Too Much to Do in Too Little Time?

A creative way to deal with time famine.

Posted Mar 17, 2018

Diane Dreher photo
Source: Diane Dreher photo

Rushing through our days, racing around from one task to another, too many of us are time-stressed, feeling we have too much to do in too little time.

This feeling of “time famine” (Perlow, 1999), has been linked to numerous health issues including chronic stress, difficulty delaying gratification, sleep deprivation, and relationship problems (Rudd, Vohs, & Aaker, 2012).

While we cannot add more hours to our days, researchers at Stanford and the University of Minnesota have found a way to relieve time famine, expanding our experience of the time we have (Rudd, Vohs, & Aaker, 2012).

In three experiments, these researchers found that when people experienced awe, they were less stressed, less impatient, and actually felt they had more time. Awe is our response to vast and powerful beauty that transcends our egos and expands our vision of reality. We experience awe most often in relation to nature (Keltner & Haidt, 2003).

These researchers (Rudd, et al, 2012)  also found that people who experienced awe were more altruistic, more willing to volunteer, to reach out to help others. Years ago, the classic Princeton Theological Seminary study revealed that people are more self-centered, less willing to help others when they’re rushing and feeling time stressed  (Darley & Batson, 1973). Perhaps if more of us experienced awe, we could not only improve our health but begin transforming our busy, mindless culture by becoming more empathetic, more understanding, more present to the people around us.

To try this for yourself, you might pause to look out the window at the natural world outside. As you go about your day, take a moment to look out at the landscape, or up at the trees and sky. Then take a deep breath, realizing that you are part of something much larger than yourself.


Darley, J. M. & Batson, C. D. (1973). “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 100-108.

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.

Perlow, L. (1999). The time famine: Toward a sociology of work time. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 57-81.

Rudd, M., Vohs, K. D., & Aaker, J. (2012). Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being. Psychological Science, 23, 1130-1136.