This post is by Tina Seelig, Faculty Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program
If you don’t prioritize your life someone else will. — Greg McKeown
What happens when you grew up with a mindset of scarcity, and end up in a world of abundance? For so many of us, when we were younger, we believed that opportunities were few and far between, and were been told that we should say “yes” to everything. As a result, when opportunities became more abundant, we gorged ourselves at the buffet, taking on much more than we could chew.
The more knowledge you gain, experiences you have, resources you control, and people you know, the more opportunities materialize— People come to you for help with their projects, and you have the wherewithal to develop your own initiatives. As a result, a trickle of opportunities turns into a stream, and ultimately grows into a rushing river.
So, how do you decide which opportunities to pursue? Here are a few tools:
Determine what matters to you most right now
Is this the time in your life when you want to focus on increasing your impact, your earning potential, your circle of friends, your health, etc? When you’re clear about your objectives, you can choose the commitments that match.
Be honest about how much time each commitment will take
Most things take much more time and effort than we think. For example, there are hours of preparation for each hour of teaching, months of planning to host an event, and years of training to master a new skill.
Project yourself into the future
When you look at your calendar many weeks or months out, it usually looks wide open. However, when you get to that date, that isn’t the case. Learn how to anticipate how much time you will really have, and how you will feel when the date arrives.
Give yourself time to decide
Don’t feel pressured to say “yes” or “no” immediately. Whether it is an external or internal opportunity, let it sit for a while to see how it ages. Is it still compelling in a few weeks?
Look at opportunities in a larger context
If possible, batch opportunities for a week or month, and compare them. It is much easier to determine if an opportunity is valuable when seen relative to others.
Get input from other people
Pick a trusted friend or colleague to help you evaluate opportunities. You can decide to do this for each other, helping each other stay focused on what is most important.
Be willing to give up one opportunity to take on another
This allows you to declare victory with one project and move on to another. This often involves giving the responsibility to someone else… Yes, it’s hard to give up something you love that has been successful, but knowing that is leaves room for something else is refreshing.
Learn how to say “No.”
There are kind ways to decline opportunities. My favorite is, “Thank you for the invitation. Unfortunately, it won’t work right now. Please don’t interpret my lack of time for a lack of interest, and feel free to reach out to me again in the future.”
Trust that opportunities will continue to flow
There is often the fear that if you turn down an invitation, they will just stop coming. That usually isn’t the case. People understand, and will ask again, especially if you invite them to do so.
I admit, this is hard to do… It takes introspection to determine what is most important to you right now, discipline to evaluate opportunities honestly, and the strength to say “no” to things that don’t match your objectives.
As Bruce Lee so wisely said, “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”
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