How You Can Get Ahead in Business in Just 5 Minutes

In today's world, giving to others gets results. Author Adam Grant explains his strategy for helping others -- on your own terms.

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By Zach Obront

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I talk to the authors of non-fiction books and learn how they apply their book's lessons in their own lives. For this article, I talked to Adam Grant, author of Give and Take.

The stereotypical image of people in the world of business is that they are cutthroat and ruthless. But Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has another idea.

Related: Even the Smallest Acts of Generosity Make You Happier, New Study Reveals

Through the research explored in his book, Give and Take, Grant has shown that success in today's world is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. More specifically, he's found that people who are givers -- those who contribute without expecting anything in return -- achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries.

But, being a giver isn't always easy. Having the spirit of a giver is one thing, but how do we practice the behaviors consistently? How can we ensure that we are giving to the people around us, even when life gets in the way?

The five-minute favor

When I got a chance to discuss the book with Grant, I asked him what practices he uses to keep his giving nature sharp and active in his own life.

"My favorite way to do this is through what I call five-minute favors," he told me.

A five-minute favor is exactly what it sounds like -- a small action you can take to help someone out that takes less than five minutes.

Related: The Selfish Reason You Should Be Extremely Generous

Many readers believe that to be a giver, they need to focus their whole lives around others. Grant disagrees. Rather, being an effective giver is about finding the small ways to add large value to other people's lives

"Five-minute favors are great," Grant explained, "because once you start looking for them, you find that there are a lot of ways to make a substantial impact on the lives of those around you, without taking too much of your time. These can be things like making introductions, giving small pieces of advice, taking the time to give someone feedback on an idea, or anything else that provides a lot of help in only a few minutes."

Batching generosity

There's one problem. Grant has found that trying to do small, five-minute favors spread across his week can be distracting, and make it difficult to feel the impact of what he's doing.

The solution? He picks one day each week to focus on stacking together a larger number of five-minute favors. That way, they don't interrupt his usual workflow, and together, they add up to more than just a drop in the bucket.

One of the major areas where he sees this is with his students. Grant had some amazing teachers who inspired him, and he knows that meeting with students is an important part of his role as a professor. But, being available to students isn't his whole job. If he softened his boundaries and did them favors whenever they asked, it'd interrupt his time for research, writing, speaking and spending time with his family.

By setting off dedicated blocks to focus entirely on doing small favors or meetings with students, he's able to maximize the impact he can have, without sabotaging the other ways he provides value to the world.

Related: 3 Goodwill Gestures to Build Better Business Relationships

Giving on your own terms

This is part of a larger theme for Grant: giving proactively, rather than reactively.

He told me: "I've seen a lot of givers who are stuck in the trap of helping anyone who asks, and neglecting themselves in the process. If you can be proactive and set the tone, you're much more likely to give in ways that are meaningful to you and that don't wreak havoc on the rest of your life."

In other words, being a giver isn't synonymous with being at the service of others. It's about helping people on your terms.

As Grant has seen in his own life, and the lives of thousands of readers, five-minute favors are a great way to keep us balanced between giving too much and giving too little.

"If you're a giver, five-minute favors are a reminder you don't have to spend your whole life helping everybody who asks you. If you're a taker or matcher, they can be like a gateway drug to the power of giving."

Zach Obront

Co-Founder of Scribe Writing

Zach Obront is the co-founder of Scribe Writing, where he helps experts turn their ideas into professionally published books.

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