So, you’ve gotten a request for your time. You should say yes, right? It’s just a little advice, just a little got-a-few-questions, just a little massive disruption of your entire day. Not so fast, cowboy.
First, ask yourself: Am I the right person, the only person, the most important person to help out in this situation. If you aren’t, say no. Rest assured that there is someone more qualified, more available, more interested who will step up to the plate. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: None of us are that important.
But, what if you are the right person, the only person, the most important? Then you should say yes. I’m not about never saying yes. I’m about saying yes better.
Here’s what I do with generic, time-insensitive, pick-your-brain requests:
The First Request: I delete the first request.
No, really, I do. The delete button is incredibly liberating; I implore you to use it more often. Most people never try again. And why is this? Is it because they feel rejected and are afraid to come back? Perhaps. But, mostly it’s because they’ve emailed ten other people,simultaneously, for the same generic help, and one of those people graciously responded and the need is no longer relevant. They got their problem solved by someone better (or just faster) and I went undisrupted and undistracted in the bargain.
The Second Request: I respond to the second request — because now I know that I am in a unique position to help, or that they haven’t found their solution otherwise yet, and I know that the perception of value on my time is greater so my advice will more likely be considered.
But here’s the thing: I tell them that I am swamped for the next few weeks and that they should hit me up again in the following month. This is, more often than not, the truth anyway. But it gives me a little more grace period to allow them to get their problem solved elsewhere.
The Third Request: By now 75% of the throw-noodles-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks people have wasted other people’s time, and I’m down to just the ones who really want me, just me, and know that my advice is the lynchpin to success for them. And, so I say yes, with dates and times that work for me. I don’t give them prime time in the middle of my best hours of the day. I don’t ask them to suggest times and then pretzel myself to accommodate. I don’t give them my number and tell them to just call me “whenever” because “please disrupt me anytime and hop onto a weeks’ long journey of phone tag” is a fool’s errand. I ask them to call me when I’m commuting, or stuck at an airport, or on a run (and invite the brave to join me). I give them my brain’s “last 5%” times, the times where I am not giving my best to my clients anymore and I need a change of energy. My advice — wisdom honed over decades — is still incredibly valuable whether delivered in the calm of a conference room, over a sandwich, or on mile three of a 10K. But, one of those scenarios is efficient for me, while the others are not.
My time is my most valuable resource, and I don’t give away my time for free, even when I am giving away my time for free. They have to really want it. I have to be the ONLY person who can give them what they need. And, it has to work for me. Otherwise, someone else can and should do it. Now, who wants to go for a run?