The more successful you become as a leader, the more other people will demand of your time. As a result, if you’re going to maintain margin for your most important priorities, you’ll have to make some difficult decisions about your accessibility.
Recently, I was listening to Andy Stanley talk about this very topic. He said,
The harsh reality of leadership is that the more successful we are, the less accessible we become. As things grow and as more people become involved, a leader can’t be equally accessible to all people. So then we are faced with the dilemma of who gets my time and who doesn’t, when do they get it, and and how much of it do they get.
Your time is a zero sum game. When you say yes to one thing, you’re simultaneously saying no to something else. The more successful you get, the more difficult this becomes. You find yourself saying no to good things—worthy things—in order to say yes to your most important priorities.
For example, last week I spoke at a writer’s conference. After my speech, at least a dozen people handed me their book proposal or manuscript and asked if I’d read it and tell them what I think. I truly love helping authors. There was a time when I would have felt guilty about saying no.
After all, from the perspective of the one asking, it’s not a big request. But what they usually don’t realize is that I get dozens of these requests each week. To agree to their request would require a major investment of my time. Add all the requests together, and I’m soon eating into the time allotted for my own projects, friends, family, and health.
As a result, I said to each one, “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that won’t be possible. In order to be faithful to my other commitments, I have to say no to these kinds of requests. I hope you understand.”
What about you? If you’re a leader with more demands than time, you’re probably faced with similar situations on a daily basis. Here are seven ways you can limit your accessibility, so you can stay focused on what matters most:
- Acknowledge your resources are finite. This is a fact. You have 168 hours per week. No more, no less. Every time you commit to something, you are depleting your available time. Your other resources are also limited, including your attention, money, and energy.
If you ignore this, it will eventually catch up with you. You’ll pay a high price when that happens—perhaps an emotional breakdown, a divorce, wayward kids, a business failure, or a health crisis.
- Determine who needs access and who doesn’t. Not everyone needs full access to you. They may think they do, but they don’t. Therefore, you must prioritize your contacts and relationships.
For me, my family, the people I work with daily, and my close personal friends constitute my “inner circle.” They get my time first. Remember: once you let people in, it’s hard to ask them to leave without creating misunderstanding or hurt feelings. Be intentional.
- Take practical steps to limit your accessibility. Here are a few things I do:
- I use two e-mail addresses: a private one and a public one. I monitor the first; my assistant monitors the second. Only about 30 people have access to my private address. If something hits my public account and requires my personal response, my assistant redirects it to my private account.
- I follow a limited number of people on Twitter—about 170. These are the only ones who can direct message me. It keeps me from getting flooded with spam, which is what my life was like before I unfollowed 108,698 people. I still interact with people in the public space via replies. I think it is even more effective, because others can observe and jump in.
- I have a private Facebook profile and a public fan page. The first one is for my inner circle and a few others. The fan page is for everyone else. My accessibility on Facebook is almost identical to my access on Twitter.
- I have two phone numbers. You guessed it—a private one and a public one. I use Google Voice for my public number. It goes directly to voice mail, transcribes the message, then e-mails it to my assistant. If it is something requiring my personal attention (rarely), he forwards the notification to me.
- Make a list of common requests. Go through your e-mail for the last few months and compile a list of recurring requests or comments. You’ll find that they fall into specific categories. Here’s a short sample of a few of my categories and requests:
- Thanks for your blog.
- I noticed a typo on you blog post today.
- How can I advertise on your blog?
- Would you write a post about my product [or service]?
- What WordPress plugin are you using to [specific feature]?
- Can you recommend a web developer?
- Do you accept guest posts on your blog?
- Would you consider serving on our board?
- Would you consider investing in my company?
- Would you read my proposal [or manuscript] and give me some feedback?
- Would you publish my manuscript [or book]?
- Can I send you a copy of my new book?
- Would you take a look at my blog and tell me what you think?
- Would you consider mentoring me?
- Would you consider coaching me?
- Can you consult with my company?
- Can you answer a question?
- Can I meet with you over coffee [or a meal]?
- Can I get together with you to ‘pick your brain’?
- Can I schedule a call with you to discuss my service [or product]?
This is just a sample. Currently, I have identified about 50 common requests.
- Decide how you will respond to these requests. This is a huge time-saver. Why keep re-inventing the wheel? Craft a thoughtful response that really adds value and use it to point people in the right direction. Save your response as an e-mail signature or use something like TextExpander.
It also takes some of the pain out of saying no. It enables you to decline with grace, without going through the angst with each new request. (This is especially important for people-pleasers like me, who hate saying no.)
I have an e-mail signature for every one of these common requests. My assistant manages and uses them on my behalf. It’s a great tool for training people who work for you.
- Delegate to people you trust. You don’t have to do it all. If you are like me, you may say yes, but then regret it. However, if you can have someone on your team act as a buffer, it helps. This gives you the space you need to be more thoughtful and priority-driven in your decisions.
In addition, people on your team are often better equipped to help the person making the request. Or at the very least, they can point them to the resources they need without your involvement. Either way, the person making the request is well-served.
This is also a great opportunity to train your people by allowing them to shoulder the load. Jethro once told his son-in-law, Moses:
The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself” (Exodus 18:17–18)
- Accept the fact that you will be misunderstood. People often feel entitled. Some will try to shame you. Others will talk about you behind your back. Don’t worry about it. There is nothing you can do to stop them.
There are just some things that other people won’t understand until they have walked in your shoes. Trying to convince them otherwise only further depletes your limited resources and gets you off-track. My advice is to ignore them.
If this is a struggle for you, that’s a good sign. It means you have a good heart. But it’s going to take more than that to succeed over the long haul. You’ll also need wisdom and courage to limit your accessibility in order to stay focused on your priorities and fulfill your calling.