How to Network With Limited Free Time

Fairly recently, I was thinking about how to network more. Yep, it’s one of those “should’s” on everybody’s list that also includes spending more time at the gym, eating better and spending less. Unfortunately, all these “should’s” compete with each other for one scarce resource: your time.

When it comes to a career, I’m afraid there’s really no out. You can either find time to handle your career, or let your career handle you. And a key part of handling your career is knowing how to network.

And I don’t mean networking that’s exclusively a job-search strategy. Professional networking is also a developmental tool that can enhance your value in your current position. By talking to people in similar positions, you can share information and observations about industry trends, best practices and lifelong career strategies. 

So, yes, everyone needs to know how to network — and then do it. But no one, including me, wants to make the time. Here’s how I ended up approaching the dilemma. 

Knowing How to Network by Reallocating Your Time Bank

I realized I couldn’t add more hours to the day, so I had to pull time from what I already had. How to do that? I started by looking at common workday interruptions, which I realized were my biggest time thief. I decided to separate interruptions into two camps: those I must respond to — as in an urgent request from my boss — and those I was actually creating for myself. 

Just because I hear my computer ding doesn’t mean I have to reply to that email immediately, for example. More often than not, following business etiquette means responding within 24 hours, not instantaneously. 

Likewise, I don’t need to read an entire news story just because a CNN alert flashed its face at me. I found I was much better off setting aside discrete periods to check my email, voice mail and the latest news than distracting myself with them throughout the day. 

I also realized I was approaching each day’s tasks fairly haphazardly. I just tackled whichever email I happened to read first as my day began or which project I had gone to sleep thinking about the night before. Taking the time to plan my work on a daily basis has helped me prioritize. 

Spreading Yourself Thick

In the end, I’ve found time to invite acquaintances to lunch, attend (judiciously chosen) events in my field of work and, of course, network online. And I’ve not fallen into the “quantity trap” of spreading myself too thin by connecting with everyone LinkedIn and Facebook recommend. Instead, I’ve grown a limited but solid network and, perhaps more importantly, renewed some professional relationships I’ll be the first to admit had fallen by the wayside. Like houseplants, networks require pruning, care and nourishing. 

Knowing how to network — and following through with it — isn’t impossible, I’ve come to realize. And through my contacts, I’m now not only able to learn about unadvertised job leads (which are not important to me right now but could on down the road), new technology that affects my field and a number of unique and useful resources that have increased my efficiency on the job. That’s a lot of payoff, in my book. 

How have you found the time to network? Share your strategies in the comments section.