3 science-backed ways to "earn" more time

Time can't be created, but to maximize the free time you have, outsource household tasks, keep things flexible, and volunteer.

A man lying on grass
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Time is a constant here on Earth — we can only go forward. We have the same 24 hours everyone else has, so it’s vital to maximize the time to do the things that matter most, whether that’s spending time with family, traveling the world, learning new things, or building your own business.

Researchers have shown there are ways to “earn” more time, creating more hours to do the work you want, or making it so you at least feel that you have more time. Here are three ways, each supported by a study, that will help you “earn” more time.

Also read: This research-backed mindset around time will make you happier

3. Buy more time

This one seems really obvious, and that’s because it is! If you have the means, pay someone to do the tasks you don’t want to, including cooking, cleaning, or mowing the lawn. Not only will this get you out of doing chores, but it’ll lead to greater life satisfaction, according to the study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School.

“People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re being lazy,” said lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School. “But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money.”

Both a survey and a small experiment were conducted to support the researchers’ thesis. In the experiment, 60 adults were randomly assigned to spend $40 on a time-saving purchase one weekend, then $40 on a material purchase another weekend. The researchers found that their subjects felt happier when they spent money on the time-saving purchase. This effect could be found across the income spectrum.

“Lots of research has shown that people benefit from buying their way into pleasant experiences,” said UBC psychology professor and senior author Elizabeth Dunn, “but our research suggests people should also consider buying their way out of unpleasant experiences.”

Be a little more spontaneous with your leisure time.

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2. Keep your free time flexible

Since leisure time feels like it’s becoming increasingly rare, it can be tempting to plan it down to the minute. But research conducted by Olin Business School at Washington University shows why it’s better to keep things flexible. The results of 13 studies conducted by Gabriela Tonietto, a doctoral candidate in marketing, and Selin Malkoc, associate professor of marketing at Olin Business School, showed that assigning a specific date and time for leisure can have the opposite intended effect.

“Scheduling can make these otherwise fun tasks feel more like work and decrease how much we enjoy them,” Tonietto said.

The researchers suggest that activities should be roughly scheduled, say on a certain day but with no set time, so that flexibility is baked in.

“It really is a balancing act, and it comes down to knowing what you will gain and lose when you schedule fun activities,” Tonietto said.

1. Give your time

In a twist, this study conducted by Harvard found that volunteering your time may actually increase your sense of “unhurried leisure.”

“Across four different experiments, researchers found that people’s subjective sense of having time, called ‘time affluence,’ can be increased: compared with wasting time, spending time on oneself, and even gaining a windfall of ‘free’ time, spending time on others increased participants’ feelings of time affluence,” according to press release on the study.

The researchers conclude that “giving time makes people more willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.”

Abstract: Results of four experiments reveal a counterintuitive solution to the common problem of feeling that one does not have enough time: Give some of it away. Although the objective amount of time people have cannot be increased (there are only 24 hours in a day), this research demonstrates that people’s subjective sense of time affluence can be increased. We compared spending time on other people with wasting time, spending time on oneself, and even gaining a windfall of “free” time, and we found that spending time on others increases one’s feeling of time affluence. The impact of giving time on feelings of time affluence is driven by a boosted sense of self-efficacy. Consequently, giving time makes people more willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.
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