Interchangeable vs Irreplaceable

For Our Burnt-Out Friends

I have a quirk that pisses a lot of people off: I hate the phone.

Unless you’re my wife, you may not get a call back – ever. Sometimes even clients I like will get the cold-shoulder. I used to have a 10-minute bullshit limit on phone calls, now I’ve totally banned unplanned phone calls.

This is a quirk which has spilled over into other areas of my life: I vehemently aim to meet in-person only one day out of the week. I also try really hard to only answer emails twice a day (because the iPhone notifications are right fucking there, this rule gets broken. A lot). I’ve stopped doing “coffee meetings” with strangers entirely without a $350 deposit.

Why? Those things can’t be compartmentalized.

The phone is a rampant time-suck. Even setting boundaries in advance (“I only have 10 minutes for this call”), you get sucked into “one more question…”. There’s no advance way to know which calls will be quick and which won’t, so you can’t ever plan your day effectively.

I’ve had phone calls make me late to meetings, I’ve had coffee meetings with “brain-pickers” make me miss more important phone calls from paying clients, I’ve had emails take days to get through, and every phone system on earth has “recently changed its menu options, so I’d better listen carefully”. Bullshit. If I never had to use a phone again, I’d be thrilled.

This quirk pisses people off. Seth Godin articulated it perfectly why I’m OK with that.

The TL;DR version: Seth found a way to identify CES “booth zombies” who snag freebies at every booth and leave without buying anything. This identifier allowed him to save his breath + enthusiasm for customers that actually purchased.

Take his idea one step further: let’s actively embargo (for a set time) meetings, emails, phone calls, or whatever else that takes you away from your best work, family, or whatever’s important to you.

I know it sounds snooty, but you, I, and anyone else who lives and breathes their work – we have a limited, slowly-replenished pool of creative fuel for our craft.

When that fuel’s gone, we burn out.

I’m not talking about passion. You can have passion but no enthusiasm that day.

People are all too happy to waste your time. They’ll engage you in meetings, email chains with 30 people cc’d, or phone calls where you have two words to say, then get to sit in silence/review the next 20 responses/nod along for the next 50 minutes. They’ll ask redundant questions because they didn’t document your answer the first time or don’t know how to search their email or Google for what they need. They’ll ping you with inefficiencies that don’t get you closer to creating (for you, or them).

And that’s sad.

If I’m chasing my tail trying to answer a billion emails, each with a billion questions, ping-ponging from meeting to meeting (commuting is the ultimate time killer), or sitting around waxing philosophical on the phone, I’m not doing my best work. Entire days of planned creative productivity go up in smoke thanks to one fucking phone call or email chain.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about planned meetings, coffee with true friends, pre-arranged or 2-minute max clarification phone calls, or efficient emails (one question, one topic, 2-3 people, and no more than 3 emails in the chain w/out a 2-minute max clarification phone call). 

I’m talking about interruptions.

People would make me feel bad about valuing my time, like I had no right to say, “No, really – I hate the phone. Email only please or Text if it’s a yes-or-no.”

They’d say, “You’re going to miss out on customers that way! You’ll totally piss off your clients! If I was paying you…”

If you were paying me, you’d want me doing my best work for you, no question. If all you do is jump from email to meeting to phone call all day long, you’re not doing your best work. You also can’t do your best work if you’re exhausted.

No solopreneur or small business owner should keep the hours of a 7-11.

It’s gone beyond setting boundaries. It’s about actively turning off channels of communication that are broken, inefficient, and wasting your creative fuel.

Fear Of Missing Out is insidious. Don’t let it get to you. Our creative fuel is burned up by the “let me just pick your brain” or “can I buy you a coffee?”-types who just want to hear us talk about their idea but not have us execute on it or pay us for our help. Interruptions also burn up our fuel in a sort of mental “holding pattern”.

Creative fuel gives us our time to create – we only have so much time to create before we shuffle off this mortal coil. Got it? A post by Scott Hanselman put this another way: you only have so many keystrokes in your hands before you die.

You. Only. Have. So. Many. Keystrokes. In. Your. Hands. Before. You. Die.

So they’d better be pretty fucking important and worthwhile keystrokes, right? They’d better reach a lot of people or reach one person with full effect.

I’m following Hanselman’s rule of putting my notes into a wiki or a blog post form now on.

And for all those folks who have FOMO (fear of missing out):

I’ve worked really hard to make my opinions and advice public, sharable, and visible from the outside. I put a lot of my expertise out in the world for free. From Slideshare to YouTube to HaikuDeck. Even what other folks think of me is out there for all to see.

If someone truly wants my help, they’ll seek me out. They’ll comment on my blog posts, they’ll watch my Ignite talks and ask me questions, or otherwise do something to let me know that they sought me out in particular to help them solve a problem. They’ll send me an email detailing their problem.

They won’t leave me a 10-second voicemail with no details asking me to call them back “as soon as possible”. Cuz it ain’t happening.

Being reclusive for the sake of filtering and fostering exclusivity is not a bad thing; it’s fucking essential to your survival as a business owner.

In 5 years, I’ve never run dry on clients. I have built some amazing client relationships founded in mutual respect specifically because I know how to value my time (by extension, they trust me to value theirs).

If a prospect is looking for someone – anyone – who can fix a website or “do marketing” or won’t do business with me until they pick my brain clean of good ideas, I’m not that guy. Would you rather have a customer who believes you’re interchangeable? Or one who thinks you’re irreplaceable?

According to the transitive property, if a cup of coffee is about $5, and your advice is only worth a cup of coffee to them, your brain and the entirety of its contents are only worth about $5 to them.

I’d like to hope my brain and it’s contents are worth more than $5, wouldn’t you?