Sales Managers: Take Control Of Your Time

Many of us are familiar with the old adage “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

But when you stop to think about it, many things that are “worth doing” are really only worth doing adequately.

For example, have you ever found yourself spending an inordinate amount of time on something that was really trivial in the grand scheme of things – like struggling to get the margins “just right” on an expense report – or participating in a meeting that serves to endlessly rehash a problem, but ends without addressing solutions?

The Time Use Productivity Test

The key to not getting caught up in doing a task simply for the sake of doing the task is to start with the end result you desire and work backward.

Before you can decide if a task is productive, you need to define what you want to produce. In other words, you need to write down your goals and objectives – both long and short-term – and prioritize them.

Next, break your goals into the steps you’ll need in order to reach each goal and map out realistic but disciplined timeframes for completing each project.

Then, ask yourself three simple questions for every task, function or activity you take on:

  1. What is the most effective use of my time right now?
    Don’t confuse efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is doing a job right. Effectiveness is doing the right job right.
  2. What is the payoff of this activity?
    If an activity leads to the achievement of a planned, measurable objective, the payoff is clearly high. If it doesn’t, the payoff is probably low or nonexistent.
  3. What cell am I in?
    Learn the difference between important and urgent; Urgent deals with time; important deals with priority. When you respond more quickly to the urgent than you respond to the important, you may be neglecting important tasks that get permanently “put on the back burner.”

The following chart, originally developed by noted Time Manager Dr. Merrill Douglas, illustrates the problem:

crisis control

Cell 1: A crisis is something that’s BOTH important and urgent. If you’re working on a required report 30 minutes before it’s due – you’re probably in crisis mode.

Cell 2: Tasks that are important, but not urgent are things like prospecting for new business, or planning your marketing strategy for the coming year. These are things that are essential to long-term success, but they often lack an imposed time factor that forces you to complete them. As a result they often don’t get done, or don’t get the kind of attention they need.

*Focusing your time and attention on tasks in Cell 2 will help you leverage your time so that you can actually avoid future crises.

Cell 3: Telephone calls, drop-in visitors, unnecessary meetings or email and other related events have the urgency factor because they interrupt you, grabbing at your time and attention. However, these activities don’t really factor into accomplishing your core objectives – so they are trivial rather than important.

*This cell is the “Bermuda Triangle of time”— if you’ve ever wondered where your day went, look here. Find ways to limit the time you spend here and put that time in cell 2, where it can help you reach your goals.

Cell 4: Obviously, if something is neither urgent nor important, it’s a waste of your time. It’s no different from wasting any other resource; you get absolutely nothing in return when you spend time in this cell.

Here’s a closer look at three things that may be eating up your valuable time, and ways to regain your control:

1. Meetings

Many sales managers fall into the trap of letting meetings manage their time. Some organizations sap their potential for growth, productivity and profit by involving all their key people in so many meeting that there’s no time to take any action on anything decided in the meetings. Meetings should be used to drive the business instead of being something you do “in addition” to the business.

Here’s how:

  • Say NO – if there’s not a good reason to attend, don’t
  • Delegate – send a substitute or have someone record the meeting or take notes for you
  • Use alternate, quicker communication options
  • Send the agenda to all participants ahead of time
  • Use online forums or send out reading material first
  • Hold shorter meetings more often and have ONE stated purpose per meeting
  • Have a stand-up meeting
  • Make meetings come to you – so you can keep working up until the last minute and start again as soon as it’s over
  • Always make a “take-away” action list of what will be done, by whom and when
  • Start with the end result you want to achieve and work backward so that everyone stays focused on the issue at hand

2. Paperwork

Paperwork is a creature of tradition and habit. Some paper may cross your desk because it always has – maybe your predecessor wanted to see it and it was automatically passed on to you. You can manage your time more effectively by choosing your own paperwork procedures. In the process, you may find yourself delegating authority and responsibility to others who can help you reduce the flow of paper crossing your desk.

Here’s how:

  • Dictate key thoughts and have someone else compose letters or documents
  • Get someone to handle routine correspondence
  • After initial sorting, handle paper only once
  • Paperwork doesn’t have to be perfect – only adequate
  • Complete tasks before putting them down
  • Place paperwork in files, not piles
  • When in doubt, throw it out! A little bit of ruthlessness toward paperwork is an advantage

3. Technology

Technology is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to managing your time. The laptop, cell phone and PDA have converted those wasted hours and minutes in airports and between appointments into productive working time. But many sales managers become so compulsive about checking emails and messages that technology becomes a tyrannical force that literally takes over their lives. Instead, you should carefully set your goals and priorities and then harness technology as a tool that helps you reach those goals more effectively.

Here’s how:

  • Turn it off, or at least turn off the ringers and alerts that distract you and interrupt your productive time
  • Check numbers first before listening to messages
  • Check email messages at a certain time each day – not as they come in
  • Don’t give out your email address or your cell phone number indiscriminately
  • Use “virtual meetings” to free yourself from time-consuming travel and meetings
  • Convert paperwork into online forms
  • Learn to use the features that will help you manage your time better (calendars, reminders, project trackers and address books), but don’t get distracted by the bells and whistles (email stationary, ringtones etc.)
  • Make sure you have a clearly articulated policy for your sales team concerning appropriate use of workplace technology – and don’t be a hypocrite. To effectively manage your sales team you’ve got to both follow and enforce the policy

If you’re like most people, meetings, ringing telephones and the rigor of business travel conspire to form a daily whirlwind routine of blurred activity. Each day runs into the next and before you know it, the weeks and months go by and you’re left feeling like you could have or should have accomplished more. Worse yet, you may find that you are constantly busy and exhausted, without much to show for it.

You can do something about this. The best way to determine your personal time use habits is to record your time use for an entire week at least four times each year. Time analysis requires some work, but its dividends far outweigh its costs. Most people are surprised at how they use their time, and the analysis provides the information for you to align your activities closer to your objectives.

You’ll find a simple form you can use to track your time below. We’ve also attached a weekly work plan that you can use with salespeople to identify each week’s major objectives and then work backward to determine important projects and activities for the week:

You can also help your salespeople learn to apply these principles in order to manage their time. One of your most important roles as a sales manager is to provide vision for your team. You’ve got to focus on “the big picture” and then help each person stay on track toward achieving their part in that larger picture.