Remember that professional development event you went to? The one you thought you’d get something out of, but instead you listened to someone who knew less about their topic than you do - and you don’t even do their job - and then a bunch of people got all up in your grill with their business cards? We were there too. If we’d seen you, we would have said hello.
You went home mentally checking off all the other things you could have been doing instead. You’re easily a few hours or even days behind where you could have been. You spent money to be there, you blew off your family or that project you were supposed to complete, and all you got was this bag full of useless business cards and a rubber chicken dinner.
Your time and energy is precious. It can be immensely frustrating to find yourself in a situation that feels unproductive. The last thing you have these days is time.
Here’s the truth: not every minute of your day is going to be productive, task-list-checking work. Now that you’re in a senior/leadership position, the reality is that your job now is very different, and there are days when it just doesn’t feel productive. Whether it’s “strategy” or “business development” or “team building”, it simply doesn’t seem as valuable as producing. You are no longer doing the thing. You are often just talking about the thing. Or fixing the thing that someone else got wrong, and if you had time, you probably could have done a better job. But that’s not your role anymore.
Wanna get mad about it? We did too. Sometimes we still do. Dig in a little.
Your job has changed. You may not have been expecting it - so few business owners do. Your job is no longer to do the thing. Your job is now to find the opportunity.
That opportunity might just be a chance to build a new relationship at that dumb networking event. Or to walk out, and find a place where you can meet people like you who are doing things you care about.
Most networking events can be inane if you’re looking for the wrong thing. A ton of people get irritated with these events because they are assuming the goal is to get in front of as many people as possible - and that this somehow makes you a good business person. Change your focus to meeting one person you find interesting. Not one person you can sell your stuff to. Find that one person that you’re interested in knowing, whether it’s because they know something you don’t, and would like to learn, or because they have a business that you find fascinating, or just because - and this is still a thing even when you’re a super busy business owner. Trust us, it’ll make networking events a lot more fun.
You may get the chance to learn something you didn’t know before, even if it wasn’t from the event’s presenter. Don’t go to the event because you desperately need to make some money - we all need to make some money but they can smell it on you, and it’s not a good smell.
Go to the event because you want to learn and there’s something new to gain intellectually from the event. Maybe you need to learn how to be present - something that can be really difficult for just about anyone, but often much more so for entrepreneurs.
Maybe you’ll meet someone there who hates their job and should probably join your team. Maybe you’ll learn how to make a cappuccino from the barista at the event. Maybe you’ll find someone that you didn’t need but that someone you know needs (like that time we found a sign guy for that warehouse owner we know). Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to teach people something you know. Maybe you’ll get those CE credits. Maybe you’ll pick up a leadership tip from that 80 year old guy who no one seems to talk to but turns out to have run one of the most successful businesses in your region, and now shows up at these things just to be with people.
Of course, it’s possible to go too far in that direction, and to find your calendar filling up with other people’s “stuff”. You’ll need to be prudent about filtering the events you can reasonably attend, ensuring you get the information you need to remain relevant while making the best use of your time.
We start by creating goals at the beginning of each year (and quarter), breaking it down into things like:
- The education we need, whether to grow as individuals, or just to stay up to date with our professions
- The books we really want to read
- The hours per month we want to spend mentoring, networking, and volunteering
- The topics we’d really like to learn more about
When a new opportunity or event arises, we refer back to our planner (oh yes, we have a planner), and we ask ourselves:
Does this fit with the plan? Does it fulfill - even partially - one of the goals above?
If the answer is “yes”, then check it off. This is what you’re doing. You’re going to attend that event, read that book, or have that meeting. This is a new type of productivity, one you’ll have to get used to. This is a productivity that sometimes doesn’t pay off - or at least, it may not pay off for a while. The payoff, the checkmark, and the gold star you receive is now a lot less specific. In order to make it feel valuable, you’re going to have to give yourself parameters, like the ones above, that make this a “win”.
Walk into every room knowing that the possibilities are endless - so endless that sometimes it’s hard to even know what they are. Get comfortable with ambiguity. That’s where the biggest opportunities start showing up.