Probably like many of you, I get tons of requests for meetings—people who want time with me, and who are usually willing to come see me where I am, or who want to give something in exchange for my time so they offer coffee, lunch or a dinner. It’s very flattering, and I enjoy (decaf) coffee and stimulating conversation as much as anyone, but I turn down these invitations 99.9% of the time.
For me, these requests pour in more than 20 times a day. Earlier in my career, I used to pursue these meetings with gusto and was grateful to those who graciously met with me. But now, I am seeing my inbox overflow with these requests for my time. I think the prevalence of LinkedIn has made it easier to find me—and see what I’m up to and whom I know.
I’m delighted to help people with an introduction or some coaching — it’s so important for people to have mentors who are not tied to their companies — but I found that all of these meetings were an enormous time vortex. It’s always a bigger commitment than a 30 or 60 minute meeting as both parties have to travel to get there, and often someone is late.
So, about a year ago, I shifted my strategy and implemented a screening process. Now, unless I know the person well, I no longer take the first meeting. Instead, I ask them in email to spell out what they would like me to do and why. Then I connect them to the appropriate source. When there is a request that goes beyond opening doors, perhaps they are looking for personal advice, I ask them to send me an email with their questions. I find this also focuses them on what is most important, and there’s no time wasted in polite chitchat about the weather. I spend 5-6 hours a day on email and I send back answers usually within days, which is way faster than the time it would take someone to get a meeting with me — if that were even possible. I find that instead of feeling rebuked, people respond that they appreciate this method, which is efficient for both of us.
With this strategy I am able to help far more people than I could if I had to personally meet with them, and I also many more hours a week to focus on my priority endeavors, including deciding on finalists for investments, helping current portfolio companies, working on our mentoring company Everwise, and helping with my board work. I also have a lot more time to see (and eat and share coffee with) the people I care about most—my family.