The high-functioning introvert (me) was at a gala event the other night. As the time drew closer and closer to the start for the gala, I, as is typically the case, grew increasingly ambivalent about the prospect of going. I was well into draft form of the many excuses I could deploy to rationalize deciding to just stay home. But in-my-head-brother* number two, IMHB2 for short, won out. I got up, put on some gala-appropriate clothes, and went. Here’s the thing…from a business promotion perspective, the gala vent very well. And personally, I had a good time. I stayed quite a bit longer than the smile, nod my head, show my face, and get out strategy I had developed amongst my pre-gala, no attendance excuse drafts. Upon reflecting on the experience – which by the way is a practice that I strongly advocate any values-driven business owner adopts – I realized that attending the gala was a valuable investment of my time. I was engaged in a combination of working and networking, not necessarily what I imagined going into the event. Far from my concern for wasting my time. So, working, networking, and wasting time. They’re all investments of self. Which is happening when, what value do they hold, and how are we to know the difference?
Generally speaking, this is the easy one, right? Not so fast. When you’re engaged in any activity that has direct impact on your business you’re working. Note that I didn’t qualify the activity as productive nor the business impact as positive. Working, in and of itself, isn’t just a good, automatically. I can imagine, and frankly have personal experience with, non-productive working. That project for that client I don’t really like that doesn’t pay me what my work is worth, for example. No, working has more nuance to it that demands we consider how a given investment of self is productive, and leads to a positive impact on our business. This is how I determine when I’m working, or not.
Ah, networking, the bane of the introvert and playground of the extrovert. Right. Again, not so easy. IMHB2 would tell me that any professional or business owner for that matter, should engage in networking as a regular practice. He would also tell me that most people suck at networking. Networking is strategic, which means that it’s an activity that has intention behind it. Real networking has a goal and objective in regards to engaging with other people, and, more nuance, the networker needs to know what they both are. Real networking is also not extractive, meaning, people engage in networking looking for something in return. That a lot of people characterize networking in this way doesn’t mean that a lot of people have it right. Networking, similar to my definition of working above, is an investment of self. One gives of themselves to networking, and as a result of this giving, eventually receives in return. So, how do I know when I’m actually engaged in networking? I’ve adopted the practice that, when reflecting upon a particular engagement of mine, the mathematics of that engagement should feel like I’m giving of myself more so than anything else. This makes that engagement productive, and will ultimately lead to a positive impact on my, or your, business.
One of my guiding principles is that I won’t waste my time. I actually hate the whole idea of just letting time pass. Fortunately, I’m pretty vigilant about avoiding things that to me are pure time wasters. An example at the top of the list of time wasters for me is driving. I cannot stand driving. Because to do it responsibly, I need to remain engaged and consciously aware at all times. Which means that any distraction or relaxation is potentially dangerous. In reality, I’m forced to sit there, held captive by the distance between two points. I recognize that travel is a necessary evil. So, to avoid wasting time, I’m constantly searching for ways to shorten the distance between whatever constitutes here and there. Or better utilize the time it requires. Now, not all things that use up time represents time wasted. Again, similar to working and networking above, time passed constitutes an investment of self. The goal is to ensure that the time expended, for whatever reason is productive, and ideally leads to a positive impact on you or your business. Really, go ahead and binge watch television when you’re tired if you find that it helps you to recover from a long day. That might be exactly what you need at that moment. But if for example, you find yourself spending time following the exploits of some internet star that leaves you feeling less better about yourself or otherwise doesn’t help you accomplish your goals, you’ve been wasting time. Stop that, please.
In summary, working, networking, and wasting time are all investments of self. Working and networking are both necessary particularly when they help move you closer to your goals. But both also pose challenges to get right. Wasting time is best avoided but not all idleness is non-productive. The key for each is to have awareness whenever engaged in either of the three. And to do so with intention.
*I’ve three brothers, each blessed with skills and abilities I greatly admire, and that influence my own thinking. I’m the third of us four.