them. I keep a small stash of toys in my office for precisely this reason but slowly, month by month, my supply has been whittled down to a few grungy leftover crayons that even the most disgruntled child doesn’t want. So I thought, hey, get this lady some shiny new toys to call her own. Now, I know there will be cynics who argue this act doesn’t qualify ie. I did it for me, not her. However, at the time, I 100% really thought I did it for her. Did it make me feel less time pressured that day? Hard to say. It was, after all, a weekend and my kids like going to Toys r Us anyway. That having been said, the next time someone starts to cry down the hall and then quickly quiets at the sight of Mr. Potato Head, I’m sure I’ll feel it was time well spent.

Which brings me to similar research by a colleague of Mogilner’s in relation to money. Apparently, people feel richer when they give money away. I can’t wait to be in a position to test that hypothesis in a meaningful way.

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