How To Improve Your Sales Time Management

The presentation today is on time management for sales professionals, and was basically developed while I was running a company that primarily did lead generation outsourcing and sales outsourcing at a very high scale.

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To give you an idea, in a typical year we would do about three-quarters of a million outbound phone calls and very high efficiency. Most individuals on teams had to manage multiple clients and work across multiple projects. So a very demanding and a very time-sensitive environment, and a lot of these principles played out over a lot of years, so hopefully you’ll benefit from them. Should run about 20 or 30 minutes, and there are also a couple of templates and worksheets that go along with this, so be sure to look for the link at the end.

Objectives today are pretty simple. We want to talk about time management principles. Oddly enough, most of us on this call have probably never taken a time management class. We’ll talk about that a little bit, and more importantly, the barriers to success. Time management, like a lot of things, is one of those concepts that everybody gets, but in real life tends to have a challenge with.

What I want to do in this presentation is make sure there’s actually an actionable plan to plan your work and work your plan. We’ve all heard that expression, but often it’s dealt with the distractions and kind of these great concepts versus a very specific “go, run, do” set of action items, and ultimately I think about this as really a blueprint and a step-by-step process that you can follow now and over time to improve your ability to manage your time.

As I said before, time management ironically is a learned skill. Yet very few individuals have ever taken any formal time management training. When I was a young buck starting out in the great world of AT&T Telecom back in the age just slightly after the dinosaurs roamed the earth. When I was hired, they actually sent me off to training for about six weeks. In that six-week training program there was actually a three-day component specifically on time management.

I think most people have heard of Franklin Covey and the Franklin Covey planner and all that kind of stuff, but they literally taught a three-day course on time management, which if you sort of scratch your head about that and wonder why you need three days to learn time management, but anyway, the point is time management is not something we all come to naturally. We have ideas about how we manage our time, and we think about prioritization, but one of the concepts we’ll talk about in this presentation is the fact that some of our notions of how we should prioritize work or not, how we should calendar work or not, actually end up being impediments or barriers to the time management process.

I have shared a little bit of my experience already, but fundamentally working with a lot of sales organizations, a lot of salespeople in very high volume environments, I think I can say first-hand that selling is probably the most challenging environment for time management because you’ve got all sorts of competing demands. You’re dealing with prospects and opportunities across a really wide range of the selling spectrum, all the way from top of the funnel prospecting activities down to “I’ve got to get this deal negotiated and closed today.” So it presents a really unique environment for managing time and for challenging you to be efficient with your time.

Over the past, I don’t know, probably only in the last decade or so, this concept of multi-tasking has really come to the forefront of people’s minds,  and it’s because this almost mantra in the corporate world and the profession world that multi-tasking is a good thing, and that people who multi-task are actually more valuable workers or contributors. Unfortunately, the concept of multi-tasking is and of itself, flawed.

There is, from a pure processing standpoint, no actual ability for the brain to process multiple pieces of work at the same time. We’re not actually doing several things at the same time. What we’re doing is sequencing work or pieces of work across a specific moment of time. So I am switching between tasks. So multi-tasking is actually something referred to as “task switching,” meaning we switch between various tasks and do little pieces of it, might do a little email, I grab a phone call. I jot a couple of notes down, etc., etc.

Unfortunately, it’s not as efficient as people think. Multi-tasking includes an overhead, which is often referred to as a switching cost. Some people happen to be very good at switching between tasks and quickly segwaying between different types of activities. But unfortunately for the vast majority of individuals, of normal people, multi-tasking is actually a real impediment to efficiency because each switch between tasks actually represents a loss of efficiency.

You map that reality into an environment where we’ve been taught, and trained, and rewarded for being responsive, reactive, etc., and you introduce all these little pieces of work that end up being micro-distractions throughout the day, and when you take a step back and you look at it, and I will show you a chart on the next page, it actually ends up destroying efficiency far more than otherwise.

So one of the paradigms, one of the paradigm shifts we’re going to talk about today is the concept of grouping work and gaining efficiency and effectiveness through trying to stick with specific kinds of tasks, either within the sales process, prospecting versus closing versus building a presentation, as well as grouping tasks within a specific medium—email, or phone call, or what have you—that kind of thing.

