Thoughts & Observations

On Generosity and Productivity

At times, being generous and being productive can feel at odds with each other.

A core part of my job is being generous with my time and sharing it to people who need advice, support, and insight into our industry and organization. On the other hand, as the solo employee of a rapidly growing organization who is responsible for everything from responding to every email we receive to raising the funds needed to deliver on our mission and pay the bills, over the last few months I’ve quickly found the requests for my time outpacing the amount of time I have available.

At one point in December, I reverted to packing 12 to 14 short meetings into one day to try to give support to as many people as possible. It worked relatively well, but the challenge was that the requests kept coming in, while the number of hours in a day stayed frustratingly the same.

A friend recently asked me if all of these meetings and phone calls were really necessary. At first, I was a bit indignant: “Of course they’re necessary! This is my job – I have to support the community. I can’t not help people who need my assistance.”

But then two things happened that made it clear to me that I needed to stop and reassess my now automatic “of course we can have a meeting” response.

The first was an incident in which I had exchanged a multitude of emails with someone to schedule a phone call, only to get on the phone and realize that we only needed to speak for approximately 2 minutes and the questions the person had could have been 100% answered via email.

The second thing that happened was that I got sick. With the flu and all sorts of nasty bugs spreading rapidly right now, I decided that I would try not to share my germs with everyone and would hold no in person meetings. The days on which I had no meetings and few phone calls allowed me to get an incredible amount of work done – work that has a bigger impact on a larger portion of our community than a chain of individual meetings.

What I have realized is that because a meeting seems like an easy solution, a solution in which you don’t have to spend any time articulating what you need in advance and you can just show up, we all tend to gravitate towards that solution first.

And while I do believe significantly in the power of meeting face-to-face, I also have started realizing that a higher form of generosity is not simply giving your time, but helping people articulate what it is that they are hoping you can assist them with and getting them that.

The trick here is that getting to that point doesn’t always have to involve a meeting or a phone call. In fact, productive, efficient generosity should be more focused on zeroing in on the best cure for what ails someone, not the delivery method.

A huge portion of what people are looking for when they ask to meet with me are resources and opinions. They have a problem or they are stuck trying to overcome a hurdle and they are looking for something to help them get unstuck or they have developed something and before they put it out into the world, they want “expert” feedback on it.

The majority of the time, I have realized that I can help people find all of those things much more efficiently without a meeting or a call.

I can see someone arguing that the meeting brings us closer, that it strengthens the relationship, puts a face to a name, and makes it more meaningful to work together going forward. And in some cases that may be true, but it is also true that just as we can’t effectively have 150 best friends in our personal lives, in our business lives we also have varying degrees of connectedness and depth in our relationships.

Adding value through your work isn’t dependent on you having that “best friend” relationship with every contact you come across.

To me adding value comes from providing what people actually need, which is usually a way to get unstuck, a door to be opened, or an arrow to point them in the right direction. And that doesn’t always require a meeting.


2 thoughts on “On Generosity and Productivity

  1. Good one! Each of us has a finite amount of time and most importantly, energy. We have to be judicious in where we spend that energy, whether it be physical or emotional. P.S. Enjoying your blog;you’re an excellent writer.

  2. Jessica, good on you. It’s not easy to say no. If you’re for pointers on how to fiercely guards your time and calendar speak to Thatcher; he does it better than anyone I know. Also, Charlie O’Donnell had a great idea that may work for you: he had the same problem, too many people wanting meetings, not enough time. To help alleviate this, he would have lunch every Friday at Vapiano’s and would invite ~10 people he couldn’t justify a one on one meeting with (I was clearly one of those). Charlie made an effort to speak with all of us individually and, in the process, we each got to meet an interesting group of people in the community. In fact, I met Miriam of the Canadian Consulate at that lunch, which resulted in a consulting engagement out of which VentureOutNY was born. So, clearly it worked for me as well! Let me know what you think. ~Brian

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