Reduce “Time Famine” By Doing for Others

Feeling “starved for time,” with “too much to do and too little time to do it”? University of Michigan’s Leslie Perlow identified the subjective experience “time famine” among software engineers, whose productivity was reduced based on frequent interruptions by others, a pervasive “crisis mentality,” rewards linked to “individual heroics.”

Cassie Moligner

Cassie Moligner

One counterintuitive remedy for “time famine” is giving time by helping other people.
This use of time increased feelings of “time affluence” in a study by Wharton’s Cassie MolignerZoë Chance of Yaleand Harvard’s Michael I. Norton.

Ernst Pöppel

Ernst Pöppel

Volunteers judged that they “did a lot with their time,” and had more available time when they helped others.
Mogilner and colleagues analyzed people’s elementary time experiences,” described by Ernst Pöppel of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.

Francis Wade

Francis Wade

As Francis Wade of 2Time Labs pointed out, people cannot increase actual chronological time, but individual time experiences can vary based on physiological state, emotion, and context.

Moligner’s team compared people’s perceptions of time abundance when they:

  • Did something for someone else by writing an encouraging note to a gravely ill child or helping an at-risk student by editing his or her research essay for 15 minutes,
  • Spent 10 minutes doing something “for yourself that you weren’t already planning to do today,”
  • Spent 30 minutes doing something for someone else “that you weren’t already planning to do today,”
  • “Wasted” time on a low-meaning task by counting the letter “e” in multiple pages of Latin text,
  • Gained unexpected “free” time when they learned that “all essays had been edited,” so they could leave early.

Spending time on others seemed to “expand the future” and increase the perceived amount of available time, compared with spending time on oneself or “finding” free time.
In fact, people who unexpectedly gained fifteen minutes actually spent less time on a later required task than those who invested time helping another person.
This suggests that spending time pro-socially may increase one’s future work efforts, whereas finding free time may diminish work motivation.

Michael DeDonno

Michael DeDonno

Perceived time pressure undermined learning performance more than actual time constraints on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), found Florida Atlantic University’s Michael DeDonno and Heath Demaree of Case Western.

The team told more than 80 volunteers that time available for the task was “insufficient,” whereas they advised another group of more than 80 people that they had “sufficient” time to complete the task.
The time available to both groups was identical and adequate to complete the IGT, which asks participants to select from four decks of cards to win as much “money” as possible.

Heath Demaree

Heath Demaree

Two of the decks yield higher payoffs or “positive utility” whereas the remaining two decks render less favorable winnings, offering “negative utility.”
To win, participant learn which decks offer the greatest payoff in the shortest time for 100 trials.

Each group of more than 80 volunteers was separated into two sub-groups given different amounts of time between card selections to consider the task, while the total time available remained the same.

People who thought they had insufficient time for the task achieved lower payoff than volunteers who believed they had enough time.
Since both groups had the same amount of time, the performance difference was attributed to their beliefs about time constraints, suggesting the importance of focusing on the task rather than on potential time limits.

Steven J. Karau

Steven J. Karau

Actual time constraints affected both group interactions and task performance in a planning task evaluated by Southern Illinois University’s Steven J Karau and Janice R Kelly of Purdue.

They asked 36 groups of three volunteers to complete a planning task while group interactions were videotaped and coded using the Time-by-Event-by-Member Pattern Observation (TEMPO) system, developed by Texas Tech’s Gail Clark Futoran, Janice Kelly of Purdue, and University of Illinois’s Joseph McGrath.

Gail Clark Futoran

Gail Clark Futoran

Twelve of the groups had inadequate time, whereas another twelve groups had optimal time for task completion, and the final twelve groups has more than enough time.

Group performance was evaluated based on:

  • Length,
  • Originality,
  • Creativity,
  • Adequacy,
  • Issue Involvement,
  • Presentation quality,
  • Optimism,
  • Action orientation.

The groups that had greater time constraints actually focused less on the task than groups with more time, supporting Karau and Kelly’s recommendation to maintain task focus when performance time is limited to optimize performance.

Janice Kelly

Janice Kelly

Time constraints differentially affected each performance evaluation, and one way to mitigate the impact of time constraints is to shift focus from perceived time scarcity and stress to attend to the task.

-*How do you maintain task focus when perceiving time pressure?

-*To what extent does investing time in other people give you the sense of greater “time abundance”?

Follow-share-like and @kathrynwelds


Twitter  @kathrynwelds
Blog – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary
LinkedIn Open Group Psychology in Human Resources (Organisational Psychology)
Facebook Notes

©Kathryn Welds


2 thoughts on “Reduce “Time Famine” By Doing for Others

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Francis Wade wrote:
    Thanks so much for the mention Kathryn.

    Also, I have a huge library of academic time mgt materials. Are you open to ideas for topics?
    For example, I have original research that states that women are better time managers than men. For each idea I could sketch out the underlying hypothesis and send data that supports and/ or denies it.
    Tx and LMK!

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks, Francis, for your willingness to share your original research. You are very welcome as a Guest Guru Blogger!

  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Francis Wade wrote:
    I love the opportunity to contribute to your blog – I enjoy it SO much.

    I’ll do my best to come up with good stuff – but I’m also fine not being a “Guest Guru” each time, and just feeding you ideas / sources / content… because your online voice is so sure, steady and trusted.

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks so much for your kind words, Francis, and look forward to the latest surprising findings from 2Time Labs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s