More outbound, less inbound

I woke up this morning thinking about my personal and professional life. As I thought about the events which took place in these different areas of my life over the past few years, I identified a common theme. Most of the important events which produced the greatest value were the result of me taking outbound action to take advantage of an opportunity I had identified. This is in contrast to responding to the inbound requests of others.

I then thought about how I spend most of my days. To do this, I checked my schedule for the next 5 days. I was surprised to discover that, of the 12 meetings I have planned for this time, only 4 are meetings which I took outbound action to set up. The other 8 are the result of responding to inbound requests.

I’m also very responsive to email throughout the day, and email is the ultimate source of inbound requests.

So there’s a mismatch between what I should be spending my time thinking about and doing, and what I actually spend my time thinking about and doing. I should be spending more time on outbound activities but I actually spend more time responding to inbound requests.

If you’re not deliberate with your time, you end up spending much more time responding to inbound requests than you spend taking outbound action. The reason is that, for any given person, there are a lot more unimportant things happening in the world (a proxy for inbound requests) than important things taking place (a proxy for outbound action). There’s a lot less signal than noise. For the sake of argument, let’s say that 20% of what’s going on is important. The actual figure is likely lower. Outbound reflects your interpretation of this signal. Even if you’re wrong half of the time, of 10 things that happen, you’ll be spending time on the 4 that you think matter. Inbound means taking in both the signal and the noise, so spending time on each of the 10 things. Those 6 additional inbound things you spend time on are the majority of what’s happening.

As a result of this thinking, I’ve decided to spend more time on outbound and less on inbound.

I’m going to begin by accepting no more than 5 inbound meeting requests each week. This will ensure that I dedicate more meeting time to the new opportunities I identify as a result of taking outbound action. I have a feeling that the figure of 5 inbound meetings per week may also come down over time.

I’m also going to spend more time thinking rather than in meetings. You need to think in order to be able to identify pockets of opportunity. You also need to spend time thinking to differentiate between the rare inbound requests that may actually create value and the majority which are just noise.

Finally, I’m going to spend less time on email. Rather than look at my email intermittently throughout the day, I’m going to dedicate 3 half-hour buckets of time to email, one in the morning, one in the middle of the day, and one in the evening. I have a feeling that this may also come down with time.

As with any new initiative, I’m excited to be starting. But the results will come from sticking to this plan even when it’s tempting to do otherwise. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to share the plan in public with you.

The second reason is that, if you also find yourself spending more time responding to inbound requests than taking outbound action, you might also want to think about changing your behavior.


Also published on Medium.