A few years ago I put myself up to the task of writing a time management seminar for salespeople. I decided to cart it out for this week’s blog because September always hits like a ton of bricks, and we could all use some tools to help us feel prepared and productive.
I geared my seminar to salespeople because time management is especially slippery for them. Their activities and goals are often self-directed and self-managed. No one is telling them how to lay the groundwork to achieve future sales. They’re not paid for the hours they work, but how productive they are with their time. Poor sales performance is often the consequence of squandering time on activities that don’t generate income.
Like salespeople, most of us can’t afford to have unproductive days. We may not feel it the way commissioned salespeople do, but mismanaging our time undermines our career advancement, job satisfaction and earning potential.
Here are 6 golden rules you can use to have more productive days:
1. Busyness is not business. Learn to distinguish between busy work and meaningful, productive work. Have you heard about processionary caterpillars? They’re hard-wired to follow whatever’s in front of them. One scientist lined them up around the rim of a flower pot and put some food in the dirt. The caterpillars just marched around and around the pot until they dropped dead of exhaustion and starvation. If you find yourself becoming a processionary caterpillar, for goodness sake, break the cycle!
2. Identify productive work. Productive work is directly tied to results. It’s the stuff you absolutely, positively have to get done before you head out on vacation or if you could only work two hours a day. It’s what you need to get done today to feel satisfied and productive.
3. Do productive work first, without interruption, when your energy is the most focused. Impose a time limit and vow to work without distraction.
4. Recognize when you’re slipping into reactive work mode. I define reactive work as unsolicited, disruptive requests for your time. Typically not productive (e.g. tied to immediate results) or time sensitive. Examples include requests for information or advice, group email or announcements, scheduling, reviewing the work of others, maintaining relationships. Reacting to these interruptions as they occur steals your attention away from priority work.
5. Tips for deflecting interruptions:
- Know your villains. The average worker spends 25% of his day on email-related tasks, 9% on phone calls and 14% in meetings. Half of your day gone before you even touch the priority stuff.
- Don’t check email first thing in the morning. Do your productive work first, when you’re fresh and not distracted, even if this means answering messages the night before or starting your day earlier.
- Batch process emails, voicemails, texts, etc. Set a daily time(s) to reply. Interestingly, the number of daily emails we receive (75) is growing at a slower rate than a few years ago, but this is because email is being supplemented by IM, text and social networking accounts. The point is, you can’t win. You’ll end up committing to more work than you can process on a daily basis. Also, inspire good message karma by keeping yours short and on-point. No more than 5 sentences.
- Host more productive meetings. Define the agenda and set a time limit. Melissa Mayer holds office hours at 4 PM daily, for 90 minutes. During that time, she can get through up to 15 meetings, averaging 7 minutes per person.
- Strive to “close the loop.” Come to a conclusion without any further commitment and/or empower people to make decisions without your input.
6. Stop multi-tasking. The IQ effect of multi-tasking is similar to losing an entire night of sleep, e.g. concentration, short-term memory, task completion, productivity all suffer. Managing two mental tasks at once reduces the brainpower available for either. (But here’s a trick: Pair cerebral tasks with mindless ones, e.g. conference calls & cleaning your office).
I’m not advocating that you should never pick up your phone or boycott meetings. That’s not realistic. But we’re expected at this stage in our careers to prioritize between work that makes an impact and busy work. You’re graded on how productive you are, not how responsive/reactive. Even if you do spend 50% or more of your time in meetings, phone calls and emails, make sure you accomplish your productive work first.
Proof point: The #1 real estate salesperson in Hudson County spends from 8-11 AM every day calling on new leads. During this time he won’t take any other calls, even from existing customers. He takes care of what leads to sales first: Building a steady pipeline.
Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek is one of my favorite productivity gurus. Visit his site.