16 February 2017
I’m slowly but surely learning how to say yes during my 80-hour workweek.
For a long time, my default answer for anything not directly related to Stonemaier’s forward progress has been no. Will you have a 30-minute chat with me about Kickstarter? No. Will you attend this convention? No. Will you playtest my game? No.
The reason for this is that my 80-hour workweek is a baseline. That’s the amount of time required to do my job, and that’s the amount of time I want to be working. It’s my sweet spot. I love my low-stress job, I sleep well, I freely take breaks, and I delegate a lot.
However, if I meet with you for 1 hour, that time isn’t deducted from the 80 hours–it’s added to the 80 hours. The result is an 81-hour workweek. We all have our tipping points, and that’s mine. As strange as it is to say, 80 hours is perfect for me, but 81 is too much. So I decline such offers.
The problem with this pattern of saying no is that it’s isolating. It closes every door before I can see what’s behind it. It often feels like I’m taking for granted that I’m lucky enough to have people who want to talk with me. And in many cases, I’ve forgotten that not saying yes doesn’t have to mean saying no–there are other options.
As I’ve become more aware of this pattern, I’ve stumbled upon some solutions. Here are a few tales and takeaways:
- It’s okay to wait until I don’t feel as busy. A few months ago, someone from my alma mater contacted me about discussing a board game program they lead and their interest in getting into the board game industry. They asked if I could meet up for coffee to chat about it. At the time, however, I was really busy. When I’m really busy, it’s hard for me to conceive of a time when I won’t be busy. But I managed to look past that and tell them that I was really busy but that they should contact me in mid-February and we’d find a time to chat. I heard from them a few days ago, and we’re going to meet up.
- I gotta eat lunch either way. A fan and burgeoning designer recently mentioned that he was going to be in St. Louis next week, and he asked if he could pick my brain for a few hours. I politely declined, citing my no-consultation policy. A few days later, it hit me: Whether I’m at my home office or at a restaurant, I gotta eat lunch. I don’t skip meals. So why not spend that hour chatting with someone? It’s not something I can do all the time, but sometimes it’s fine. So I wrote back to the designer and recanted my original statement, and we’re going to meet up next week.
- It’s fine to stick to the plan. If someone asks to chat for 15 minutes, does it ever really mean 15 minutes? It’s pretty rare. For me, even just the concern that a conversation will last longer than originally stated has led me to say no to the entire idea. I’m working on that. Now, when we reach that 15-minute mark, I give myself permission to wrap up the conversation and get back to work.
- If you want to meet, let’s make it happen…now. I attend very few conventions. Perhaps you can see why–if I work 14 hours a day, and I spend 3 days at a convention, the week that follows isn’t an 80-hour week; it’s a 122-hour week! But a lot of people ask if we can meet up at conventions. This has happened a dozen times in the last week alone due to the upcoming GAMA trade show. Instead of simply saying I won’t be there, I’ve been trying a different approach: I tell the person that I’m happy to chat via Skype at any time. Even today.
There are still a lot of things I’m going to say no or to redirect–despite my disdain for the word, it’s important for my sanity to stick to (and perhaps even reduce) the 80 hours. But I’m starting to discover some ways to work around that constraint.
What’s your hourly workweek sweet spot? How do you deal with requests that would take you beyond your tipping point?
I talk more in detail about what my day-to-day activities look like on the Board Game Design Lab podcast.