The last thing I will talk about is the current challenge of calendar-based time management, and it’s a really simple concept that the primary goal of the presentation today is to turn on its head, and that is that in 99.9% of the world’s view of how to use a calendar, you open your iPhone, or your Android, or whatever, and you look out into the future, and what you see is white space, and as you come closer into today, things get filled up. If you go to a corporate calendar, what does everybody do? They open up a corporate calendar, or a shared calendar, and when I am trying to get a meeting with somebody on my team, I basically go out into the future and I look for holes in the calendar.

So the fundamental paradigm of my time, my most valuable asset, is that I start with a blank sheet of paper, and then I, and other people, fill it up—somewhat randomly actually—which is why if you look backwards on your calendar, you end up seeing this really strange patchwork of seemingly not interconnected activities, and that in and of itself is one of the big challenges of time management that for the most part a lot of the things that we do—a lot of the functions we perform—are not in our control because other people:

  1. Are putting them on our calendar.
  2. They are putting them on our calendar when it’s most convenient for them.

So one of the real core principles we’re going to talk about today is shifting from a calendar’s white space that other people fill up to allocated time for specific kinds of activities that add value to our life, and then moving those blocks around, those Legos around if you will, and allocating that time for others or allowing others to opt-in to those pieces of time based on how we want to spend it.

Probably the easiest way to think about this paradigm shift is the concept of maybe of a doctor or a dentist, or a hairdresser. When you are leaving the hairdresser, the barber, or the doctor’s office, the dentist’s office particularly, the last thing they are doing before you get out the door is they are saying or asking you when you’d like your next appointment, but they are not really asking you. They are going to their calendar six months in advance and finding a block that they have already allocated. And you say, “Well, how about Friday?” “Oh, we don’t work Friday afternoons.” They have all these rules about how the time is allocated. Chiropractors are the same way. So I want you to think about that, and then I will show you exactly how you can implement that in your own world.

My guess is a lot of people on this call probably may have never seen this kind of a graphic, but this is basically a disk defragmentation tool back from the good old days of Windows, and I like to use it as an example of how time inefficiently allocated causes problems. So the concept was pretty simple. As a disk drive was written with data, over time it kind of put it in various blocks all over the disk drive. Well, that works fine except when you have large blocks of data later in the process that you need to find a home for.

So if you look at this concept right here, and you’ve got the green section that are unmovable files. We’ve got a big section of white here towards the end, but if I had a piece of data that was bigger than any one of my larger, big white spaces, I simply could not put it on my hard drive despite the fact that I might have, what does it say here, 4.26 Gigs of free space. I might have a 3 Gig file that I couldn’t even put on my drive because I don’t have enough contiguous space. So disk defragmentation was a process of rewriting your hard drive and compressing it back down to create more white space. We’re going to take this concept, if you will, and kind of blow it up and talk about how you would use this on your calendar as far into the future as the eye can see.

So a couple of things, we want to talk about what really makes time management a challenge. Why is it so hard? Well, the simple answer is, time management suggests something that we’re doing in the future. It suggests a proactive approach to managing our time. Yet we all know that the vast majority of our time management in real life, or what have you, should be called “time reaction.” Somebody says, “Hey, can you meet on Thursday? Or do you have any availability this afternoon?”

So much of our world exists in this closed in, near term paradigm that it really makes time management a challenge for everybody. For salespeople in particular, I already talked about the fact that selling takes place over the course of a broad range of what I would call environments. People who are about to give me money now and people who might give me money three months from now, or six months or what have you.

That said, there’s another element of selling, which is the fact that there are lots of pieces of the job of sales, lots of components of the sales profession that are just not a lot of fun. I doubt if we did a show of hands, a lot of people would raise their hand and say, “Oh, I love cold calling. That’s my favorite part. I love prospecting and following up on leads.” We tend to gravitate towards the presentation, the proposal, the closing, the big show with the client when we’re showing them how we can solve their problems.

So we have a very powerful set of, both of conscious and subconscious, motivators to gravitate towards certain activities and procrastinating towards others. What’s the impact? Well, it’s pretty simple. We all know that the shape of a sales pipeline is a funnel, and it requires a lot of stuff to go in the top, a lot of smaller activities to yield revenue at the bottom. We work on a lot of deals to win a relatively few of those.

