Tag Archives: Michael I. Norton.

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”?

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Concrete Helping Acts Increase “Helpers High” Happiness more than Abstract Goals

Melanie Rudd

Melanie Rudd

People experience greater happiness when they perform specific “prosocial” actions, like trying to make someone smile, rather than pursuing an abstract objective like “trying to make someone happy,” according to University of Houston’s Melanie Rudd, Jennifer Aaker of Stanford and Harvard’s Michael I. Norton.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Fifty volunteers were asked to “make someone happy,” or to “make someone smile,” in exchange for a gift card.
When they completed the task, participants described how they accomplished their assignment, and the degree of happiness they experienced.

Michael Norton

Michael Norton

Participants who completed the specific goal, “getting someone to smile,” reported greater happiness than those who worked toward the more abstract, “higher construal level” goal of “making someone happy” – no matter which action they performed to achieve the goal.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Specific goals have a “low construal level”, according to Construal Level Theory (CLT), discussed by NYU’s Yaacov Trope and Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University.
CLT distinguishes concrete, specific, contextualized, and personal actions from more abstract, distant options based on future time, remote space, social distance, and hypothetical probability.
Team Rudd’s findings demonstrate the emotional impact associated with completing specific prosocial tasks.

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

Rudd and team posited that concrete goals reduce the gap between expected and actual impact of one’s actions, and increase goal clarity, measurability, and achievability while setting more realistic outcome expectations.
The team evaluated this speculation by asking participants to rate the degree of similarity between the actual outcome and their expectations before they performed the specific or general task.
Those who performed the more specific action also reported greater similarity between expectations and actual outcomes, as well as experiencing more happiness as a result of their prosocial actions.

Edwin Locke

Edwin Locke

Abstractly-framed goals focus on “why”, broader meaning, and larger purpose, whereas concretely-stated objectives target the “how, found University of Maryland’s Edwin Locke and Gary Latham of University of Toronto.

Gary Latham

Gary Latham

Similarly, smaller expectation-reality gaps were linked to greater satisfaction, happiness, and well-being in research by University of Leiden’s Riël Vermunt and Herman Steensma. 

Riël Vermunt

Riël Vermunt

Rudd’s group replicated Vermunt and Steensma’s findings, for people had a previous friendship or no previous relationship with the beneficiary, and when the prosocial acts varied in magnitude.

Herman Steensma

Herman Steensma

Participants experienced similar degrees of happiness in performing small or large kind deeds, as long as thee specified actions like “increasing recycling of unneeded materials” instead of “supporting environmental sustainability.”

Volunteers were consistently inaccurate in predicting which charitable acts would make them feel most happy 24 hours after they completed the task.

Gal Zauberman

Gal Zauberman

Participants predicted that performing the abstract, “high construal level” task of “making someone happy” would make them happier than the specific task of “trying to make someone smile” – but they actually experienced greater happiness after they did a specific good deed.
Likewise, Wharton’s Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch of Duke also found that volunteers had inaccurate expectations about future outcomes.

Anyone who has been disappointed when ambitious goals to help others did not result in the desired outcome understands the problems of “donor fatigue” or “helper burnout,” when there is a significant discrepancy between helper expectation and actual outcome.

Carolyn Schwartz

Carolyn Schwartz

This anecdotal experience is confirmed by University of Massachusetts Medical School’s University of Massachusetts’s Carolyn Schwarz, Yunsheng Ma, and George Reed, with Janice Bell Meisenhelder of Emmanuel College, who found that discrepancies between expectations and outcomes are linked to giver unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Allan Luks

Allan Luks

Rudd and team’s research suggests that much-needed helpers can experience a Helper’s High instead of “helper burnout” when their goals are concretely defined.
Helper’s High is even associated with improved physical health in addition to happiness, according to Fordham University’s Allan Luks.

Helping others is also associated with higher levels of mental health, found Schwartz’s group, although they found less relationship with physical health than Luks.

William Harbaugh

William Harbaugh

The Helper’s High has a physiological basis: “Pleasure centers of the brain” are activated when people make voluntary charitable donations as well as after receiving money for oneself, and even more than when individuals agree to a tax-like transfers to a charity, reported University of Oregon’s William T. Harbaugh and Ulrich Mayr, with Daniel R. Burghart of NYU.

Individuals can increase their experience of happiness by engaging in specific kind acts toward others, and philanthropic organizations can increase volunteer retention by framing requests as concrete, “low construal level” actions.

-*To what extent do specific prosocial actions increase your personal happiness?

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