Networking opens doors. The more experience we gain in our careers, the more we understand this message. A quick chat here, a brief introduction there, and suddenly out of small talk you land a huge business opportunity. Not bad! For those of us lucky to work from a shared coworking space, it doesn't take much effort to socialise and meet new people. After all, there are constantly new events going on and new faces moving in and out.
However, for some people this can be a slippery slope. In fact, it’s fairly easy to get lost in conversations, laughter and overdo the networking part. Free beers on Thursdays after work, awesome workshops on Fridays, and a constant supply of people around to join you for lunch or a quick coffee break. It’s all well-intentioned, but if the chitchat gets out of control it can actually prohibit you from getting your work done. Work - you know, that thing that inspired you to join a coworking space in the first place? Remember, its main function of an office and it’s also what actually pays your coworking desk fees and bread and butter. As a result, the main questions coworkers around the world are facing is: How do I balance networking with actually getting my work done?
LEARN TO SAY NO! ... AND DON'T FEEL BAD ABOUT IT
Yeah, Jim Carrey was hilarious in Yes Man and certainly it's good to try new things in life, but we also know how bad this turned out in the end. And when it gets down to work, saying yes to everyhting will lead to a similar disaster. Therefore, be selective of how you spend your time at work. If there's an event coming up and you're swamped with work, it's okay to say no. If you're tight on a deadline for an important project, it's fine to cut the lunch break with your colleagues short after half an hour. People will understand. After all it's the main reason you come to a coworking space each day - to work!
Pro tip: Memorize this phrase: "Thank you, but I can't make it this time". Then stop talking. If they press. Stand your ground. They're adults, they'll understand.
USE HEADPHONES TO STAY IN YOUR ZONE
We actually covered this point in our "Beginner's Guide To Coworking" and we simply have to mention it here again. Headphones are one of the most essential tools for shared workspace. They're crucial because, once you finally manage to get out of a small talk after filling up your coffee mug and take a seat on your desk, you want to actually start getting things done and being productive. And nothing is more annoying than getting in your "zone" and being focused, only to be disrupted by a colleague who wants to talk with you about the latest Netflix TV show he was watching the day before. The solution is simple - headphones! Put them on and it will signal to people around you that you're busy working and don't want to be disrupted.
Pro tip: Headphones are also helpful for shielding yourself from "noise pollution" and have proven medical benefits to your health and wellbeing. So the next time your colleagues forget again to step away to take an important phone call, you won't mind at all because you'll be working away to the soundtrack of Mozart's Piano Concerto Nr. 23.
PRIORITIZE YOUR TASKS
Every morning after you grab your coffee, be sure to revise your calendar and the day's to-do list to prioritize your tasks. Similarily, before you rush home to your loved ones in the afternoon, take five minutes to reevaluate and set your plan for the next day. This will help you tremendously to stay on top of things and it will also relieve a lot of stress as you'll work on projects and activities ahead of time to avoid deadline sprints. The act of prioritization itself isn't as hard as it may seem. In fact, everybody does it an uncounscious way, but often we don't get started on important projects until we feel the heat. To avoid that, we need to be more proactive. To do that, you should use Dwight Eisenhower's famous prioritization matric and ask yourself for each of your tasks whether it's important and urgent or not.
For instance, let's say you have a major deadline tomorrow for one of your biggest customers. This is highly important and also quite urgent. This should be your top priority. Is a trusted coworker asking you for a referral or for some quick advice during the course of the day? No problem, let them know you're happy to meet or help, but no tomorrow's deadline. If they're in a hurry or can't wait that long, tell them they better ask somebody else. Additionally, if you catch yourself procrastinating by checking your Facebook updates or organizing your office desk, take a second and think: is it important? No. Is it urgent? No. Concusion: don't do it. As for tasks that are important but not urgent, such as working out, networking and relationships, it's easy to neglect them because "important and urgent" projects will always push them aside. That's why it's essential to schedule time for this activities in your calendar every week.
Pro tip: If a new task shows up and it will take less than five minutes to complete, do it right away. This helps you to keep your to-do list down to a manageable level and will stop you from feeling overwhelmed with work.