As we’re working on a lot of these deals, there were small pieces of work, a cold call, an email, etc. At the bottom of the pipeline, the work tends to be bigger chunks, a proposal generation, a presentation, a contract negotiation. Well, think about where we’d rather spend our time, and think about the complexity of managing all those disparate kinds of work, and you see why a lot of times we get home at the end of the day, and we’re pretty tired. We end up working nights and weekends and far much more than we’d actually like to to close a particular deal or make our number for the quarter.

So I will use that as a segue into the concept of change, and that is what I am going to present to you is a very different way of managing your time. It’s a very different way of thinking about how you manage your time. As such, it doesn’t mean you’re going to wake up tomorrow, snap your fingers, and the world will be different, and you’ll have a new mode of time management. This is going to take work. This is going to take effort.

I have been using basically this system or a derivation of this system myself. At this point, probably upwards of eight or nine years, and I will tell you I still allocate time on a regular basis. If you look in my calendar, you’ll actually see time allocated on a weekly and monthly basis to manage my calendar. So managing your time becomes a specific, required activity in and of itself, and if I forget to do it, and if I don’t follow my own process, I find myself right back in the space that most people are in, which is playing catch-up and reacting and not being on top of my game.

The mantra I have always really lived by, and this is especially true for time management, is success is about spending time on the activities and opportunities that are going to lead to the result that I want. When it pertains specifically to selling and revenue generation, one of the expressions that I like to say is, “You can’t control which deals you win. You can only control how much time you waste on the deals you lose.”

So in a lot of respects, success is about what we say ‘no’ to. Time management is absolutely about that. If you try to change your paradigm for time management, but at the end of the day your concept of prioritization is everything is urgent, then you’re going to fail. We’ll talk a lot about prioritization, and one of the fundamental skills required for really owning your calendar is having a relative view of prioritization, not living in the world where everything is urgent and everything has to be responded to immediately.

The concept I am going to show you is about how in my paradigm of time management, every kind of work has a place that I have previously determined is the best time slot allocation, etc. for that kind of work. Well, life isn’t perfect, and in the natural course of the day, the week, the month, lots of stuff is going to come into your world that is going to try to disrupt your game, if you will, on how you’re going to manage your time. Well, if you’re wired for and predisposed to simply reacting to everything that comes at you if you have a difficult time saying ‘no’ to something or saying, “I can do that, but it’s going to be tomorrow or next week,” you’re going to have a hard time.

Fundamentally time management, once you get past the basics of managing your own calendar, is really about how you negotiate the many and various requests for time that are going to come at you all day long. Hopefully, the tool you’ll walk away with here and kind of a map for your calendar will give you a good starting point, but it’s only going to work if you can say ‘no’ to things along the way or reposition or negotiate how other people are trying to compete for your time, and we’ll talk more specifically about that in a while.

Two questions that I always like to folks to answer are:

  • What are the things that you don’t have time for in the world of selling in your career? (This isn’t about life necessarily.) And,
  • What do you consume too much time on?

What I would say is when I ask sales teams these questions, the answers I typically get are:

  • I don’t have enough time for planning.
  • I don’t have time for strategy.
  • I don’t have time for the activities that are going to help me next week, next month, next quarter, because I spend so much time on reacting to customer requests, billing problems, the urgent but not important activities.

So as it comes to motivation, it really does help to think through, what are the things that you’re getting sucked into, and what are the things that you’re not spending enough time on? What I am going to show you is the ability to actually have a tool that will allow you retrospectively to look back at your calendar and see if you’re actually getting sucked into activities that add value to your funnel, to your quarter, to your year, or detract from that.

So, now we get into the meat of this. So, I have been yapping here for a bit, but time to kind of pay attention and think about this from a process standpoint. This is the process we’re going to go through. The first thing you have to do—we have some templates that we’ll go through—but the first thing you have to do is think about the kinds of work to do. Sorry, the kinds of work you do.

When somebody says, “Well, I am in sales,” and I say, “Well, what does that mean? What do you do?” They say, “Well, I sell stuff,” and the answer is, “No, selling has different components just at the high level. We have prospecting. We have presentations. We have closing. There’s customer support. There’s lots of different kinds of work in there.”

Additionally, if you think about the kinds of work you do on a broader scale, we do things that are specific to our job function. We have a couple of different sales components of our work. We also have components of our day or the kind of work we do that really have nothing to do with selling but are still required for our job. We have company meetings. We have trainings. Listening to conversations like this. We have preparation and wrap up.

