Sales professionals work hard all the time. So why does it still feel like you aren’t productive enough?
Interruptions, distractions and useless meetings are some of the biggest reasons you can’t get sh*t done.
Forty percent of professionals say interruptions present the biggest challenge to productivity, a recent SmartBrief’s poll found. Another 40% say too much email or too many meetings are the problem.
For many sales pros, no matter how hard or long you work, you seldom feel like you have enough time to do it all. Yet you want to be more productive when you work, so you can be more relaxed when you don’t.
This post is less about sales productivity (that constant call to spend more time on sales tasks to boost revenue) and more about being a productive person at work. You know – the one who has a clear desk and head at the end of the week, the one who gets the job done well and on time every time. The one most sales pros aspire to be.
“Being productive isn’t just about getting more done in less time,” says Jill Konrath, author of More Sales, Less Time. “It’s also about getting the right things done and doing them better.”
Here’s help – 15 ways to be more productive. They aren’t just traditional time management tips designed to gain minutes in a day. They’re strategies geared to the unique needs and challenges sales professionals face.
1. Avoid the drift
It’d be trivial to tell you to set goals, pick priorities or make to-do lists to get more done. We all know (and probably haphazardly practice) those time management tips.
What’s important to getting more done is avoiding the drift – losing sight of the priorities and goals, then spending time on low-gross, trivial tasks. Take short mental or physical breaks from the priorities, but set a timer so you stop looking at social media, chatting with colleagues about the game or balancing the pencil on your nose when the alarm goes off.
2. Stop taking on so much
Salespeople often feel like they can’t get everything done because they always take on more. It’s a never-ending cycle: Do this. Move to that. Find more to do.
The key is to identify low-payoff activities, projects and ideas and saying no at the request or ceasing the ones you’re already involved in. Then identify and spend more time doing the work that has high payoffs.
3. Say ‘no’
Salespeople have a tough time saying “no” to customers. After all, you want to keep existing customers and gain more new customers. Problem is, some customers think they’re your only customer and demand more than you should do for any one.
Figure out who your over-demanders are and determine what you can reasonably do, what you can delegate and what you must say “no” to so you can remain productive.
4. Think realistically
Sales professionals are optimistic by nature. That causes them to sometimes overestimate prospects’ interest in or ability to buy. Then they keep at tasks and efforts that won’t pay off.
It’s imperative that sales pros remain realistic when measuring prospects’ feelings about them, their solutions and presentations, and their ability to buy.
5. Expect the unexpected
Because we are connected all the time – and respond to the demand most of the time – people expect you’ll react to their (real and perceived) emergencies and developing crises. And you’ve probably trained or resigned yourself to doing so over time.
That’s why now it’s more important than ever to add 20% to the estimated time you think a task will take when you schedule. It gives you leeway to react to unexpected problems and stay focused on what matters while you can.
6. Schedule to your peak
Most people have a two- to four-hour block of time in the day they operate at peak efficiency. They’re mentally sharp, plus physically alert and strong. Concentration is keen. Creative powers are most acute.
You don’t have to do much to pinpoint your peak time. Think about yesterday, late last week, your most recent deadline. You should be able to identify the block of time – early or late morning, early or late afternoon – when you got sh*t done. Now, going forward, schedule your most important activities in those hours.
7. Start and end strong
While it’s important to schedule the critical sales activities within your peak performance time, Konrath suggests getting an early, smart start on the day. It will give you a mental and literal jump on competitors. For instance, charge right into work early – actual tasks, not email or social media. Get physical exercise early. Challenge yourself mentally with Sudoku or crosswords.
Same to similar goes for the end of the day. When other people lose focus, scroll Facebook or BS in the hallway, you can accomplish more: plan the next day, make a few last calls, finish the housekeeping work that lingers.
8. Do more on the go
Most salespeople spend a good portion of their day on-the-go. Use travel or wait time to make progress on communication-based or development tasks.
For instance, listen to webinars, podcasts or audio books while traveling. Use mobile tools to do administrative tasks, share valuable information in social channels or send email while waiting before or between meetings.
9. Set limits on electronic communication
Email is not your job. Selling is. Yes, part of selling involves email (and probably some social media and text), but it is a one of the most time- and productivity-sucking activities.
The best way to curb it: Review and respond to email only at preset times. Go ahead and schedule several preset times and durations now. Then slowly whittle down the number of times you do it each day until you find the optimal number and times for you.
10. Reserve large blocks of time for the biggies
Be realistic when highly competitive sales, major deals or big projects are in the works. Some tasks are difficult or even impossible to accomplish if you only devote small blocks of time and distracted attention to them.
Sales professionals can accomplish more and yield better results when they reserve large blocks of time for difficult, complex tasks. Create four-hour blocks, working for about 90 minutes (the max most people can concentrate on one task), taking a short break, then getting back at it. Accept that lower-priority tasks will have to wait, be dropped or delegated.
11. Batch administrative work
For the smaller, housekeeping work that salespeople can’t delegate or eliminate, batch it together. You’ll be faster and more efficient if you stay in a rhythmic groove, rather than a sequential work pattern.
For instance, make 10 administrative calls at once, keeping notes on paper for anything unique you have to do to follow up. Do all of your CRM entry at one time. Process behind-the-scenes work at another time.
12. Schedule differently
Many salespeople schedule meetings on the half-hours for 30 or 60 minutes … and use all the time whether they need it or not. You’re in the position to have shorter, more meaningful meetings that help you and clients work more efficiently.
Be the boss of your calendar. Schedule 20- or 40-minute meetings that start on the :10 of the half-hours. Create concise agendas and stick to the time frame. Customers and prospects will appreciate it, too. If you need more time, and everyone agrees to the extra 10 or 20 minutes, use it. If not, move on to the next task.
13. Become a creature of habit
Salespeople often have chaotic and unpredictable schedules, which can be a detriment to getting everything done. So it’s important to create as many routines and repetitions as possible.
Do the same tasks at the same time for the same length of time every day to avoid decision fatigue, develop efficient habits and complete work quickly and precisely.
14. Reflect on progress
Once you end the day with a strong effort, reflect on progress. Consider what you learned, what went well and what could’ve gone better. Take note of when you were at your best and when you needed a dose of motivation.
Those aren’t just good-to-know things. They’re important to help you determine where your time is best spent the next day or week. Reflection will help you recognize what motivates you and when you need to call it quits … because sometimes calling it quits on one thing is the best way to get more done.
15. The obvious is a choice
We aren’t going to harp on the habits all salespeople know they should avoid or adopt to make the most of their time. But we won’t completely ignore them either.
Don’t multi-task. Don’t keep electronic distractions such as social media apps open on your phone or laptop. Don’t keep on all your alerts and answer them immediately while you should be working.
Do eat healthy snacks and meals to stay alert. Do exercise and stay active throughout the day. Do get at least six to eight hours of sleep at night. Do keep your workspace tidy. Do take mental breaks. Do take vacation time to recharge.
Of course, those are all choices. And every sales professional knows what works best for him or her.