How Much Is Too Much?


Note: I wrote the following for the December issue of the Batavia Chamber newsletter. And while it speaks directly to issues related to entrepreneurs, I think the message of how we prioritize the moments of our lives has broader meaning.
In the context of our lives, even five minutes is perhaps too much.
Two critical activities for any entrepreneur are networking and proposal writing. Recent conversations about both called me to think more deeply about our lives and the moments that constitute them.
“The founder of BNI says 6-1/2 hours per week is about the right amount of time to spend networking. What do the rest of you think?” That question began a conversation at a recent Chamber meeting.
The statement is, in isolation, meaningless. It’s like saying $60,000 per year is enough money, 75 years is sufficient for a lifetime or 5 inches of rain per month is too much. If a child dying of cancer requires treatments costing $10,000 per month…or a scientist publishes a seminal work at age 80…or a tropical rainforest supports untold valuable species, arbitrary limits are not only meaningless, they leave us practically and emotionally destitute.
The metrics I use, and the boundaries I place on them, must be considered in the context of what the world needs from the time I spend on this planet.
If it seems plebian to compare business networking with illness, seminal works or the planet’s ecology, I disagree. Steve Jobs said that awareness of the limits of his life added meaning to every moment he spent. If your life, and the lives of those around you, is left unimproved by the time you spend together, then five minutes per week is too much. If, on the other hand, you are facile at making connections that move you and the world forward, then perhaps 60 hours per week is not nearly enough.
Only you can decide what it really means to move you and the world forward. Few people understood this better than Mike Jacobson, a former Chamber member stolen from us by pancreatic cancer. He never left an event with fewer than three people he could contact in the ensuing days. It was mostly about business, but Mike’s love for Batavia was deeply embedded in his definition of what it meant to move forward. He understood that the emotional content of his journey outweighed the practical.
What then of proposals? I once had a friend who claimed he never wrote a proposal until the client agreed, in advance, it would be accepted.
A proposal is an agreement about how the joint worlds of writer and client will improve when signed and implemented. Whether we want to admit it or not, proposals are often accepted or rejected before a single word is committed to paper. Too often, the phrase “Send me a proposal” is used to indicate the conversation is over—no agreement has been made that will satisfy the practical and the emotional needs of the client.
When I began searching for words to etch the boundaries of networking and proposal writing, I imagined the tasks as only tangentially related. To the extent they are viewed as emotionless steps in the process of creating business, we miss something important about life. Each is an agreement with those around us about how we can jointly move humanity forward both practically and emotionally. If the time we spend is aimed at anything less, then indeed, even five minutes is too much.


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