Avoiding Networking Overload
In reality this problem is very easy to solve. Humans naturally tend to co-operate in social networks exactly because the benefits outweigh the costs. They have to because that is the whole point. Long before the costs exceed the benefits you have to take corrective action.
One simple practical method is to set some boundaries. Often this takes the form of a time budget. You might decide that you will spend half an hour a week on networking activities and meet someone for an informal networking lunch two times a month. You might also decide to attend one event every second week. An interesting side effect of this is that it tends to help you focus on the activities that are useful. Most of us go to some mingling evenings mostly out of inertia, or an inability to say no. You need to get tougher on these time wasting activities. Either stop going or do something to make them more effective -- like inviting new people or lobbying to change the focus.
What also helps is to engage in activities that have multiple benefits, so the networking comes as a free side effect. Volunteering to help wit some professional organization can be a useful learning experience and it comes with a free dose of usually effective networking. You can also use your time effectively by perhaps visiting two separate events on one evening -- in big cities this is usually easy to arrange -- or by combining meetups with contacts with an event by inviting them to come.
Online you can also limit the time you spend by budgeting a set time for long-range activities and having a plan for dealing with everyday exchanges. Like email you should not be responding instantly to every social media message unless there are exceptional circumstances. You can also manage your social media time more effectively by using a scheduling tool like Hootsuite or MinuteMailer.
Finally, you manage the time spent fielding questions from other people the same way you manage other distractions. Have set times each day to do your emails, social media and messages. First use big solid chunks of time for your priority work and then use the time in the gaps to network; don't do it the other way around unless networking is your job.
There's more about this topic in chapter 25 of my new book Payforward Networking, 2nd Edition, available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.
Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing about professional networking and other topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0046 73 089 44 75.