Preparation for a sales call and wrap up and capturing notes are distinctive kinds of work. We don’t tend to account for that work because it usually happens at night or on the weekends, but as you think about the kinds of work you do, I want you to make as big a list as you can. And the goal is going to make a big, long list of all the kinds of work you do, and I will give you some examples, and then consolidate that into a couple of simple, major buckets or categories.

So as you’re going through this, you’re going to think about, what buckets apply to your specific function? Are you inside sales? Are you outside sales? Are you marketing? Are you enterprise sales? Are you international sales? How can you consolidate the buckets?

At the end of the day your model, your calendar, needs to incorporate really no more than six different kinds of work. There may be sub-categories within that, but you need to be able to manage your time based on simple blocks, and I will show you what I use in a second. Lastly, you’ll need to be able visually distinguish between the kinds of work, and I will show you how on my calendar I actually use different colors to represent the different work that I am doing.

So step number one, make the long list. Sit down, grab a cup of coffee, grab a beer, margarita, whatever you need, and just kind of go through and think about all the little tasks and functions that you perform in a day—proposal writing, cold calling, research, what else could you have in there? Updating Salesforce or my CRM for a sales meeting, having a sales meeting with my boss, company training, company meetings that have nothing to do with my department. They are just functional meeting—HR nonsense, whatever.

You then want to move that long, long list into a list, and I say five to seven. You really want five to six work buckets, and you’re going to describe and do a little just basic writing about what kind of work happens in each bucket, and from that point forward, anything you do is going to fall into one of those five buckets or categories.

The last part of the exercise, and then we’ll get to the templates are for each of those kinds of working categories, you need to think about, what are the objectives? What are the time requirements? How much time do I spend on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, and what are the metrics of success?

So we’re going to go through this in two steps. Step one, and I will send this template out afterwards, this would be where you take all of your activities, you basically write them in a huge list, and then you basically start to move them into the various buckets, and then you have to name the buckets.

So if you were looking at my calendar, what you would see were the buckets that include:

  • Personal, because I have to eat. I have to use the restroom. I have to exercise, and things like that.
  • Company/work things that I do for my company that aren’t necessarily a function of my job. I call that internal BS kind of work.
  • Selling activities, things that actually contribute to revenue generation.
  • Operational or support work. So for example, if you’re in a selling role, and you also have to intervene at some point to help clients with billing, or upgrades, or things like that. That would be another separate category because it’s not directly revenue generating, but it’s important,
  • And then the last category for me, which is either represented as a specific time block or as white space, is the concept of preparation and wrap-up.

I will tell you from personal experience that (I bet a lot of you can relate to this) when you have a day that’s back-to-back meetings, literally back-to-back, you get to the end of the day and two things have happened:

  1. You’re exhausted.
  2. You’re sitting there with a stack of notes and papers that you realize at some point you’ve got to get into some CRM or Word document or proposal or what have you.

So you’ve done your work for the day, and that in and of itself has created all this other work which you don’t have any time allocated for. That’s not a fun day.

That’s part one of the exercise. Part two is, we go through the buckets themselves. So we simply go from the buckets we have, and then we figure out what we’re going to call it, find a simple name, and we identify the simple metrics and measures associated with that bucket.

This should make more sense if I give you an example. So, for a sales manager, I might identify the following work categories:

  • They perform interviews.
  • They have company meetings.
  • They have team meetings.
  • They actually do some selling.
  • They sell with others, training, reviews, reporting, development, prep and follow-up as we talked about.
  • Lunch breaks, etc., like that.

So this would be a good, basic work category list for a manager. If I take this and I change roles to an inside salesperson, I am now going to the next step of the exercise where I’ve got specific work categories. For an inside salesperson, I spend some of my time prospecting, in this case, 95% of my activity, some of my time selling, internally I use prep, lunch, etc. And then I actually go down and I look at the number of calls and dials and reschedules and time in prep, and I try to take this all the way down to the number of hours that I need per week.

So if you add this up and see how many hours it is, I think it’s about in the 45 hour range, which is not a totally horrible allocation of time for somebody who is trying to be successful in inside sales, you’ll see why this is important because once we get this down to metrics and measures that represent actual blocks of time. The next step is going to be to take the conceptual map of this specific job function, my work, and put it on my calendar as a future reality. I will show you that in a second.

