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When time wasted is time well-spent

Posted by Colleen Wainwright on

One of the questions I get from old-school business people who are just coming online is how the hell I can justify spending so much time on pursuits that are non-monetizable (not a word, and if it was, it would be an icky one, but you get my point.)

Believe me, sometimes I wonder the same thing. I spend ridiculous chunks of any given day online. Some of it (news, industry-related blogs, LinkedIn) has more obvious value than others (Flickr, Facebook, Twitter), but one could make the argument that all of it should take a backseat to what I call "money work": endeavors in which you trade hours for dollars.

Here’s where it gets tricky, though: you need to do a lot of being somewhere—hanging out, reading, commenting, creating content—to get somewhere. If you translate it into old-school terms, you could make a similar argument that the extensive traveling (5+ days/week sometimes) that my father did Back In The Day was largely wasted. Or to draw a finer analogy, that the time he spent on those airplanes or in those airport lounges talking to people who weren’t prospects was time wasted—time that would have been better spent on higher-return activities like drafting articles, catching up with paperwork or dictating stuff for one of his three (yes, really) secretaries to type up.

What Dad would have said, though, is that some of those random conversations wound up delivering the richest rewards. One of his best friends and greatest business relationships grew out of a series of conversations he had with the man who regularly drove him around when he was in New York; one day Artie told him about another guy he drove around—a guy from L.A.—whom he thought my dad would enjoy meeting.

Stuff like this still happens in meatspace, of course, but what’s great is that it can happen online now, too. Just recently I wound up with a consulting client who came to me because she found me online: posting about something completely non-work-related in a Yahoo! group that has nothing to do with my areas of work expertise; I just like the community and free-flowing advice on tap there.

I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons these "random" things work is because we don’t feel like there’s much at stake: we’re just relaxed, being ourselves, and so we end up showing people what we’re made of instead of telling them. As it turns out, one of the things she found appealing was the way I appoached answering questions, something you’d definitely want in a coach or consultant.

So now I’m curious: have you had experiences like this? Where you ended up getting work from some activity or gathering where work was the farthest thing from your mind?

What weird stuff has come over the transom for you, and how do you think it happened?

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