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Is Being Ruthlessly Unreachable and Advertising "I Won't Help You" OK?

Will You Help Me

I was stunned at first.

Did Cal Newport really conclude that being ruthlessly isolated and publicizing “I'm Not Here to Help You” was the takeaway from Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek?

This question comes from an article Cal wrote on I Will Teach You to Be Rich about time management from an MIT postdoc's perspective.

The section that sent me spinning was this:

Fix your ideal schedule, then work backwards to make everything fit — ruthlessly culling obligations, turning people down, becoming hard to reach, and shedding marginally useful tasks along the way. The beneficial effects of this strategy on your sense of control, stress levels, and amount of important work accomplished, is profound.

After reading almost to the end of the article, I stopped to think.

Sure, Cal had compelling case studies from well-known and professionally successful people.

But – from my personal perspective – what are the benefits to me and to everyone else if I implemented this mindset? And could there be benefits for you if you did too?

Maybe it was worth considering. Especially in the context of the growing demands on my time, energy, and attention as SimpleREV expands beyond its original embryonic footprint.

I didn't want to question Cal's motives and goals because they seemed pretty different from mine. But then I read the conclusion.

Fix the schedule you want. Then make everything else fit around your needs. Be flexible. Be efficient. If you can't make it fit: change your work. But in the end, don't compromise.

My core question for you to answer in the comments is this:

Is It OK to Be Unreachable and Put Out a Sign Stating, “I'm Not Here to Help You?” If Yes, Why? If No, Why Not?

Note: It's cool to stop reading and go directly to the comments section to answer. If you want to see my thoughts about this, read on.

My Needs vs. Everyone Else's

Unconsciously or through subtle selection, most people in my life are very “other-centric” like I am. By this I mean their primary concern is the well-being of others.

A textbook example is the Smart and Simple Matters interview I did with my friend, Dee Williams, a mensch and all-around amazing woman.

So, assuming I could get past the initial usefulness of being intentionally isolated, would I want to hang out a sign everywhere that said “No Help Here. Go Away!”?

Would I want my family and friends to hesitate or not even ask me for help because of my schedule?

My answers are definitely no.

Now, Cal's relationship approach and intense focus could work for some people whose dynamics don't resemble mine. And if I misinterpreted Tim Ferriss' messages from The 4-Hour Workweek and he believes what Cal does, that's my fault.

However, the conclusions I drew from this transformative book only solidified my commitment to being other-centric. I resolved to create a business rich with outsourcing, automation, and eliminating insignificant tasks. But the purpose was to focus on providing more value to friends, neighbors, family, and my communities.

In the end, it came down to this: I wanted to make a huge impact in a way others needed me to, not a moderate impact in the way I thought I should.

I'm not describing a black and white issue. Some people can have a bigger influence by locking the world out for a while and resurfacing with a world-changing book, service, or idea.

Everyone's approach to life is different and most of them are valid. But I'd like to suggest an alternate paradigm for people living intentionally and with an abundance of generosity.

An Alternate Mindset

Being intentionally and unintentionally hard to reach are very different things. And they feel very different.

Although our schedules are a reflection of our priorities and values, is there a way to temporarily alter our calendars without compromising what's important to us?

I strongly believe there is.

Look. If you want to put out the disclaimer in your Personal User Guide that you won't engage with me, that's cool. I'll respect that, even if I can't fully understand it.

But you'll never find me communicating in my Personal User Guide – or anywhere else – that I'm not interested in the unexpected and unscheduled.

I can never have too many friends. I can never have too many opportunities. And I take responsibility for sifting through all the useless communication and information to leave myself with just the most meaningful. That's what Experience Curating is all about.

There are legitimate reasons why what you're doing is so important that you need to temporarily cut out the world, stop the inflow of new opportunities, and eliminate any path other than the planned one. Especially if focusing your efforts now will help a massive number of people later.

But, if that's the case, make sure everyone can understand it like Cal does. Because I believe we owe it to everyone else to help them understand what makes us tick and why.

Now It's Your Turn

OK, now it's your turn to shine.

Dazzle us with an answer to my core question today:

Is It OK to Be Unreachable and Put Out a Sign Stating, “I'm Not Here to Help You?” If Yes, Why? If No, Why Not?

If you're having trouble framing the issue, here are some supplemental questions to consider, many compliments of my friend, Shanna Mann:

  • How do you weigh actual, immediate impact against potential, long-term influence?
  • Is being unavailable more about choosing who you serve and when?
  • Would Cal's approach work better or worse if he were a woman or teenager?
  • Do people value your time more if they know it's hard to gain access to you?
  • Do we need to play the old “introvert vs. extrovert” card here?

I'm jazzed to read your thoughts!

Photo Credit: kurichan+
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