As professionals, we are frequently asked for a "few minutes" of our time, be it for business surveys, feedback on a marketing idea, or advice for dealing with a specific situation. Most of us will generously share our expertise, even if an exchange is unlikely to generate new business. What happens, however, when "a few minutes" turn into half an hour or more, taking up time we didn't have in the first place? Here are some thoughts on staying in control when dealing with requests for your time:
Before you get pulled into a number of different directions, make sure to preview what is coming at you. Invitations to comment on a new website or pleas for donations can safely wait. As a rule, "few minute" requests from people you don't work with (and don't expect to) should not take immediate precedence over paid work activities. If someone catches you on the phone, don't get drawn into dropping everything to answer questions, but set up a suitable time for a return call.
Questions to ask in advance:
Since a face-to-face meeting most likely involves time commitments such as walking/driving to a different location and looking up information online, there is nothing wrong with asking a few questions in advance: What does the other party want to discuss? Has he or she read your website and are there specific questions? If you are particularly pressed for time, ask if the matter can perhaps be discussed on the phone or by e-mail first. This puts the burden of preparing for the conversation on the party who is asking for your time and emphasizes the value of your time.
Staying in control of time during a conversation:
If you agree to a conversation, particularly in the middle of the workday, pick a time that doesn't cut into your core business hours. Reserve your most productive hours for your own work with firm rules ("I don't take phone calls between 8 and 10 a.m."). It is not over the top or presumptuous to expect that face-to-face meetings designed to tap your expertise should be held at a time and place that is convenient for you.
Whether in a phone call or in a personal meeting, establish from the start how much time you have, and steer the conversation to business matters as promptly as possible. There is nothing wrong with stating that you "have another commitment" at a specific time and sticking to a set departure time, Doing so will force the other person to focus on the matter at hand and avoid lengthy narrative detours.
"Saying no [...is] a lot easier when the offer is unappealing: an unpaid speech in Buffalo in February, or yet another latte in exchange for an hour-long 'brain picking,'" wrote Dorie Clark earlier this year. Instead of jumping on a new idea, ask for time to consider before agreeing to a commitment that is not in line with your long-term goals. Ideas or suggestions that sounded exciting at first may need to be carefully reexamined for their implications. If an offer or opportunity is not a good fit for your business, decline politely, but with enough clarity that no further time is wasted with hopeful follow-up.
The choice is yours
The conscious choice to give your undivided attention to others is an enriching experience. Studies have found that "giving your time to others can make you feel more “time affluent” and less time-constrained." However, the choice to give your time must be yours, and must be both respected and appreciated.
What are your best tips for dealing with requests for your time?
I look forward to hear from you!