Giving Time: You Get What You Give

By Melissa Stefanec

And just like that, pandemic restrictions are fading in the rearview mirror. Life is starting to look more like it did in 2019. However, with all the good re-opening brings, there is one negative aspect I can’t stop thinking about—the busyness. 

Going back to normal means a return to busyness. 

I’m not sure I’m mentally ready for it.


It’s the state or condition of having a great deal to do. It’s the expectation of professional and personal life. It’s the new American way.

When it comes to work, everyone is busy. My professional calendar looks like a three-year-old playing Nintendo’s Tetris for the first time. My job is demanding (and I love it), but busy is status quo.

When I shut my laptop for the day, the madness doesn’t end there. My family’s schedule is just as demanding as my work schedule. Evenings and weekends are full of sports, lessons, doctors’ appointments, school events, birthday parties, barbecues, getaways, grocery shopping, meal planning, errands, vet appointments, volunteering, cleaning, meal preparation and the like.

My schedule just doesn’t let up. At work, there is always another meeting or an extra hour or two to work. After work, there is always a backlog of things to tackle. In short, free time is harder to find than my son’s favorite stuffed animal when we are 15 minutes late for wherever it is we’re going.

Free time

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, free time is loosely defined as having time for any leisure activity, such as watching TV, socializing, or exercising. According to BLS’s American Time Use Survey, in 2019, people aged 20 to 54 had approximately four hours of leisure time per day. As a parent, I’m skeptical of that figure. That much free time sounds like unimaginable decadence.

I know I’m not alone. For many parents, leisure time is a mirage. On any given weekday, I’m lucky to fit in 20 minutes of reading or texting with friends (and most of that happens while I’m hiding in the bathroom). At this point, I don’t even know if I would know how to leisure if I could magically find the time.

Current mindset: finding time

So how does one fix the busyness? How does one find the time to stop and engage in leisure?

The phrase “finding time” is such a strange idiom. It implies time is hiding somewhere (perhaps with my son’s favorite stuffed animal?). This idiom insinuates that if we only looked harder, we would find all the time we needed.

The concept of finding time is ludicrous. As a parent, spouse, family member, friend, employee and citizen, I have certain responsibilities; I am going to be busy. And, although I accept that some amount of busyness is part of a beautiful life, I simultaneously recognize that too much busyness turns that beauty into exhaustion.

And striking that balance between being busy and being exhausted is an art I’ve yet to master. For all my trying, I haven’t found a way to get it all done and still feel good. Perhaps, I’ve been going about things the wrong way. I view life’s obligations as taking time from my day and that’s not going to make me feel like I have more time. It puts me in a depletion mindset.

So, how do I find time to do all of the “life stuff” and feel whole?  Perhaps, the only way to find time is to give it.

New mindset: giving time

Maybe time, like love, doesn’t obey the laws of science. Love is one of the few tangible things in life where the more you give away, the more you get in return. What if, despite all our efforts to make time, what we really needed to do all along was give time away?

I may not have much time, but I can pause my work for 30 seconds to give my son a meaningful hug. When my daughter needs a cuddle, I can stop doing the dishes and curl up with her on the couch. When my husband wants to sit on the porch and listen to the rain, I can give him my companionship. When I need a workout to clear my mind, I can give myself the opportunity to do just that.

If I change my perception from taking time to giving time, maybe I can change the physics of my life. Expending time on important things doesn’t take time away from my day. When I give someone I love my time, they give me their time in return. You get what you give.

With the proper outlook, these activities turn into non-zero-sum expenditures. Giving my time to others doesn’t deplete my bank, it lets both of us walk away with more than we came with. Given to the right people, time is reciprocal. It’s no longer taken. It’s given and received.

Back to the busyness

As I head back into the madness of post-pandemic work and life, I’m going to try to give my time more prudently. I know I will never be able to add hours to my day. However, I’m almost certain that a change in my outlook will add more life to my years. And, somehow, that simple fact takes the edge off the busyness. So, bring it on.