Do you recognize the feeling of stress because you are receiving too many requests? That all these questions mean that you don’t have time to do your own work? In this article I will show you how you can deal efficiently with all those requests ánd actually have some time left.  

If you take steps in your career, you will have more tasks and responsibilities. More and more questions come to you: from junior employees, from students, from colleagues.

However, there are still only 24 hours in a day. How do you find time for your own research, for new projects, time to help others and enough time for your family or hobby?

The other day a professor said to me: “I am naturally helpful, and I want to stay that way”. But actually, I don’t know where to get the time from. I hope that becoming selfish, is not the only way to survive on the career ladder.”

She is not the only one. I meet a lot of people who, like me, would rather say YES than NO. Who would rather help others than sell NO. Also, because they know what it’s like to need help themselves…

In this article I will show you how you can be very valuable to others and have more time for your own work and private life. I will share two simple principles.

Becoming nicer by saying NO…

Kindness cannot be overestimated. Research shows that random acts of kindness not only have positive effects on the receiver, but also on the giver.

Dealing more selectively with your time and occasionally saying NO, does not necessarily mean that you become unkind. It might even make you a nicer person, really! If you are less in a hurry because there is less on your plate, you can give more attention to the people and subjects that you really choose to focus on.

So, you have to make sharp (and smart) choices. This is a different way of thinking that you don’t learn in one blog article. This requires structural attention and a smart approach. But I like to give people practical tools. That’s why I’m introducing you to two simple techniques that help you deal more intelligently with all the requests that come your way.

Not all givers end up at the top

Adam Grant - Give and TakeUniversity of Wharton psychology professor Adam Grant asks himself the following question in his book Give and Take: why are some people so successful? Grant did extensive research and three types of people emerged: givers, takers and so-called matchers.

When it comes to takers, we can all think of someone. Most of us are matchers who strive for a certain balance between give and take.  But the people who achieve the most are the givers. People who help others without expecting anything in return.

Note: it is not the case that givers are successful by definition. They can also, as Grant describes them, become ‘suckers and slaves’. People who stay at the bottom of the career ladder dangle because it exhausts them.

The difference between being a successful giver and a doormat is the way they manage giving.

Below is a video of Adam Grant’s TED Talk ‘Are you a giver or a taker?’.

Five-Minute Favor

A Five-Minute Favor is a good way to monitor your time and stay attentive. Instead of saying NO, you see what you can do for someone in 5 minutes

This technique has already helped many of my clients to find the balance between being helpful to others and taking care of your own time and energy.

By taking only 5 minutes, you automatically start prioritizing. You look at how you can most effectively help someone in a short time. That makes a Five-Minute Favor extra valuable for the receiver.

What can you do in five minutes?

  • send a book or article;
  • give one essential tip instead of a super long advice;
  • putting someone in touch with someone for whom this request is most appropriate.

I often hear that 1 tip, for example, is much more effect than a list of ten tips. Another advantage is that you leave the responsibility to the receiver. In 5 minutes you don’t have the time to take something out of their hands.

Helping someone else effortlessly

Sometimes helping someone else takes more time to think than it takes to execute. With the Five-Minute Favor it is important that thinking and executing takes a maximum of 5 minutes. So, you have to help the other person with something that you do effortlessly.

You can wake me up at night for career advice and tips on how to deal with difficult conversations. Fortunately, clients don’t call me at night, but also just before I have to go to an appointment, I can give them a quick tip with an app. Maybe that’s not for you.

But everyone has their ‘own thing’ in which they can help others, without it taking a lot of time or energy. Wonder what you can do to help others almost effortlessly.


Another way to be helpful without it taking up a lot of time is to see at what point another person’s help Does Not Cost You Extra Time.

Suppose someone asks for advice. You have plenty of ideas but no time. Later that week you have to go to the other side of the country. Agree to call someone when you are on the highway. Then you not only help the other person, but for you the ride becomes a lot less boring.

American gurus shorten this to NET (No Extra Time). I think it sounds better in Dutch: GET (Geen Extra Tijd).

Always answer

Sometimes your head is spinning and your plate runs over. You don’t have 5 minutes and do not see a chance to apply the NET principle. What do you do when a request comes in?

Hearing nothing from you doesn’t seem very nice, and it often takes more time in the end. Because someone will repeat their request or call after an email. A one-line message in which you indicate that you are too occupied to answer in detail can do a lot of good.

Someone who doesn’t hear anything, keeps dangling in uncertainty and waiting. Maybe even uncertainty will arise: am I not interesting enough, not good enough? A short and clear answer prevents that. So always take for a quick response.

What do you do with your spare time?

With Five-Minute Favors and the NET principle, you’ll save time. Time for your own research, or just time to go home early; in short, time for things that really matter to you.

Helping others without getting exhausted as a giver requires smart thinking!

In my High Impact Coaching I teach clients how to make smart choices. Choices that suit them and that help them achieve their goals. If you wonder if this coaching is something for you, please contact me. We will then schedule a meeting in the near future.

Author: Linda van der Wal
Coach and trainer Leadership and career for academics