Can giving away your time get you more time?

Can giving away your time get you more time?

Summary: Does giving your time away really make you feel as if you have more time for yourself? Could being more charitable with our time be the secret to being more productive at work?


The research on time conducted by Cassie Mogilner, of University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, suggests that, “spending time helping others leaves people feeling as if they have more time, not less.

Mogilner assigned subjects to assist another person, while instructing  another group of subjects to "do something else." In one study, a group wasted time by counting the letter 'e' in a Latin text; in a second study the subjects did something for themselves, and in a third the subjects simply left the lab early.

In each experiment the subjects who were helpful toward others, either writing a letter to a child or grading a paper for a child at risk, felt as though they had more time than the subjects who did noting or wasted time.

There are several aspects of giving time away, with regard to application in the enterprise, that are interesting from a technology perspective.   

The first activity or task to come to mind for me was mentoring. Many of us in technology are tasked with mentoring junior resources, as part of our job descriptions. Mentoring may include reviewing a resume (a neat tie to the researcher's work of grading a paper), advising on possible training, or simply chatting with a mentee about their possible career paths.

Any of these activities ought to leave the mentor feeling that they had more time, not less. And they ought to create a reinforcement system, where, given positive reinforcement, we as mentors seek out more mentoring opportunities. So, as a mentor, we feel we have more time, we feel good about ourselves, and seek out more such opportunities.

Sadly, while I feel good about helping someone moving up the ranks, I have not had the experience of feeling like there was more time in the day. Has this been your experience, or am I alone in this?

Another area that came readily to mind for me was creating intellectual capital for an organization. In this regard, I am thinking of white-papers, or technical architectures that would be shared internally and would help the organization move forward.

I have created a good deal of this over the years but I did not get a sense that I was gaining time as a result of the work. However, this may be because I was not directly helping someone, as in Mogliner's research.

Along these lines, I would not expect that creating Wikipedia entriesor  writing some code as part of an Open Source project would give someone the sense that they were gaining time -- as they are not directly assisting another person.

Mogliner's experiments focused on tasks such as writing notes to sick children, or editing a high risk child's essay -- tasks that do not map directly to creating a driver for Linux, for example.  Mentoring, or activities which directly 'give back' to individuals in your organization, should leave you feeling 'time rich'.  

Objectively, they had less time”, admits Mogliner, as time is a finite thing. Though people who give time feel, “more capable, confident, and useful”.

She noted that her subjects felt as if they had accomplished more and had more to give.  Mogliner also noted that you need not spend hours at this helping need only spend 10 minutes to get the full effect.

Lastly, she and her cohorts found that simply thinking about the present, rather than the future, was sufficient to make her subjects feel less hurried. She attributes this to the slowing of the “perceived passage of time”.

Let's conduct an experiment, shall we. I challenge you to help someone today. Just for 10-15 minutes and reply back by way of comment and let me know if you:

A: Feel that you had more time after helping someone.
B. Did not feel that you had more time after helping someone.

Topic: CXO

Gery Menegaz

About Gery Menegaz

Gery Menegaz is a Chief Architect for IBM with more than 20 years supporting technologies in the financial, medical, pharmaceutical, insurance, legal and education sectors. My Full-Time Employer is IBM. I write as a freelancer for ZDNet.

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  • Periods of ultra-productivity

    ... do seem to slow my internal clock. If I believe the task is highly beneficial (ie. non-profit work), then time will appear to compress even further. Mentoring would also fall into this later category, yet can get out of hand without proper scheduling or failure to set specific boundaries. A constant stream of requests causing you to stop/start would ultimately kill your own productivity and create a sense of apparent day lengthening.
    Tired Tech
    • Managing Requests

      Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, that last comment is the real danger. The key is to know how much you can and can not handle. I think. You have to be able to say, No to some folks.
  • What About Writing Blog Posts?

    Did writing this post achieve anything for you, or did it just take up even more of your valuable time?
    • Blogging...

      Thank you for your question.


      I have resorted to writing from airports, which is tough, but it is taking up a good deal of time.
  • The universe is approximately 13.5 billion years old.

    It will hopefully last another 13.5 billion years. My span of existence, by comparison, wouldn't even register on a calendar of the life of the universe. Anything that uses some of my time, uses some of my time. I use it up, it's gone, no matter what I'm doing. This does not mean I do not/will not help others - my job is helping others, and it always uses up time.
    • Time

      Thank you for using your time to read and comment on my writing. Much appreciated.