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How A (Very) Little, Daily Favor Can Change Your Life

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Want to make the world a better place? Want to get a leg-up at work? Good -- you can do both. Enter the five-minute favor.

The concept is no more complicated than its name alludes: Take five minutes out of your day to do something that'll benefit another person. That's it.

"Even if you have no time, you can make time for five minutes," says Adam Rifkin, co-founder of PandaWhale and the man who gave a name to this small act of kindness. Rifkin began to perform daily, five-minute favors when he first got started in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s.

"I would regularly see people who had a lot of money or power or were very successful, and they would take time to do these favors that really didn't benefit them. And I thought it was amazing." The reason it works, Rifkin says, is because of its counterintuitive economics: "It doesn't cost you much, but it can make a big difference in somebody's life."

We're used to doing nice, selfless things for our family and social networks, but this is a less common practice in the workplace. It's a paradigm that should gain traction: Office altruism will cultivate your professional life.

"It makes you more bonded and attached to the people you're interacting with." And by doing so, Rifkin explains, you'll be building a professional support structure.

For Rifkin, a go-to favor is making introductions. "I'll find somebody who would really benefit from knowing someone else and I’ll connect them." However you decide to give is worthy -- as long as it's genuine. Professionals in particular will recognize the generosity behind your actions, since in an office culture, we're all so pressed for time. "Time is the currency that no one can really buy more of," Rifkin says. "If you're paying with your time rather than paying with cash, it's more meaningful. Especially when you're busy."

And -- bonus! Doing good for others means they'll want to do good for you: We're psychologically wired with a drive to reciprocate. But the practice doesn't involve keeping score. It's not a transaction. "At the beginning you will be paying up front -- it's a pay-it-forward way of life."

Even if you don't get a favor in return, you'll reap some big benefits. Giving has strong ties to longevity and happiness. Better yet, a recent study found that giving to those with whom you share a social connection (like the coworkers you spend your most of your weekdays with) can improve these happy feelings that come with being generous.

Plus, the action might be your ticket to overcoming a work slump. "What's nice is that it gets you out of routine. It forces you to think about somebody else." These are just the kinds of breaks that Tony Schwartz so heartily advocates when it comes to productivity. You'll be giving your brain the opportunity to switch gears and prevent burn out. "It kind of clears your mind for a bit," Rifkin explains. "It is a form a meditation in a sense."

And if you believe in karma, well, there's always that. As Twyla Tharp puts it, "Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you. If you're generous to someone, if you do something to help him out, you are in effect making him lucky. This is important. It's like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune."

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