Time management and requests to “pick your brain”

“May I pick your brain for 15 minutes?” That’s a common request with some important time management implications, especially for those who get a lot of these requests. The following are a few things to consider:

If you are the person receiving the request

I’ve received “pick your brain” requests and I’ve handled them in different ways at different times. There’s no one right way to respond to such requests.

It’s okay to say no.

Given how many articles have been written about turning down these requests, it seems as though saying no is hard for many people. That’s not surprising, since saying no to all sorts of requests for your time can be a challenge, as we’ve addressed before on Unclutterer.

Adrienne Graham is one of those who says no to pick-your-brain requests. As she wrote for Forbes:

I love giving advice. I write blogs, articles and a newsletter. I host a radio show. I tweet, Facebook and share nuggets of advice almost daily. So what is it in all of that, that would make anyone think they can still have the right to “pick my brain”? …

Your knowledge has value. You’ve invested time and money into learning your craft and it’s not fair for people to expect you to give it away for free. Even friends need to understand there are boundaries.

As she points out, you can always choose to be helpful in other ways. You may well have free resources — a newsletter, a blog, etc. — that you can suggest the person consult. You can recommend a good book.

It’s okay to say yes.

If you have the time and you want to help, it’s perfectly fine to say yes. I’ve heard many people say that others helped them when they were getting started, and now they want to give back by helping others.

Dylan Wilbanks wrote a blog post entitled On Being Generous, where he stated:

I am an introvert. Alone time is everything to me. And yet, I make the time to meet those who want to talk.

Wilbanks works in tech, and he’s found that as he helps others he in turn gets better at what he does.

It’s okay to say yes, but.

Erin Loechner suggested carving out an hour or a half-hour per week that’s truly convenient for you and offering that time to those who ask. “Yes, I would love to help, but I am currently only available from 4-4:30am EST on Tuesday.”

Kaarin Vembar does this by offering 8 a.m. Friday Skype calls. As she explains to those who ask for an alternative, “I’m trying to maintain sanity, be available to cool people and pay my bills at the same time. Fridays at 8 a.m. equates to healthy boundaries.”

It’s okay to yes, for a fee.

As Rachel Sklar wrote:

You can say, “Sure! My rate is $450 per hour, plus snacks. I’d love to help you!” It is amazing how considerate people become with your time once they have to pay for it.

Nicole Jordan wrote about using this approach:

This is what I started doing, especially for people that I do not know well: I tell them I am happy to meet, I am flattered they asked, and that because my time is valuable I don’t do these PYB sessions for free.

If you are the person making the request

If you’re asking someone to make time to answer your questions, be sure to respect that person’s time.

Consider alternatives to in-person meetings.

As Erin Greenawald wrote:

Somewhere along the way, asking to “sit down for coffee” became the status quo for requests like this. … When you count the time commuting, ordering coffee, sitting down and making small talk, and actually answering your questions, most coffee dates will take almost an hour. And that’s a lot of time to give!

Instead, ask for something that’s even easier. Suggest a phone call — it’s often more void of small talk than coffee, and your contact can do it from anywhere.

If for some reason you really feel you need a face-to-face meeting, you can offer to come to the person’s office, which will cut down on the time required.

Be prepared, so you make good use of the time.

Do some research before making the request — and before the brain-picking session if you’ve been granted one — so you aren’t asking for basic information you could readily get elsewhere.

3 Comments for “Time management and requests to “pick your brain””

  1. posted by Lisa on

    Thanks for this. I had some time yesterday to organize my digital files at work. I have started by putting the year at the front of filenames, and have been renaming some ambiguously named files, sorting large files into folders, and lots of deleting.
    I am working on my own files first, before I start on shared files.

  2. posted by Mark on

    Charging a fee, even a nominal fee, can have a huge impact on how people treat your time. Obviously you can’t charge EVERYONE a fee (“Mom, I’d love to talk about the weather for another 35 minutes with you but I’d have to charge you”), but in a professional context it really cuts down on the amount of your time people will waste.

    I’m a lawyer. I worked for years in private practice and my time didn’t come cheap. My clients liked me, but they didn’t use up more of my time then they had to – they couldn’t afford to. I didn’t get invited to a meeting unless there was a reason for me being there. My clients understood that I wouldn’t review a document until I had been provided with all necessary information. It would have been a waste of time (and my client’s money) to start before that.

    Recently, I moved to an in-house counsel position at a large company. There are lots of wonderful things about working in-house. But while I’m certainly not working for free, the people I work with and advise usually aren’t the same people who see the cost of my time. This has a noticeable impact on how they treat it. I get way invited to more meetings that mean nothing to me and that I contribute nothing to because someone wanted me there “just in case”. I am pressured to review half-finished documents, even though I’ll just have to review the thing again once the business folks finish writing it, because they don’t see the bill for having me review the same document twice.

    I am not complaining about my job – the wonderful parts of it outweigh the negatives. But it certainly drives home how careless some people will be with your time when they’re not paying for it.

  3. posted by sylvia on

    I developed an FAQ which I send in response to any request for an info interview. Usually that is enough.

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