Get More Done by Doing Something for Someone Else

Your to-do list is a mile long, you’re deep into time-triage mode, and there’s just no way you can feel more productive. Sound familiar? There actually is one way: do something selfless.

American researchers found that spending a few hours on something altruistic made people feel like they had more time left in their day. The study’s authors divided their subjects into three groups: people who would spend time on themselves, people who would spend time doing not much in particular (we’d pick arguing about the Leafs at a bar), and people who would spend time doing something for someone else. The actual activities could be whatever the subjects wanted. Some volunteered in a soup kitchen. Others did chores for their families.

Subjects in the third group found that, more than other subjects, they felt they had more time in the rest of their day. The study’s authors said this had to do with “self-efficacy”, or “that (rare) feeling of being able to accomplish all that we set out to do”.

Not having enough time to get all we want done stresses us out. We’re never going to have more time, so maybe it’s enough that giving a friend a ride to an airport or helping clean up the local park reduces our to-do list stress.