Weighing the Benefits of Lunchtime Events

Posted on Oct 5, 2010 in freelance | 0 comments

Many professionals in the corporate world can tell you about lunchtime events. For instance, they offer something to look forward to. They are fun. They break up your day. They keep your sanity in check. And they always seem to take more time then anyone expected (which means fewer hours to suffer through until home time). That’s a pretty nice list of positives for lunchtime events (at least from an employee standpoint), but everything changes when you have your own business.

The past few weeks, I’ve found myself filling my schedule with events that fall around lunchtime—perhaps for the above reasons. By Friday of last week, I had excitedly penned in at least one event per day for this week’s agenda: everything from job fairs to lunch with clients to crazy opportunities like photo shoots and book clubs.

And this is how it all went down—on Day 2, no less.

I decided to try my hand at modeling and volunteered to do a photo shoot yesterday for two sisters who are hoping to get into the fashion industry. I spent the morning cleaning and prepping my house, which was good. The shoot lasted four hours. It was fun. It was a new opportunity. The evening came quickly. I hadn’t written all day. I was tired. End of story.

Then came today’s Park City job fair. The preparations alone make me cringe. (Why, again, would I want to iron clothes, get ready, drive an hour to Park City, generate enough energy to market myself, then drive an hour home?)  Around 1pm, I’m still pre-shower. Burnout hits. I decide the job fair doesn’t interest me. As a fitting substitute, I try to figure out why.

And here is what I’ve decided: Lunchtime events are super fun, and necessary to any freelancer. They are also super TIME-CONSUMING and possibly a waste of time, if misused.

Think about it:

  • Like it or not, events take preparation. That might include putting on a decent pair of pants. That might include dolling yourself up to look your best (which takes time). It might also require compiling resumes and business cards and commuting to the event (which may take a lot of time).
  • Lunchtime comes around fast, particularly if you are like me and wake up fairly late in the morning (to compensate for night owl tendencies). The later your sleep habits, the less time you have to do anything but prepare and attend your event.
  • Events tie up mental and emotional space. When I have an event to attend, my thoughts are often focused on that event and nothing else for several hours before (and sometimes after). I’m thinking of exactly when I need to get ready. I’m thinking of exactly when I need to leave. If it’s a client meeting, I’m thinking of things I should say or do. That leaves very little concentration for writing a blog post or planning a new project—even if I have the time to do it before I head out the door. And when I return, chances are I’ll analyze the event’s value according to my impressions, which also takes time and energy away from my writing.
  • And how many lunchtime events actually last just an hour? Some, but not all.

I’m not that great at math, but the above list seems to add up to a lot of hours in preparation, attendance, and debriefing. No wonder we feel anxiety when we roll too many of these up in our agenda in a single week.

As with a lot of best business practices, the key to managing our events is balance. These opportunities are important—and sometimes crucial–to our businesses and our lives. How else can we build new relationships with people and maintain the ones we already have? How else can we try new things and develop our marketable skills? The trick is to weigh the value (pros & cons) of our events with (1) the time it will take to attend them and (2) the time we need to get our other projects finished to our satisfaction.

In reality, my tune hasn’t changed much over the past few days. I still love to go to lunch with friends, attend networking events, and meet new people. And let’s be honest: sometimes there just isn’t a way around the lunchtime scheduling period. It’s simply the most convenient time for many current and future clients to meet with us. In those instances, you just have to learn how to put your business on hold for the day and make up for it at other times.

At the same time, I’ve realized that when it comes to business, my office hours are sacred space, and I need to think hard about giving up that time to just anything.  Typically, the more events I pack into my schedule, the more quickly I hit burnout and the less productive I am in the areas that really matter. (And I think no event is worth it if I’m unhappy and having trouble progressing.) Of course I will have things I have to attend to, but the more flexible I can be with myself, the better I will feel and the more successful my results will be.

After this week, I think I’m ready to space these kinds of events out a bit, so I can enjoy them more fully. I think one or two a week is about right for me, though I’ll leave room for those valuable exceptions. And as for the remainder of this week, I think just writing this blog post has been therapy enough. I’ll get through it, learn from it, and apply that newfound knowledge to the future.

What scheduling tricks have you acquired to keep yourself happy and motivated? Share your experience in the comments below.

Photo by Ed Yourdon, under a creative commons license.

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