A Smarter Way to Manage “Pick Your Brain” Requests

A Smarter Way to Manage “Pick Your Brain” Requests

After a certain point in a writing career a curious phenomenon  happens. One day you open up your email and see this subject line:

Pick Your Brain?

Uggghhhhh…what’s an introvert to do?

The ask

“Pick your brain” requests are sometimes couched in other language. Occasionally it is, “Can I take you to coffee?” or, “Do you have time for a 15-minute phone call?”

But, ultimately it’s a request for time and expertise.

I write about retail and fashion and used to own a wardrobe consulting business. This results in a plethora of emails from young women who want to talk about how I got here (wherever “here” is supposed to be).

It’s an interesting quandary — how can I encourage others while still working within my personality type so I don’t feel drained or used?

Writing is a solitary career in many respects, but reaching out to other writers and editors is a necessary part of building a career. I’ve been lucky to get advice at pivotal points in my life. The right statement at the proper moment can cause deep influence, and the thoughtful part of myself recognizes and respects unabashed ambition.

Yet, this type of request made me want to hide. It was overwhelming. I would continually go through mental gymnastics of what I should give back versus protecting my time and safeguarding my energy.

Until I came up with the Friday Morning Solution.

The Friday Morning Solution: An answer

I stumbled upon it by accident. A very…uhhh…let’s say enthusiastic (i.e. pushy) person sent me a note through every possible means of email and social media requesting a brain picking session. I said yes, but the only time available on my schedule was Friday at 8 a.m.  

Then the craziest thing happened. That person ghosted me. No more messages through Twitter, Facebook, email or LinkedIn.

Hmmmm….what happened? Was this about scheduling?

Turns out, yes. It was very much about scheduling. For the next couple of weeks, for every “Can I take you to coffee?” email I received I suggested we talk on Fridays at 8 a.m. No one took me up on the offer.

In the months that followed I kept to my dedicated day and time, but soon discovered another concern fluttered to the surface. My inbox became a series of back-and-forth emails that essentially said, “That’s great and all, but can we do it another time?”

This lead me to write the below form letter. Its primary purpose is to cut down on the number of administrative emails that pile up and make me want to hide under covers.

My email response

Hello!

If you are receiving this message it means you have ed me for a “pick your brain” meeting or have offered to take me out for a cup of coffee so we can talk about work.

Here’s the scoop: I frequently receive emails asking for these conversations. I’m an introvert, so meetings with strangers ( consuming that much coffee) would make me a jittery mess. Plus, I need to do other things like make money to pay my mortgage.

However, I know what it is like to need a word of advice that just STICKS so life makes more sense. That’s why I set aside Fridays at 8 a.m. EST as “pick my brain” meeting time.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: That’s great, but can we do it on a Wednesday?

A: Nope. Fridays.

Q: Uhm, cool – but can I schedule it at 10 a.m.?

A: Nope. 8 a.m.

Q: Can you schedule it later because I have to clean my house, work on my abs, catch up on Real Housewives, drive my aunt to work, feed my dog, sleep, etc:

A: Nope. Fridays. 8 a.m.

Q: Why would I be catching up on Real Housewives?

A: Because it’s easier to get up in the morning when there’s an episode waiting. Atlanta is the best franchise, by the way. You can’t argue with me on that because I’m Gone with the Wind fabulous.

Q: I don’t know what “Gone with the Wind fabulous” means.

A: You need to catch up on Real Housewives Atlanta.

Q: I live in the same city as you. Can we just meet up?

A: Nope. Because getting there, waiting, and getting back home takes time. So, the 30-45 minute meeting that was promised inevitably turns into 90 minutes.

Q: I live in another time zone, so can we change the time?

A: Nope. I’m not a morning person either. It stinks. But, this is the time that works for me.

Q: You are sounding mean right now. What’s your problem?

A: I’m trying to maintain sanity, be available to cool people and pay my bills at the same time. Fridays at 8 a.m. equates to healthy boundaries.

If you would like to go forward email two options of Fridays that work for you, your Skype name, and a phone number (in case technology decides not to work that day), and we will go from there.

Thank you!

To be clear, the Friday Morning Solution was never about manipulating people.

It honestly fits perfectly within the framework of my calendar. I can make myself available prior to the start of my work. The proposed conversation can take place before the introvert part of me needs to recharge later in the day.

I’ve had the Friday Morning Solution in place for two years. Over 100 people have requested meetings. Guess how many people have taken me up on the offer?

One. Just one person.

And, that meeting? It was awesome because we both wanted to be there. I was safe within the framework of the Friday Morning Solution. I could truly be present for the person who wanted to chat and I didn’t feel overwhelmed or exhausted.

