Just yesterday a cold caller managed to get me on the phone (selling search engine optimisation services) and his opening gambit was 'do you know who founded Google?'. He had immediately identified himself to me as a Time Thief and I was able to make it a very brief call (and yes, I do know it was Larry Page and Sergey Brin). So let me explain my 'Time Thief' thesis.
I spent 10 years as a strategy consultant selling my brain (and others' brains) by the hour; that's a sure-fire way to make you value time. More recently - whilst ploughing the entrepreneurial furrow - I have come to value my time somewhat differently, but no less highly. Time in the office, in meetings, on the phone, on the laptop is time not spent living life to the full. I enjoy my work, but I enjoy many things more: time with my kids, good company, long bike rides, fresh air, hill walks ...
Which brings us to the "Time Thieves". You must learn to spot them and know how to deal with them. They come in many guises and generally exploit our innate good nature; so you have to be willing to be rude (it saves a hell of a lot of time).
Spotting them is easy. They typically try and engage you with a Socratic approach and avoid telling you what they actually want, why they are asking for your time. Sales people are the most obvious examples -- The phone call from someone you don't know that starts with 'how are you today?', the sales person who tries to engage you with 'are you interested in gaining new customers for free?' (I love to answer that with 'no', it always throws them).
But it's not just the cold callers; it's suppliers, relationship managers, banks, colleagues who decide meetings are a good place to generally chew the fat. Typically these people are not troubled by concerns of their personal productivity or worried about a P&L. It's harsh, but they simply value their time less than you value yours. Remember that they are STEALING YOUR TIME and you must treat them as ruthlessly as you would any thief!
Don't think this makes you a bad person. The time you stop the Time Thieves stealing from you is time you can spend doing things you want to do; spending time with your loved ones, playing sport, exercising, relaxing, smelling the roses ... maybe even making yourself a better person.
And yes, I am aware that spending time writing this Blog is a strange way to spend the time I have argued so ruthlessly to fight for. Then again, Have I stolen your time by enticing you to read this?