|Image Credit: Senor Anderson|
Unfortunately, this meeting was an outlier. Many are simply not worth the drive, not worth the time. Imagine if we had gotten nothing out of the trip: that would've represented nearly 9 lost hours (3 hours trip times 3 people) of productivity. The problem, of course, is how to know in advance if it'll be worth it. I'm reminded of a question I once got from the program officer at a foundation. In response to our repayment rate of 93%, she paused for a moment and asked (I'm not making this up), "If you knew they were going to default, why did you make the loan?" Stunned, I had to explain how lending works...
Anyway, the point is that it's hard to know if something will be worth it ahead of time; if you did, you'd never waste time! I find this especially difficult because I am constantly getting requests or suggestions for meetings: talk to Bob for advice on lending; Mary wants to ask you questions on social entrepreneurship; Jim thinks you should have lunch with Jane to get her feedback on your donor outreach...you get the idea.
One thing I know I need to get better at is saying no. Simply put, you can't say yes to every request, and not every suggestion is worth pursuing. Lots of well-intentioned people want to help you, and that's wonderful. But that doesn't mean you should chase every lead and meet every person. Here are a few tips I can make for how to decide if you should take that drive (and please note that I'm still working to take my own advice!):
- Ask yourself what problem you are looking to solve or question you need answered. Can this person be of help? For instance, do you need advice on tackling a data problem?
- If the above isn't applicable, ask what you hope to get out of the meeting. It could be relationship building, a donation, or an introduction to someone else (I'm not talking about social meetings, obviously--just business ones)
- Make a mental checklist of the things that have to happen for the meeting to be successful. This morning, for instance, I wanted to talk to Dr. Xiao about informing his students of our Financial Coaching Fellowship; get his feedback on our Randomized Control Trial; and ask him for recommending reading on financial education
- Be prepared. Do your homework before the meeting. Know the person's background. Remind yourself of who made the introduction and read back through your email chain. Try to find something about them that you can mention ("I saw that you graduated from NYU--my brother's uncle's former roommate's pawnbroker went there!")
- If the meeting isn't going anywhere, politely find a way to end it.
What advice do you have? What techniques do you use for determining how to schedule your day? Remember: your time is yours, and your organization's, most valuable resource. How you spend it represents perhaps the most important budget around and can mean the difference between excelling in your work or just getting by.