I’ve got a problem, and it’s Michael Hyatt’s fault. I’m a big fan of Michael Hyatt and his book Platform. I’ve applied it over the past year and a half. It works. You should buy the book and read it. It will work for you, too. The book teaches you how to get your message out using a platform (blog, podcast, book, social media, speaking, etc.). The problem is what do you do when it works?
In no small part due to what I’ve learned from Michael Hyatt, my digital marketing firm MWI has grown by over 1,000% in the past year. I’ve been able to expand my platform from this blog to writing for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and a host of other publications. I am involved with startup groups here in Hong Kong where I moved in 2013 like Startup Grind. I’ve spoken at a TEDx event. I now teach courses on SEO, content marketing, and online PR at General Assembly. And people suddenly care about what I think. I’m making up now for all the popularity I missed out on in high school when I was a social reject. This is all wonderful, of course. My business is doing well, I get to do all sorts of fun things, and my ego is as happy as can be. But I just don’t have the time for everything, and especially I don’t have the time to meet with all the people who ask me to meet with them, and with whom I would love to meet.
I suppose it’s not just Michael’s fault. It’s also Guy Kawasaki’s fault. He’s the one who told me to “default to yes.” And I have done just that. When someone has asked “Hey Josh, can I buy you a cup of coffee and ask you some questions about SEO for my startup?” I’ve defaulted to yes (except for the coffee bit, I’m Mormon, so I get a steamed hazelnut milk, which also has the benefit of not being made with toilet water). I’m happy to meet. I don’t care whether that person ever turns into a client, although I certainly don’t mind if they do. I enjoy defaulting to yes.
But what do I do when my business is growing, we’re hiring like mad, we’re making major changes in our processes, I’m training, managing projects, speaking, and writing, and then I get that email about meeting, and I think “I would love to meet, but…I’ve got all this stuff I need to do. Commitments to client. Commitments to partners.” And then I get six more emails asking the same thing. Last week I sat in Starbucks for six hours in a row. Each hour I had an appointment. I met with each person, had an enjoyable visit, and then they got up and left and 10 minutes later the next guy would come in and we’d chat for 40-50 minutes until he went his way. I enjoyed the experience. And although I’m tempted to say “but I wasn’t working,” in reality I am. Sometimes those visits do turn into profitable client work for my agency. From a sales standpoint perhaps I should be doing more of those visits, not less. But I know what else I’m not doing. I’m not writing. I’m not speaking. Yes, perhaps I’m doing something that can bring in potential business, but I’m not focusing on the clients I have right now, who need to be taken care of. And it’s simply too much. I do not have the time to meet with everyone who asks.
But how can I turn people away? Who do I turn away? I don’t want to be a snob. And I don’t want to become inaccessible. But I have to say no, at least sometimes. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to keep saying yes to everyone. Even if I get a virtual assistant, even if my company were 100% self sufficient and I had nothing else to do but meet with people, I would still run out of time if I keep doing what I’m doing. So how do I start saying no? Michael, you got me into this, how are you going to get me out of this?
Turns out Michael has had the same experience, which he’s written about here. Michael says if we don’t start saying “no,” the following five things will happen:
- Other peoples’ priorities will take precedence over ours.
- Mere acquaintances—people we barely know!—will crowd out time with family and close friends.
- We will not have the time we need for rest and recovery.
- We will end up frustrated and stressed.
- We won’t be able to say “yes” to the really important things.
That’s a good description of where I’m at. But Michael doesn’t explain how to say no in this post, only that I’ve got to start doing it. Thankfully, Michael goes into detail on exactly how to say “no” in these two posts:
I haven’t set up my templates yet. I haven’t even said “no” to anyone yet. This is just the beginning. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Have you had to learn how to say no? What have you learned?
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One thing I do that seems to help a lot is to give people interested in meeting an assignment before meeting with them. This creates two great dynamics. One, it shows me how interested they really are in meeting and two, when we do meet, it’s a much more productive use of time because they come prepared. I do it all on a case by case basis, but it definitely seems to weed out a lot of unproductive meetings.
I like to think of it in terms of having a budget for my time. There is a fixed amount of time in each week and I choose where to spend it. Some time expenses have already been pre-allocated. Some of those commitments can’t be moved. For example, every Sunday I have a commitment to be at church. Some of that time has been “leased out” to my employer as a weekly effort. Some of my time is at my discretion and I often use it to volunteer in service projects or simply sit and read a book. As a time budget, it is critical to recognize the required expenses and the luxury items. Time with my wife is required. Time with my children is required. Time with video games is not required. Like you, I often find myself wanting to say yes to more than I have time for. Experience and wisdom help to know that saying no, or “I don’t have time for that.” is an important time management skill. When you recognize that your time is a limited resource and then you choose where to expend those resources, you have taken a big step forward in time management. I use multiple calendars to help manage my time. I also use “virtual time accounts” to determine whether I have spent enough time with my children or overspent time on things that don’t have lasting value. Reviewing each day before it starts helps to manage your time budget. Don’t pack the day so full that you can’t accommodate an urgent time demand. Be flexible enough to reallocate time funds to things of higher priority. When approached by someone who asks for your time, be confident in how much time you can give. Like money, set aside a budget for time with friends and time serving others. Look for opportunities to use that “friend budget” and when asked, you will know if you have time to share, or whether you have already used it for the week. Always leave a little bit of room for the unexpected. And when you take vacation time, think of it as time well spent.