Finding Time

April 8, 2014

My father was a university professor, music scholar, and choral conductor, and very active in all three careers. He had an office at home where he worked on manuscripts and corrected papers. He loved his work, and had a lot of it. But as a child, every time I went to knock on his door, whether it was because I needed something or just wanted to tell him the latest juicy bit of five-year-old’s news, he never once said, “I’m busy!” or “Can this wait?” or even “Just a minute.”

He would drop whatever he was doing and give me his full attention.

It still amazes me how he was able to do this. He always seemed to have time. But where did he find it?

For years I have struggled with the feeling of not having enough time. What some might call a “poverty mentality,” not in relation to having enough money but to having enough time. I think I’m starting to understand how my father did it.

There’s even some fascinating science behind it.

A few years ago, some researchers approached a few dozen complete strangers on the street with envelopes containing a little cash, either $5 or $20. The subjects were instructed to spend their little windfall by the end of the day. There was a catch, though: half were told they had to spend the cash on themselves; the other half were instructed to spend it on someone else.

Interviewing the people after all the money was spent, the researchers found that one group derived far more happiness from their little spending spree than the other. Can you guess which one? Of course you can.

The people who got more joy from their money were those who spent it on others.

So what does this have to do with time? Bear with me.

In another study, researchers had one group of subjects spend a certain amount of time on others, while two other groups spent the same amount of time either on themselves or just wasting it doing nothing much. The results? The first group, those who spent their time on others, came away with an increase in what the researchers called their sense of “time affluence.” (The study is titled, “Giving time gives you time.”)

Don’t you love that? Time affluence.

That’s what my father had. Even though he was always very busy, he was time-wealthy. He always had time to spare.

It’s taken me years to figure this out, but I eventually realized that it is when I feel the most pressed, most under the gun, most up against what feels like an impossible deadline, that I most need to take a big breath and stop thinking like a time pauper.

When I’m feeling pressed, instead of struggling to cram three hours of work into the next twenty minutes, I’ll put my work down, go find Ana, and take those twenty minutes to see if there’s something I can do to make her day just a little easier.

By giving a little time away, I’m making myself more time affluent. When I then go back to my work, I’m in a much better place to use what time I have far more effectively. Net result: by giving time, I get more time.

As an Indian proverb says, “They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.”

Have you ever felt impatient and found yourself muttering, “Hurry up — I haven’t got all the time in the world.”

But what if you do?


  1. James

    This is a very important truth and cannot be over-valued. Thanks so much for putting it out there!

    • jdmann

      Muchas gracias, James ~ great to see you here again! Knowing you’re watching over my shoulder keeps my writing honest!

  2. Mary G

    Timely words for me. Thank you. I’ve known of abundant thinking in terms of material resources but never in terms of time. How often I have asked my children to wait, to hurry up, to leave me alone. I will turn my attention now to time affluence and work on giving generously.

    • jdmann

      Ah, Mary, thank you! Writing a thought like this, it’s easy to imagine people reading it and saying, “Duh, everyone knows that.” Hearing you say you’d never thought of it that way is gratifying enough. But hearing you say it clicks for you and may add to your life? For a writer, it doesn’t get any better than that!

  3. Mary Silva

    Wow! Thanks, John.
    Time Affluence… I just love this! I’m thinking this could have been the 6th law of SS!
    I remember in my early years in direct sales… it was not surprising that during my most successful, goal achieving months, I always felt relaxed and stress-free, that I hardly worked and had all the time in world for others! On the other hand, when I was having a difficult month in business and had an empty calendar, I felt overworked…. and it was like I didn’t have enough hours in the day.
    Here’s to great, time affluent parents like your dad. (and mine!)
    Here’s to giving more time to others.
    Kind regards.

  4. jdmann

    Some of you have written asking me about those two studies. I didn’t include the citations in the post, as blog posts aren’t the idea format for footnotes … but if you’re interested, here they are!

    Elizabeth W. Dunn, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness,” Science (March 21, 2008) vol. 319, no. 5870, 1687–1688. Dunn and Norton are also coauthors of the fascinating book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013).

    Cassie Mogilner, Zoë Chance, Michael I. Norton, “Giving Time Gives You Time,” Psychological Science (October 2012) vol. 23, no. 10, 1233–1238.


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