Step two is going to be to take all of the information you learned from building your basic, your outline of your job with the metrics, measures and time required, and create a calendar map. What I mean by “calendar map” is a template for your ideal calendar if every single piece of work that you perform could be done at exactly the time, the day, and the duration that was best for you. It is an ideal, and the concept “ideal” suggests that we may or may not get there, but the point is we’re going to create an ideal schedule and then put this into our calendar into the future and try to drive work into that ideal calendar map.

So I am going to stop and repeat that slowly because I think it’s really important.

Traditional time management says, “I have a lot of work, it comes at me when it comes at me, as it hits me, I dump it on my calendar when people want in slots all over the place.”

What we’re trying to shift to is a model that says, “I am going to think and spend a little bit of time thinking about the job that I perform, the functions of that job, how much time on an allocation basis I should be spending on each of those buckets. I am then going to take that and create a calendar template which slots that kind of work exactly on the days and times and time of days when I want it. I am then going to put that in my calendar into the future, and as work comes to me, I am now going to turn to my calendar and essentially look for an appointment, a slot, a place to put that work that has been requested of me.”

As you build your map, and I will show you an example in a second, you should think about a couple of things. What is the appropriate allocation within each budget? If you need a significant amount of prospecting time, and who doesn’t, we always get to the end of the week saying, “God, I could have made more calls.” Well, you have to think about, how many hours of prospecting time on your calendar do you need? If you need, at a minimum, 10 hours of prospecting on your calendar to be successful, well, then you’re going to have to create those blocks in this model.

Lifestyle choices—these can include things like:

  • I like to come in early because I am most productive.
  • I live where there’s a lot of traffic, so I kind of work a flex schedule to avoid traffic. It could be a lot of different variations.
  • It could be like I like to go out in the middle of the day and go for a run or get a lunch or something like that.

So those are important. Relative time sensitivity of work—something like prospecting, cold-calling, for example, is actually not very time sensitive. I can do it whenever I want, but we all know that prospecting is far more effective in the morning, say, between the hours of 8:00 and 10:00 than it is at 4:00 in the afternoon. Not a whole lot of people like to make cold calls or get calls at 3:00 p.m. on a Friday. So what you want to think about is, is this the right place for this activity for me and for others, and then ultimately you want to make sure that you’re factoring the metrics that you’re going to be held accountable for in terms of volume, attainment, etc. Do you have enough time allocated to achieve what you need?

So we’ll stick on this for a second, but here’s an example of that inside sales map put into a calendar template, and I use a simple Excel spreadsheet. I have got a template I will send you on this that the idea is I can play with this model as much as I want, and I could spend a couple of minutes every day, or 20 minutes, or 30 minutes, or a couple of hours, and almost like little building blocks, build my calendar as I would like it.

Now, I am sure some of you already are saying, “Well, no how matter how well I build my calendar that’s not going to end up in reality.” I understand, but what I want you to imagine is taking this ideal map. Let’s assume that this is the ideal map and let’s look at it. I actually have time for lunch. I have prospecting time, more than enough. I have follow-ups. I have discoveries. I kind of have enough of everything that I need to be successful.

If I take this template, and I put it in my calendar, let’s say starting three weeks out when my calendar, or I should say, most of your calendars are probably largely white space, there’s a good chance I can slot it in there, and now my calendar is full, and when a work request comes in, and I go to my calendar to find a place for a meeting or a conversation with a client.

At a minimum I am going to point to something and say, “I know you want to see a demo here. It seems like looking at my calendar the next Tuesday I’ve got is Tuesday the 23rd,” or what have you. And I am now moving from asking my clients, my prospects, my coworkers, “When do you want to do this? What works for you?” To making the first, or second, or third offer, and I will tell you that’s the most important aspect of this entire process, and that is when we think about our calendar in terms of the future and work backwards, we put ourselves in the position where in any interaction we’re the first person making the suggestion.

When you ask somebody, “When do you want to meet?” You’re basically saying, “Pick a time that works for you. Throw it on my calendar,” or whatever, and, “I will move my entire world to make your world work.” If I control my future time, and I am presenting to my prospects specific slots, times, availabilities—I have a significant advantage in getting the kind of schedule, the kind of rhythm, the kind of flow in my day and in my week that’s going to make me successful.

