Kill the ‘Coffee Shopping’ with These 7 Ideas for Better Networking

“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.”

The truth hurts. At the time it was exactly the perspective I needed.

I like meeting new people, learning about their work and figuring out if we can support each other. Most of my business comes from referrals so having an open approach to networking makes sense to me.

However, it’s easy to substitute “networking” for some of the hard, isolating kitchen table effort required of anyone trying to create something epic. Big-idea brainstorming conversations with other people on their own journey feels good. They can prove useful. But the truth is, my predisposition to “coffee shopping” over creation was holding me back and hurting my business.

“Coffee shopping” is how I describe loosely-defined networking meetings and business introductions — which mostly seem to take place in the neighborhood coffee shop.

If you find your calendar consumed with “coffee shopping,” this is the perfect time of year to audit the ROI of the networking meetings you’ve had at Starbucks this year. Is coffee shopping the most productive way to meet your 2017 objectives?

One thing that helped me is developing a system for managing my time and exercising the discipline to maintain it. I’m not perfect, so I’ve delegated most of my scheduling to make sure I keep ample time on my calendar exclusively for creation. Here are a few of my favorite productivity tips that I hope will move you toward better time management in 2017.

The Breakfast Meeting

Breakfast is the most productive meeting time of the day. A 7 a.m. breakfast meeting usually includes a hard stop (I limit them to 45 minutes) 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 you make 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. Always commit to an agenda before the meeting.

The ABCs of Networking

I categorize networking opportunities based on their potential value. An A meeting is high-priority, with clear reciprocity. The C might be an investment of time you make to give back. I want to help others through coaching, counseling, connecting and mentoring, but I also need to manage the amount of time I devote to lending a helping hand.

Set your own definitions of an A, B and C meeting. How many A, B and C meetings have you had in the past 30 days? What is your priority for the next 30 days?

The Email Q&A

Instead of meeting in person, could you trade correspondence to accomplish the business objective? Choosing email instead of a meeting allows you to manage your response in a way that fits you priorities and schedule. I get asked to take calls and meetings with emerging speakers to offer advice on a weekly basis. With a simple template response, I can still lend valuable support, connect people with my coach (Jane Atkinson) and protect valuable time in my calendar.

The No-Alcohol Rule

I am all for celebrating a big win, important milestone or advancing a relationship with some really good wine, but I put those meetings into the proper perspective. When I’m pitching an idea or considering an important decision for my own business, it’s not happening in a bar.

Don’t Let Your Inbox Control Your Day

Take control. Decide when during the day you’re going to check and respond to email. If you are worried about missing something important ,consider this quick audit: Which is more important, the prioritized task I’m working on now or the next email that lands in my inbox (whatever that happens to be)?

What Gets Scheduled Gets Done

If you wake up without a prioritized plan for the day, you’re already a step behind. I find it most helpful to organize my day by “day parts” — chunks of time dedicated to my most important priorities. Also, if exercise is a priority, make the commitment and put it the calendar! I treat my hour devoted to exercise with the same sense of urgency as a client commitment. You simply have to decide and commit to the most critical priorities for you in 2017.

A good day plan also includes white space. Instead of scheduling back-to-back meetings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., give yourself a little time during the day to think strategically and respond to any true crises that may come up. Taking short breaks to walk around, go outside, or get a glass of water (try working in 50 minute bursts) leaves you refreshed and ready to tackle the next challenge.

Time management is about prioritizing, protecting the calendar and putting more structure and a better system in place for the New Year. We all receive the same gift of 24 hours in a day. I hope these tips help you move toward a more productive life.

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