How Giving Can Make You More Productive at Work

Research shows “productive giving” can help you work better, feel fulfilled in your role, and be more effective with your time.

RedPixel / Shutterstock
RedPixel / Shutterstock

It’s meaningful for both you and others to make time for acts of generosity, but carving out that time can feel stressful when it gets in the way of your work. What most people fail to realize is that if it’s done in the right way, giving back to others can actually make you more productive at work, and can help you more effectively manage your time.

“Effective givers recognize that every ‘no’ frees you up to say yes when it matters most,” Adam Grant, Ph.D., organizational psychologist and author of Give and Take writes in Harvard Business Review. “After all, it’s hard to support others when you’re so overloaded that you’ve hit a wall.” Grant explains that selflessness can be rewarding, but if you don’t manage it properly, you can risk reaching “generosity burnout.” 

Perhaps you aren’t able to structure your day to day around large acts of generosity, but research shows there are ways to give regularly without getting anywhere near generosity burnout. It’s called “productive giving,” Grant explains, and it’s all about incorporating generosity into your daily life in a way that energizes you, instead of prompting burnout. Here are a few ways to get started.

Block out designated giving time

When you constantly feel that you have to juggle your regular workload with acts of selflessness, that balance can begin to feel like a burden  and Grant says blocking out “giving time” can help relieve you of the stress. “Chunk your giving into dedicated days or blocks of time rather than sprinkling it throughout the week,” he suggests. “You’ll be more effective  and more focused.”

Find a giving support system

Grant says giving in a way that’s meaningful to you can help you avoid generosity burnout, and sometimes, you may benefit from finding a community with like-minded individuals who can act as a meaningful support system, and help encourage you. “Finding a community that you connect with takes effort,” Robert Kraft, Ph.D., a professor of cognitive psychology at Otterbein University, tells Thrive. “But after that, motivation arises naturally, along with joy.” Kraft notes that when you have a group that gives alongside you   whether it’s a local volunteer group or a charity committee at your office  you can encourage one another to be selfless while also prioritizing your own needs, and carving out time for what makes you most productive and energized. 

Create a routine of small, helpful acts

You don’t have to sign up for a major week-long voluntourism trip to be selfless. Grant says getting into a routine of performing small acts of kindness around the office can help boost your mood regularly, and help you feel more fulfilled at work. “If you help five people every Thursday, you feel you’ve made a difference each week,” he notes. “And you have more flexibility to make progress in your own work the rest of the time.” Not only do these small doses of kindness feel rewarding, but they actually help you focus when you get back to your own tasks and there’s power in doing one thing that brings you joy each day. And finally, remember that you don’t have to give whenever the opportunity arises, Grant adds. “Prioritize the help requests that come your way… Say yes when it matters most and no when you need to.”

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