It’s a law of time management that you’ll almost always underestimate the time you’ll need to perform work of any sort; this, more than anything else, is what creates a serious time crunch.
I’ll be the first to tell you that when opportunity knocks, to grab it by the horns and ride. But there’s an art to recognizing opportunity: sometimes, what looks like Your Big Chance is really just a headache in disguise. On a smaller scale, a job or a project you think will be great for your career (or your wallet) turns out to be a great big hassle. In order to tell the difference between real opportunity and plain old extra work, exercise your “NO” muscle.
When something new crosses your professional path, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I really have time for this? Generally, it’s much better to beat your deadlines with a smile on your face than to show up ten minutes late and exhausted. The best way to stay ahead of the game is through good time estimation. Estimate the number of hours you’ll need to complete this project, based on your current schedule. Then, double that number. If you’ll be working with a new client or team, especially in a larger corporation, you know how time consuming cutting through red tape can be, so you might start by tripling that number. You can’t plan for unforeseen consequences, but you can block hours out for them—and chances are, you’ll be glad to have that extra time.
- What can I reasonably expect to gain? I’ve seen it time and time again: opportunities which are supposed to lead to bigger and better things, but which end up leading straight to a dead end. Beware of inflated promises, and always trust your intuition. Also, if payment for this project is based on that project’s success, be sure that you’re acquainted with the marketing plan, and that you do your own research before signing on.
- What, if anything, am I willing to sacrifice in order to make time for this? Sometimes, big opportunity demands big sacrifice. If you really believe this is Your Big Chance, determine what you can cut away in order to make the time you need. If you can compress your schedule enough to make it work, great—but if you’re cutting into sleep time, family time, or self-care time, take a step back and reconsider. Are you really willing to drive yourself to the point of exhaustion?
If this opportunity still seems like a good one after you’ve answered all these questions honestly, go for it! But if your logical mind foresees this new project putting a serious crimp in your personal life—or if it will interfere with other important professional obligations—consider letting it go by. That way, when something even better comes along, you’ll have the energy to take it on. It’s a balance.