BLOCK SCHEDULE YOUR WEEK
Once you've sorted out your priorities, nail them down to specific moments in your calendar. Having trouble making sales calls? Block out 90 minutes on your calendar and close all your browser tabs. Open your CRM and find a quiet place to make your calls. You won't be distracted and you won't be able to schedule any meetings since the time has already been booked for finding new business.
Don't forget, this post is about balancing networking and getting the job done, so don't just schedule work-related tasks! The beauty of coworking is that you're surrounded by cool and smart people at all times. Give your calendar some room for fun stuff, relaxation and breaks so you can really enjoy a coffee chat with your coworker without feeling stressed and don't get burnt-out.
The most effective way to manage your agenda and quickly schedule new meetings is to use an online calendar that allows for easy invites and syncs with your smartphone. This will help you avoid missing any important early morning meetings or accept event invitations for a time period that you already promised to another prospect, customers or friend. We use Calendly because it's simple, effective and free, but there are plenty of options to choose from.
Pro Tip: Want to have a truly stress-free coffee break alone or an engaged what with a new colleague. Holler at Siri and tell her to set a 15 minute timer. Your mind will instaltly forget to keep one eye on the clock and you'd be surprised how refreshing 10 or 15 minutes of free time can be when you're not counting seconds.
STICK TO YOUR PLAN AND MAKE IT WORK
Pomodoro technique, image by Lucas Mascaro
Of course, a plan without action is useless. In fact, it's a waste of time. So keep this in mind the next time you drift away from your schedule and "just want to work 15 more minutes" on the task that you were supposed to have finished already or when you prolong your lunch break by another 10 minutes. The secret is be consistent and strict. If you give yourself precisely one hour to finish an activity and know that you have to move on, your brain and body will do their best to get it done on time.
It's like when you were back in school and had to write an essay for your exams. You probably waited until the night before and knew you couldn't get an extension, so you did what had to be done: downed a Red Bull (or took an Adderall), cracked open your laptop and crushed it out with only minutes to spare. But you got it done. Barring those few disasters when you were out partying with friends all night instead of studying before your finals, you always managed to turn the assignment in on time and pass the course.
So instead of cramming a semester's worth of work into one night, this approach will be more sustainable and avoid going into cardiac arrest before every deadline.
Pro Tip: If you're really struggling and can't manage to work within a time frame on your own, use the "pomodoro techinique". It's based on planning 25-minutes slots (or pomodoros) in which you work on one precise task. After each pomodoro you get small 5-minute break, and after four pomodoros in a row you take a 30-minute break. With a simple egg timer or a fancy pomodoro app, you'll quickly improve your focus and concentration.
Balancing networking and work is difficult. Whatever we do, we always feel like we need more time to really get the most out of both worlds. A simple trick can help you achieve just that - having more time. No, we are not talking about gunning the Delorean to 88 while blasting Huey Lewis & the News. The secret to creating more time lies in making the most out of "dead time".
For example, when you're waiting for the bus to work, try and cut through your work emails instead of playing Angry Birds. When you're taking the train home from your coworking space, do some research for your latest project on your tablet. You'll quickly discover more situations like these and new ways to maximise your time. Additionally, if you feel that you're not getting anywhere with your job and are stuck one particular day, take a break and go for a walk with you coworking colleague to get some fresh air, coffee and ideas. Remember, if you're not working at full speed, it's not worth it to waste your time. Sometimes it's better to work smart, than work hard.
Pro Tip: Whenever possible, take your meetings standing up, or even go for a walk around the block. Walking meetings have been famously employed by genius minds from Einstein to Zuckerberg and those are some footprints we should be following.
In the digital age we are feeling most stressed than ever before. As we are easily connected with all our friends, families and colleagues by email, WhatsApp, Facebook and more, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. It's difficult enough to balance work and life between your company and your family, so when you add the coworking community to the mix it doesn't exactly get muh easier. Luckily, there are plenty things you can do about managing all that.
First, learn to say no when you have no time and use headphones in your coworking station to avoid getting disturbed. Second, the more tasks you have, the more important it is to prioritize them, schedule them every week, and executing your plan. Lastly, make sure you're recovering "dead time" in order to have more breathing room for the rest of the day. Have we missed any technique to balance coworking networks and working or do you have your own "secret way" to handle that dilemma? Let us know in the comments below.