Free Isn’t Usually Free

Time. It’s our one non-renewable resource.

A few years ago I wrote about how a single meeting can derail an entire day, in part because “having a fixed stop time completely changes my approach to the day.” Well, now that I’m a dad that’s been amplified. Every day has a fixed stop time when my daughter gets home from daycare. I have a lot more days where I’m not at my peak too – sometimes it’s a bad night of sleep, or we’ve all got a cold, or just the general chaos of having a one-year old. The end result is that I have less hours to spend on work, so I really need to ensure that I’m spending that time intelligently.

We recently were contacted by the engineering firm that installed new lighting for us back in 2013. Part of that project was covered by National Grid, our electricity provider, who provides incentives for small businesses to upgrade to energy efficient lighting. We’ve since completed our big warehouse renovation and have no real plans to do any major upgrades.

They pushed pretty hard for a meeting, making sure to hammer home the points that the quoting process is free and that National Grid might cover up to 60% of the cost. I’m sure a lot of people take the meeting, because they figure “why not?” We politely declined. We would have ended up wasting a ton of time and energy, and for everyone involved we would have chopped up their schedule for at least the initial meeting and follow-up to discuss the quote. That’s time coming directly out of the laundry list of projects that we know are going to make us more money, or save us time, or improve our customer’s experience with us.

Saying no isn’t easy, especially when something doesn’t appear to cost anything, but as we’ve gotten bigger and our personal lives have gotten busier at the same time, it’s become an increasingly important skill.

2 comments on Free Isn’t Usually Free

  1. Rob says:

    How do you tune out the noise? How do you manage to avoid the Firehose of great ideas from every direction – colleagues, friends, yourself, the internet? There seem to be opportunities around every corner.

    Sometimes I find it incredibly difficult to judge whether it’s worth finishing a task – some things are useful even if they’re only half done, but lots of things I find aren’t useful until they’re 100% complete – and that jump from 95%-100% can often be longer than you realise as issues are uncovered. How do you judge when things are worth completing vs considering sunk costs & opportunity costs of doing something different?

    How distinct is your time set aside for planning and your time set aside for “doing”?

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