Do you ever get contacted by people outside your organisation asking you to donate your time and expertise for free but you end up feeling like they are doing you a favour?
I do a lot of media engagement and communication in my current role because I am passionate about what I do, and I appreciate the opportunity to be able to share my knowledge and expertise.
I also often give advice to younger professionals who are looking for ways to engage in climate adaptation, or just want to hear career advice from someone who is a bit further along the academic pathway.
This week has been particularly interesting as I have had a call or request each day to either give advice, or sign up for a media/communication opportunity.
Some of these interactions have been positive but others not so.
So how do you ensure that you value others’ time but also keep a close eye how you spend yours?
Respect time, whether it’s yours or theirs
Given time is one of our scarcest resources, we should be mindful in how we show up when we ask other people to donate their time.
I am not alone in this: just yesterday I spoke with a colleague who had been asked to be a speaker on an event on a Sunday in another city.
She travelled to speak only to find the whole event very disorganised, not respectful of her time, and the event clearly did not ignite a passion to engage further with this organisation.
The key lesson here for me is that being respectful is recognising the other person’s value but also valuing their time, skills and knowledge, especially if they are going to contribute to something that you do.
There is nothing more disappointing than feeling that your efforts are not valued and that you are not being respected.
We all are approached on daily basis by other people or have to approach other people to ask for something.
We all are also bound to make choices what we spend our time on, which activities deliver the most value, and where we feel we are really making a difference.
Valuing someone’s time means you value that your request is one fraction of requests, demands, and opportunities that another person has at any given time.
Think about core reasons what you deliver and why
Even trying to entice your audience to read your blog is about that value: why would or should the reader read what you have written?
How is spending five minutes reading your thoughts going to change the way they think, offer something new, or help them to make a particular decision?
As Dorie Clark and Seth Godin both always remind us, focus on what value you can bring to others, and make sure that you are of service.
There are enough people and organisations out there who try to convince us that our time should be theirs, enough tv programs and Netflix shows that compete for our attention and time.
We should be the ones fighting for our time and making sure that what we spend it on does add value.
We should be like bears who viciously guard their young ones, like Superman or WonderWoman (see what’s happening here Todd Herman?), who is clear on their purpose and what their time should be spent on.
Who do not step away from their quest because there is a new demand on their time but choose to focus on what matters.
Difference between real conversation vs. cyber conversation
All of this was further cemented as I was listening to the latest episode on Coaching for Leaders where Cal Newport shared his insights about digital distractions and their impact on our work and ideas.
For those not familiar with Cal Newport, he is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who is the author of Deep Work and now Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.
The idea of most of Cal’s work is help others to find focus, transition away from what is distracting us from doing the deep thinking, and helping people to innovate and focus on things they truly value.
One of the great contributions of today’s episode in particular was the discussion of the different value that a real conversation has instead of “cyber conversation” (he didn’t use this word but I think it’s a good description).
Most of us are very busy liking Facebook posts, tagging people on Twitter, giving thumbs up in LinkedIn, yet we forget that those things are not actual personal interactions.
The platforms are run by algorithms that generate feedback loops based on our activities into the platforms but these are not actual human-to-human interactions that help us thrive and feel focused and balanced.
Cal now offers in his new book a 30-day transition method away from digital media and the noise it creates, and how to come back but with a focus on value.
This same idea “focus on what is added value” is very much at the core of Seth Godin’s book This is Marketing (review here) as it is in practically everything that Dorie Clark writes and blogs about.
If these amazing humans and idea factories are telling us all the same thing, we should probably listen.
Engaging does not mean that you have to take every opportunity
I am also re-reading Dorie Clark’s book Entrepreneurial You and this message is coming again loud and clear.
(Btw the book just won the gold medal in the Business Entrepreneurship category at the North American Book Awards so if you haven’t read it, you so should!)
Building a brand does not mean that you need to pick up every opportunity that comes along your way.
But having clear guidelines what your platforms are and should be, what your main message is, and how you intend to deliver that is what needs to come first.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with doing speaking engagements to get more experience, speak at venues and places that you would normally not do, to build your skills and brand.
But you do need to be mindful of your time and whether that request is the right one at that time, what value you can deliver and what value the event is delivering to you.
We should not be shy about our priorities.
We are the only ones who know how things fit together in our lives, what our core brand vision really is.
So guard your time, but be cool, graceful and kind about it.
I truly value this post, especially the last words: “guard your time, but be cool, graceful and kind about it.” I have been practicing “the art of the cool, graceful and kind decline” in response to many requests that would unwittingly compromise my time, focus, and ability to engage in that “deep work” Newport talks about. Thanks for your thoughts, Johanna Nalau. I would happily contribute to a follow-up post from you that talks about the possible phrasings for the decline, as I find entrepreneurs want to practice this, and it does take constant practice!
Hi Caitlin and thanks so much for taking the time to read this and also for your comments. Would be great to hear from you in terms of your insights, what have you found that works for you?
Thank you, Johanna, for this exchange! What works for me is defending time each day for what sustains me, which includes mindfulness (in many forms, including creative writing and reflection) and nature. If I’m unable to say yes to a request someone has, I have been practicing declining with grace by saying what appeals to me about someone else’s work or idea, so that my genuine admiration comes across. If I’m full-capacity, I will say that, but the relationship remains intact, so that the door remains open for something to evolve in the future. I find it’s so bolstering to gather advice on this, and I’m looking forward to hearing yours. Do you have any practices, words or phrases that help you articulate your dedication to guarding your time?
hi Caitlin, I use pretty similar ways of trying to be open for new initiatives and engagement but also being clear about my time constraints. For example, I try to suggest ways that reduce travel time (participating by skype/zoom) and also making clear what capacity I have to participate. I also try to schedule meetings in my calendar so that I know to dedicate time and focus on that particular person and opportunity. Most people are very appreciative when you set clear boundaries I find.