Making the Friday Morning Solution work for you

Your Friday Morning Solution can be another day or another time. The idea is simply to place boundaries that match both your calendar and personality type.

Another solution is to charge for your time because you deserve to be paid for your expertise.

Picking your brain (or mentoring) can serve as another income stream within your larger business plan. I personally don’t want to pursue that option right now. Instead, I will continue to hold that 8 a.m. spot.

If no one takes me up on it? It’s more time I can be by myself and gather energy for the day ahead.

Filed Under: Freelancing

76 comments

  • Rhonda says:

    What a wonderful solution. What caught my eye most was the time. I’m an early bird, and as such, I’m usually caught up doing things involving others in a world that stays out past 9:00 at night and wants not to meet for coffee at 6:00 in the morning. So if I ever want to pick your brain, this is gonna be great. And setting up the boundary on your schedule seems like the most common sense way to weed out (maybe “curate” is a better term?) those who are serious about wanting your help.

  • Mia Wenjen says:

    Genius solution! As someone who does consulting, “meet for coffee to pick your brain” is really let me get you to work for free on my behalf. I love this approach.

  • Lisa McKinney says:

    I concur this is a great idea. So simple, yet effective! I am definitely sharing.

    What struck me most, however, was the number of people that chose not to honor your scheduled “office hours”. It was rather disheartening. Appearing more so that people are rather selfish and looking to take advantage, than anything. I wouldn’t dream of demanding that someone I’ve asked help from meet my demands of availability and circumstance. Just another lesson to all of us, of the importance of boundaries for these requests.

    • Kaarin says:

      Right? It was odd that people bypassed a simple statement of availability. The FAQ helped tremendously, but it surprised me that it was even needed.
      Thanks for reading, Lisa!

  • outsiderart says:

    So, what do you do you when it’s friends/colleagues who are repeatedly making requests and assuming free help because of collegiality? (Btw, my fee schedule does have a “consulting” section and I do offer reduced rates to folks I know well.)

    • Kaarin says:

      A “friends & family” rate is a great idea. The only other thing I can say is to place boundaries around this type of request and stick to them. Dear Sugars podcast did an episode called, “The Power of No” where they talk specifically about colleague requests and what happens when you say no to family. Highly recommend it.

  • Cyrus Mavalwala says:

    Thanks for sharing your great email Kaarin. I especially like your strategy of preempting further email discourse that saves everyone time!
    Cyrus

  • Denise M. says:

    While setting boundaries is necessary and establishing a firm time that works for you is sensible, how about drafting a brief FAQ that summarizes actual questions and answers that would be helpful and send that in response to “pick your brain” requests. To that end, here’s an intro everyone has permission to use as their macro text next time someone seeks career advice.

    “Thanks for your inquiry. The Write Life (hyperlink) is an excellent blog that shares insights from professionals in a variety of communication disciplines. I have found it to be one of the most useful websites for freelancers, and you will too. Because I am self-employed and receive many requests like yours, I am unable to respond to individually. It’s one of the most important lessons you will learn if you choose this career. Best wishes to you.”

    I serve on my alma mater’s alumni board and field many questions from recent graduates. There are common threads in these conversations that made drafting a Q&A easy to compile, share and add to as needed.

  • Rachelle Cobb says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Kaarin! I plan on implementing this both for the sake of my own sanity and also because it will guarantee that the other person truly wants to be there. Love this tip.

  • Jacquelyn Stagg says:

    I love this idea! As a freelance graphic designer with a toddler I’m already working around my daughters schedule! Boundaries have always been my biggest problem to enforce with both clients AND everyone else who thinks they can get something for free! Time is way too precious to let yourself be taken advantage of! Thanks for writing this!

  • Tracy Davis says:

    Wise and funny! It’s unlikely, but if lots of people start wanting to pick my brain, I’ll know just what to do.

  • Marjorie Sarah says:

    I so needed this. Thank you!!! And why did I think it always had to be in person? Skype!

    • Kaarin says:

      Oh, thank you! And, yes! Do it by Skype. You can always do a meeting in person if it is better for your schedule or if it feels more comfortable face-to-face. But, it’s also okay to save yourself a drive while cutting back on logistics. Online meetings help my sanity sometimes!

  • Jema @ Half the Clothes says:

    So grateful to have read this. I send out enough of my own “pick your brain” requests that I feel guilty turning down any that come my way. Brilliant to do it within a framework. Thanks for writing! (And Scott from Overexamined Life sent me here after I commented on a “how to say no” article of his about almost this exact thing – saying no to a bigger ask from someone who has said yes to a past smaller ask.) Cheers!

  • Anita Hampl says:

    One of my favorite mentors always would say about such requests, “Ouch! No! That would hurt!”

    Thanks for the great tips.

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