Okay, this was what I was talking about. You are going basically play with that. You’re going to draft your ideal schedule using the template. You’re going to finalize it. Here’s the template that I will send you.

The things that you’ve got to realize—because I forgot to mention—the most important step is to put it in your calendar. You actually have to sit down once you’ve built this with your calendar, and it will take you a little bit of time and start putting stuff in your calendar, putting this ideal template into the future.

Personally, I like to block anywhere from four to six weeks out. So if we flipped over to my calendar, what you would see is my calendar is “full” all the way out until probably the end of May at this point. It’s full with prescribed activities that I know I want to do. Some of those activities actually have the name of a client or prospect sitting in that box, but some of them are simply placeholders, and the way I typically distinguish them is I use the name of the bucket for the what I would call the draft version, and then when I assign that bucket, I actually put the client’s name or I put the prospect’s name, what have you.

So the paradigm shift as you could see is pretty basic. You can come up with an ideal schedule. There is an ideal schedule at least as we would define it for everybody, that’s listening to this presentation. The concept of allocating time on your calendar and then filling it up is the biggest paradigm shift from just creating the white space and hoping good things happen.

The last part, we’ll talk about this in a little more detail, is the fact that exceptions happen. However, exceptions happen a lot less frequently than we might realize, and here’s an example. When I was working with the telecom role with AT&T and Lucent, etc., not surprisingly, on a daily basis I received calls from clients, customers, who had an issue. Now, again, the vast majority of my peers would drop what they were doing and immediately start working the resolution of the customer problem. Good responsiveness, good customer service, kudos for that. Everybody gets an A grade.

However, that disruption, that exception was stepping on the work that they had planned to do that day while they were supposed to be prospecting. They were supposed to be doing this, that and the other thing. Well, guess what happened? That work didn’t get done, and that hurt them later on.

Well, we all know that interruptions happen. We just don’t know when. So I sat back at one point in time, and I said, it seems to me that on a daily basis I spend at least an hour to an hour and a half dealing with customer issues, dealing with billing issues, problems, just all the nonsense that happens in any sort of selling organization. Well, what I did was I sat aside time on my calendar every day at about 3:30 for the last hour and a half of my day to deal with all of these sort of customer and billing and other issues.

Well, the natural pushback is “Well, Townsend, customers aren’t going to call you between 3:00 and 4:30,” and the answer is, I know that. However, when they call me at 10:00, I now have the opportunity to at least present them with a choice. “Mr. Customer and Mrs. Customer, as I understand your issue, it’s this, that and the other thing. If this is something that’s absolutely urgent and you need it taken care of right now because it’s affecting your business, I will drop everything and work on it right now. Otherwise, I have got time dedicated to focus on this at 3:00. Could we speak then?” So I would answer the phone, and I would deal with that part of the interruption, but I would try to negotiate an alternate resolution time. I didn’t kind of buy off on the, or immediately bite on the, “I need this right now.”

I will tell you, the surprising fact to me was that the vast majority, probably more than three-quarters, of the people who called me with some sort of urgent problem that they were screaming and yelling about, when I simply presented them an option, “Hey, if you need it now, I will help you, but I also have time allocated at 3:00, would that work as well?” The vast majority, three-quarters of them, said, “Sure, that will be fine. Let’s talk then,” and I was able to defer that to the urgent activity and make sure I stayed on track.

Implement your schedule, and drive new work to designated time windows. You’ve got to think about a realistic transition. This is not going to happen tomorrow. If you try to overlay your ideal calendar on your work week, next week, you’re going to fail. If you go four weeks out and start filling up your calendar with your ideal schedule, chances are you’re going to have a really good chance of getting everything you want, and then you’ll drive work to that. You might even start to back it up from that three weeks, two weeks, etc. I usually recommend starting about 30 days out to build your new calendar, and as you start to come up, as your, I think for a lack of a better term, as your old calendar starts to meet your new calendar, you can naturally start allocating slots that you have out there in the future and suggesting or requesting that clients or prospects meet your schedule versus the other way around.

As I said, the real challenge here is going to be managing exceptions, and that’s going to be more a matter of personal discipline and the desire to stick to the schedule. As I said, most fire drills are really not that, and they can be anticipated. We know the things that disrupt us, that distract our day, and there are ways to deal with that.

