5 Time Management Tips for Better Networking in 2013

“Coffee Shopping” is how I describe loosely defined, networking meetings and business introductions — which mostly seem to take place in the neighborhood coffee shop.  I like meeting new people, learning about their work and determining if we can support one another. Most of my business comes from referrals so the open approach to networking makes sense to me.  I want a full calendar of possibilities.

A couple years ago, I was walking out of Starbucks following a particularly long session of “Coffee Shopping” when my phone buzzed.  My brother was reaching out for our weekly call.  After some small talk and explaining how I spent the bulk of my morning, he hit me with this observation: “Dude, if you could figure out a way to get paid from having networking and brainstorming meetings at Starbucks everyday, you’d be crazy rich.”

Translation:  Maybe you should take a few minutes and audit the ROI of the 47 networking meetings you’ve had at Starbucks this year and determine if that is the most productive use of your time given your business objectives.

I doubt he even remembers the conversation. I’ve never forgotten it because the truth is I was “coffee shopping” to avoid some of the hard, isolating kitchen table effort required of anyone starting something new.  Those meetings and big idea brainstorming conversations with other people on their own creation journey felt good.  I still believe they can prove useful.  But the truth is, my predisposition to “coffee shopping” wasn’t entirely productive and I needed to learn how to better manage my time.

As my business has grown, this has continued to be a difficult and delicate balance.  I decided to ask for help. Over the last couple weeks, I have asked some of the most successful people I know for their time management tips.  How do successful people thrive in business while making sure personal obligations don’t suffer?

One common characteristic: developing a system for managing their time and exercising the discipline to maintain it.  While they varied slightly in strategy, they all advocated for a specific, structured and strategic approach to time management. Here are a few of my favorite time management tips and techniques based on what they shared with me.

The Breakfast Meeting.  The early-riser crowd was in favor of meeting to start the day.  A  7:00 am breakfast meeting usually includes a hard stop and doesn’t interfere with the morning business agenda.  In contrast, mid-morning “coffee shopping” can easily kill a half day of productivity.

The Networking Agenda. An agenda helps make sure you’re making the most productive use of your time.  If both people understand the context of the meeting and show up prepared to contribute, you are likely to accomplish a whole lot more.

The ABC’s of Networking. Categorizing networking in terms of opportunity and value is critical.  An A meeting is one you want to have with clear reciprocity in terms of value.  A C might be an investment of time you make to give back.  Interestingly, everyone I spoke with was willing to guide, coach, counsel and mentor others, but they still recognized the need to manage their time devoted to such efforts. How many A, B and C meetings have you had  in the past 30 days?

The Email Q&A: I heard this one a couple times.  Can you trade correspondence to accomplish the business objective?  Worth considering.  This allows you to manage your response in a way that fits you priorities and schedule.

The No Alcohol Rule: A few people I spoke with subscribed to this one, particularly around new networking meetings.  A happy hour or dinner meeting had to earn A status to justify cutting into personal time.  I had one person tell me he banned it altogether. “If there is alcohol involved, I no longer consider it business.”

I have long been an advocate of turning customers into friends and friends into people I work with.  My work life is actually a big blend of business and friendship. My take away around time management is about prioritizing, protecting my calendar and putting more structure and a better system in place.

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