Managing Your Time: Be Generous AND Ruthless

Jul 24, 2015

I’ve recently gotten to thinking about how leaders can be both generous with their time AND ruthless about using it well.

Like most of you, I really enjoy helping people. I get ton of requests for time from people seeking career advice, tips for launching a business, perspective on juggling full-time work and parenting, and more. Sidenote: I’m no expert on any of this stuff, but I do get to think about and practice it a lot.

But, like all of you, I only have so many hours in a day.  Here are a few strategies I’ve employed to be giving AND brutally protective of my time.

1. Demand an agenda – and then some. I like David Jaxon’s ideas on “politely demanding” an agenda from people who ask for your time. I even take it a step further. When someone writes me saying they would like to “connect,” I reply and ask them what about. I also direct them to existing resources on my website, the Internet and in books, and ask them to send along questions they wish to discuss. I did this recently with a wonderful organization that wanted to interview me. I could have just jumped and said, “Free PR! Sure, I’ll chat!” But when I asked the organization to bullet out their questions, I realized I actually couldn’t be that useful to them. And so I turned down the interview, protecting my time and theirs!

2. Make advice-seekers do their homework. When I get a request for a career conversation, I send back a template that asks people to contemplate their ideal week and outline their desired organization’s traits. Having people do 30 – 60 minutes of pre-work ensures they are coming to the conversation with some skin in the game and usually some deeper questions that they hadn’t previously considered. It also allows me to prepare, think about connections I have, and plan the questions I want to ask them. If someone doesn’t send the thinking in advance, I reschedule our meeting. Draconian? I think not. It signals how seriously I take our conversation!

3. Schedule the meetings when you are unlikely to be doing anything else useful. I’m giving away a secret here, but most of my “generous with my time” conversations happen while I’m en route to the airport via taxi (a solid 35 minutes without interruption) or after 8 PM when my kids are safely tucked in bed, and I’m making lunches and picking up toys while we talk. This doesn’t mean I don’t value the conversations, it just means I have figured out ways to fit them in when I would have previously just said, “No, I have no time.” By opening up these small pockets of time, I have MORE of it to offer.

4. Write up answers to the most frequent questions you are asked. I always get questions about the history of my business and how I juggle being a mom, working, and travelling. I get tired of answering the same questions over and over, so I wrote up a document about each and send it out to (trusted) people in advance. Yes, this too took time, but sometimes the documents answer all the questions and a call isn’t needed!

5. Make people make it easy on you! I frequently connect talented individuals hunting for jobs to organizations in need of talented people. If someone wants an introduction to three different organizations, I ask them to write me THREE different emails with proper resume attachments for each. This ensures I can forward each one without even having to draft a cover note. Everyone wins!

What about you? How do you fit in seemingly extra requests? Or do you just say no?