When, in the situation I was talking about, I had a customer or somebody who couldn’t wait until my 3:00 window and needed it now, that was never a problem because I would simply take that time window that I had allocated later, bring it into my calendar right now because I chose to work on it. But I had to have the discipline to take say, my prospecting, my hour of calling and push it out to 3:00 and make sure that I actually fulfilled on that. So that’s kind of a real important part of this process that managing exceptions requires the desire and the ability to kind of, what I call, “defend” the windows of time and defend the ratios, even as you’re swapping blocks around and things like that.

A couple of easy fixes that I’d like to share. One of the advantages, I think, of this model is it really does focus you on the fact that if you’re selling without a scheduled, committed next action step, you’re at a significant disadvantage. So having a calendar that’s inherently full really focuses your mind in every conversation to say to your prospect, “Hey, listen, it’s been a great conversation. I know I need to get this stuff for you in a case study. When do you want to speak again? I have got some time next Thursday. I have got another meeting slot at 2:00 p.m.”

If my calendar is essentially full all the time, I change my mindset such that I am always asking for the next appointment, and those of you who have heard me speak or read any of my stuff know that I am absolutely adamant that selling takes place in the context of a next scheduled step. So this really supports that.

As I said, one of the things we’re going to do is turn non-scheduled work into scheduled work. When I get an email request from somebody to do something for them, that has to fit into one of the buckets that I have already allocated rather than using my email application as kind of my to-do list. My goal is always to take whatever project or work or what have you, yank it out of email, and put it into my calendar.

Proposals are a great example. We all have to do proposals for clients. When do we do those? The usual answer is well, when we have time. That needs to be a defined work block on your calendar such that you know you’re going to generate a certain amount every week. It’s more efficient if you can do them all at the same time, so why not make sure that you have time on your calendar to do these proposals?

And the last one is, you’ve heard me say—try to turn the time-sensitive stuff into less time sensitive. If somebody is asking for something right now, it’s always fair to at least request if you can push this today, tomorrow, or the next allocated slot you have for that.

A couple just simple recommendations in terms of implementation. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of kind of the process. I mean what you find is that if you start talking about this new, fancy process you’re putting in place, people start to mess with you.

Another thing I would say is, make sure that when you’re cataloging your work and creating your ideal schedule, go back and revisit it from time to time. What you want to do is constantly look at this model and say, am I allocating things to the right space? Do I have them organized correctly?

Number four is really important, and by that I mean, if I am blocking out, let’s say, three hours of prospecting a day, I won’t put a block on my calendar of three hours for prospecting because no human being in the world can sit there for three hours without getting up and make cold calls. It just, it fries your brain. That’s now how normal people behave.

So if you’re more of, I call for half an hour and I get up and go to the bathroom. Well, I would say you can probably make it 45 minutes, but you want to be realistic and make sure that the blocks are aligned to the actual work. If you are scheduling your first scheduled conversations or you’re allocating those, or you’re scheduling your demos. If demos take an hour, and you want to schedule two of them, well,

  1. It needs to be two separate blocks, and
  2. You need to create space between those two blocks because nobody wants to go from meeting to meeting to meeting with no time to breathe, grab a drink of water, go to the bathroom, or capture their notes, or prep for the next call.

The last one is probably the most important, and that is if you spend a little bit of time at the end of every week reviewing your calendar and, what I would say, rationalizing or truing it up (meaning if you said you were going to do prospecting from 9:00 to 11:30 but because of other conditions or things that happened, you actually did it from 9:00 to 10:00), go back and fix your calendar. It’s a little bit of work. It’s a little bit of hassle, but what it gives you the ability to do is something that’s very, very powerful, and that is go back over your calendar over time and see where are the inefficiencies, where you were hearing the plan, where you were missing it, and most importantly, if you’re color coding your various work types, where you’re spending your time if it’s allocated appropriately.

Some organizations I have worked with we’ve gone in and we’ll use a color like yellow for internal meetings and training. Going back and working retroactively or looking retroactively at a calendar that’s been adjusted over time, it becomes glaringly obvious if you’re spending enough time selling, if people have too many times in internal meetings, if there is too much space between meetings and you have a lot of cancellations, that becomes a really powerful tool.

With that I will say thank you. If you’ve got questions or want more information or don’t have these templates, you can shoot me an email here, and we’ll get those out to you. Thanks very much.

By Townsend Wardlaw

photo credit: Bill David Brooks via photopin cc