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How to Avoid Time Wasters by Asking the Right Questions Up Front When people ask for five minutes of your time, know what you're getting yourself into.

By Carlos Gil

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The greatest asset we all have isn't money -- it's time.

In today's digital age it's all too easy to lose sight of focus on our business or career goals by wasting precious time on people and activities that don't align with our higher purpose.

At some point, you've likely experienced one of the following encounters:

  • You're approached on LinkedIn by a random person that you've never engaged with who's asking for 30 minutes of your time -- telling you about his company.
  • You meet someone at a conference who says, "Let's collaborate or find a way to work together."
  • You receive a cold email from someone inviting you to grab lunch because he wants to pick your brain.
  • Someone reaches out to you on social media and says, "I'd love to talk sometime."
  • Or my favorite, which is, "I want to help you gain more followers and grow your business!"

In most cases, the person on the other end isn't authentically looking to do business with you; she likely wants to get to know who you know for her gain, collect insights on how you run your business or sell you on her services. Rarely do these chance encounters and meetings amount to anything significant but a free cup of coffee or lunch.

However, through networking it's possible to meet a potential co-founder, land a new job or business opportunity, and get a client referral -- but that typically doesn't happen right away.

The most effective way you can be more selective about whom you give your time to is by asking the right questions in advance. For example, the next time that someone sends you an unsolicited LinkedIn message or email asking you to meet for coffee or to hop on a call try replying with:

  • "Tell me, what do you want to meet about?"
  • "Can you tell me more about how I can help you?"
  • "I'd love to learn more, can you tell me more what you do here and if it's of interest to me I'll reach out?"

It's OK to push back and ask for the context of a potential meeting.

A few months ago, I came out with the video above and labeled people who intentionally waste one's time as "mental vampires." The video was received with mixed reactions. On the one hand, many viewers related to the message, while on the other, some felt it was the wrong message and you should take every meeting that comes your way.

About 10 years ago when I started my first company, I used to give my time to everyone. I took every possible meeting I could get. I also wasted a lot of time on activities that never amounted to anything besides a free cup of coffee or lunch.

As I've learned the hard way over the past 10 years of building a digital brand and networking with thousands of other professionals, most people are selfishly using social media for the easy path to monetization, when in reality the most effective way one can leverage these tools is to directly get to know someone including their likes, personal interests, hobbies and professional endeavors – and build authentic relationships over time.

There's a fine line between giving your time away and safeguarding it for your family, your business and yourself.

It's impossible to agree to meet with everyone in person or to take every call whenever someone requests five minutes of your time and still run a successful business, which is why asking up front for the "why" is the key to success.

Think about this fact: We're in a digital age whereby a direct message conversation can be just as meaningful and act as an alternative to a phone call.

Watch more videos from Carlos Gil on his YouTube channel.

Carlos Gil

Author of The End of Marketing

Carlos Gil is the author of The End of Marketing: Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and AI, an international keynote speaker, and award-winning digital storyteller with over a decade of experience leading social media strategy for global brands including LinkedIn.

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