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How to Keep Networking from Draining You

Executive Summary

Whether it’s attending startup events, social gatherings, or happy hours, networking is a necessary part of every entrepreneur’s life. But networking can be extremely draining, sometimes robbing founders of the energy they need to work. There are techniques you can use to prevent and cope with networking-induced exhaustion: (1) determining your optimum level of social interaction by keeping track of how much time networking truly takes; (2) choosing quality over quantity (even if it means meeting less people); (3) bringing a networking partner with you, such as a coworker or trusted friend; and (4) reenergizing through microbreaks during networking events.

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Whether it’s attending startup events, social gatherings, or happy hours, networking is a necessary part of every entrepreneur’s life. Seventy-eight percent of entrepreneurs agree that networking is crucial to startup success, which is why there are a myriad of articles online about how to master and love the art of networking.

But networking can be extremely draining. Imagine the countless hours entrepreneurs spend talking, traveling, and socializing with contacts and potential investors. Excessive social interaction can be physically and mentally exhausting for anyone — even extroverts. In fact, many of the founders I coach describe networking as draining, saying it sometimes robs them of the energy they need to work on actual business operations.

As an entrepreneur, you can’t avoid networking. But there are techniques you can use to prevent and cope with networking-induced exhaustion:

Determine your optimum level of social interaction. Being with others can be enjoyable, but there will always be a point when it becomes too draining for you. Your mission is to figure out what that point is. To do this, list all your networking activities for the past four weeks and how many hours you spent per activity. Include in your list how much time you spent in activities where you had to actively meet and socialize with others, such as startup events or informal dinners. If you’re a founder who spends significant energy prepping for social meet-ups by strategizing, researching, or rehearsing talking points, you can also include how much time you spent doing these networking prework activities.

Next, ask yourself: How many hours, in total, did you spend in networking activities each week? How did you feel at the end of each week? Which week drained you the most and which week did you find energizing, or at least realistically sustainable?

Tracking your networking hours and energy levels can help you be aware of your personal limits. I once had a client who was constantly exhausted from social events. When we tracked his hours, we found he was spending 13 to 14 hours a week in networking activities — which was just too much for him! After some trial and error, we figured out that four to six hours a week was his optimum balance. You’ll know you’ve hit your optimal level once you’ve found a social schedule that you can sustain in the long term and that leaves you feeling productive and energized at the end of the week, rather than miserable and completely wiped out.

Choose quality over quantity, even if it means meeting fewer people. Networking is often seen as a quantity game: The bigger your network is, the better off you are. But if you’re already exhausted, trying to network with every interesting person that comes your way can backfire professionally.

Why? Because strong networks rely on great first impressions. But positive first impressions require large amounts of mental energy, social strategy, and perspective-taking, which you may not have if you’re drained. Be strategic about which networking events to attend. If you can only network a few hours week, choose a few high-quality, high-potential opportunities instead of spreading yourself too thin. Quality opportunities are those that provide long-term value, align closely with your immediate goals, or add variety and balance to your existing network of contacts. If your time is limited and you have an event that doesn’t meet these standards, you’re probably better off skipping it and conserving your energy for a different opportunity.

Bring a coworker or friend as your networking partner. As a founder, there will be times when you’ll have to network more than you want. During these times, consider bringing a coworker with you to help you achieve your networking goals. If you’re a solo founder, bring a friend who is knowledgeable about your business (you can even prepare them beforehand with a company and networking FAQ).

Bringing a partner with you serves three purposes. First, social support can help reduce exhaustion and burnout, especially if support comes in the form of a tangible service such as networking. Second, you and your partner can divide and conquer. This means that you can expend less energy and talk to fewer people, but still gather a large number of contacts at the end of the night, thanks to your partner’s efforts. To make this strategy even more effective, consider choosing a partner who is more extroverted than you or is naturally energized by social gatherings. That way they’re intrinsically motivated and excited to socialize with others.

Use microbreaks to reenergize during networking events. Research shows that microbreaks, or nonwork periods of less than 10 minutes in duration, can help replenish a person’s energy resources so that they’re able to continue their work tasks. A one-minute break can be just as effective as taking a longer break of five or nine minutes! This makes microbreaks ideal for busy entrepreneurs.

To have a reenergizing microbreak, founders should engage in an activity they enjoy that allows them to mentally detach from their networking tasks. A microbreak activity could be as simple as watching a funny video on YouTube or reading an engaging article on their phone. What’s important is that founders fully disengage from networking while they do the activity. To effectively disengage, try excusing yourself for a few minutes so that you can step away from the networking event. You can move to a less crowded area, such as somewhere outside the main venue, or to a private area where no one can disturb you, such as the restroom. The idea is to find a quiet space where you can engage in a fun activity and not be reminded of work. Even if they’re just a few minutes long, effective microbreaks can give founders the energy boost they need to get through draining networking situations.

Following these four steps can help entrepreneurs better manage their energy, which is a crucial yet limited resource for many. This can help founders in the long run since managing one’s energy can boost productivity, improve job performance, and build physical, emotional, and mental resilience. Replenishing personal energy is also known to increase attention and engagement at work. So the next time networking drains you, try the four tactics above. Not only do they provide short-term energy benefits, but they also can help set you up for long-term success.


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