Look at your to-do list. Look at your calendar. Now, think about your personal or professional goals for today, this week, this quarter, or even this year. How much alignment is there between the way you spend your time and the goals you’ve set for yourself to achieve?

My guess is: not a lot.

And here’s why: you’ve set your own goals, but you have let other people take control over how you spend your time.

So, how do we fix this?

First things first, kill your psychic vampires.

What’s a psychic vampire, you ask? Simple: a psychic vampire is someone who sucks the energy, time, and creativity that you need to make progress on those things important to you. They come to you when they are in need, and are either conspicuously absent or rather useless when the tables are turned. They love to talk about themselves, and when they are done with that, ask you for your opinion. “Enough about me… what do YOU think about ME?”

Psychic vampires come in many forms, and usually are hiding in plain sight. They may be casually meeting you at the local coffee shop to “pick your brain,” or hanging out in the breakroom at work with “just one quick thing to run by you,” or emailing you to see if you might “pop by to help think through a project.”

Do you want to help? Yes.
Do you want to help at the cost of getting sidetracked from your own goals? Hmmm, I’m not sure.

Now, of course your first inclination is to help — that’s the right impulse, naturally — but before you can say Transylvania 6-5000, they’ve sucked you dry. You are now burdened with their troubles and sometimes even with their tasks. They emerge light and energized, and you are sapped.

Intentional or not, in every case, their tell is the same: they want something from you that sidetracks you from your own goals. We say yes because we want to help. We say yes because it’s a habit. We say yes because we feel badly.

Don’t get me wrong; my issue is not that we say yes. It’s that we say yes without considering that every one of these psychic vampire drive-bys comes at a cost. To us. We pay and pay and pay, but we never stop to add up the total cost.

So, let’s revisit the question:

Should you help? Maybe.
Should you help without thinking about the opportunity cost? Never.