If your to-do list seems insurmountable, join the club. The thing is, we all have the same amount of time. It’s the effective management of our 24/7 that separates the superstars from the pack. Here’s how to get the most from every minute.
Prioritize today’s activities the day before, says Brian Grall, owner of BSG Promotional Consulting.“A big time saver is planning tomorrow at the end of today,” he says. “A big time waster is planning your day while you are in the day.”
Creating a task list the night before is one of the most powerful tools for productivity, according to “The Scatterbrain’s Guide to Managing Your Time, ” a post that appeared on BlogPhoto.tv. “The act of writing down your tasks not only gives you a plan to follow the next day, but it also reduces the burden on your brain. This decluttering allows for a more restful sleep, better cognitive function, increased creativity and brainstorming power, and significantly boosts productivity,” the guide explains.
In addition, prioritizing the tasks at hand helps build flexibility into the day, as it helps determine what is most necessary to accomplish and what is less important, the “Scatterbrain’s Guide ” adds.
At the end of each day, Greg Greemon, account executive at Activate! Promotions & Marketing (asi/141964), focuses on what needs his attention the next morning. On his commute in, he figures out what he’ll do first. He reads through several reports, such as open orders, samples, webstore and inventory reports. “I always have a good feel for where we are and make sure there have been no changes,”he says.
Although Activate’s offices open at 8:30 a.m., he is always at his desk at 7:15.
“I get more done in that hour than I do the rest of the day, when phones and email crank up,” he says. “I make sure I understand where we are in the selling and billing cycle, and figure out whats hot and what will need my decision-making input during the day.”
Greemon describes his habits as “old school”: printing his Outlook calendar on paper, highlighting his meetings and jotting down notes.“I check things off as I accomplish them, and make sure I resolve any problems before I leave at night,” he says.
RAPID CLIENT RESPONSE
While planning ahead and prioritizing are both critical, reps say there needs to be flexibility in order to focus on the most important part of the job – servicing the client.
“I look at the tasks in front of me and prioritize constantly,” says Darren Golden, owner of Proforma Stand Out Branding (asi/300094). “Anything client driven gets taken care of first. All correspondence must be clean and correct, and this takes priority over my own supporting tasks, like accounting and budgeting. Sales is a numbers game. I need to keep producing those numbers; if sales slip, I get on the phone.”
Golden places a premium on returning phone calls and quotes quickly. “If a client needs something, they jump to the front of the line,” he says. “My desk might be a mess, but that will get taken care of last.”
Greemon gets answers for his clients as fast as humanly possible. “This is a priority,” he says. “When there’s a fire burning, I need to put it out.”
Joshua Ebrahemi, vice president/partner at Jack Nadel International (asi/279600), also says a key to success is responsiveness to clients. “My objective is to get the clients the information they want and move projects along quickly,” he says. “My clients never wonder whether when I’ll get back to them. I am 100% responsive – I get back to clients with an email within five to 10 minutes.”
He uses Outlook “to the fullest. I use it for email, its calendar, to send reminders and to flag items.”
Neal Skuro, vice president of strategic accounts at Offbeat Productions powered by Boundless Network (asi/143717), says that forming strong vendor partnerships can also save time. “When you have a great relationship with a vendor, they can make your life easy by going above and beyond when you need something out of the norm,”he says.
Ebrahemi makes sure he only works with trusted vendors. “It’s important for our vendors to be great,” he says. “When they’re not, they make us look bad.“ He has 20 vendors he works with, day in and day out. ”I’m not buying on price at all, but rather service, a commitment to quality and a quick production time. I’m not looking for new vendors unless they offer something I’m not getting from the others."
LEARN TO DELEGATE
Working as a team can give a big boost to a sales rep’s effiency.“A big reason I can write as much sales as I do is because of my team,” says Christopher Kuranz, national account director at Caliendo Savio Enterprises (CSE, asi/155807). “We have lots of support at CSE, and I delegate as many tasks as I can,” he says.
Activate ’s Greemon has added to his team as his book of business has grown. "I got to a point where I could not get it all done, and things were falling through the cracks," he says. He now has two account managers to help him manage his book of business. Greemon manages the sales process, and his team helps take care of the details. They touch base regularly to go over what ’s hot and what needs his input.
"There’s a saying that you spend more time fixing a mistake than doing it right the first time," says Kuranz. He relies on the firm ’s customer service, sourcing, purchasing and marketing teams, as well as the support of senior management to help the order process go smoothly. Each morning, the individual teams give him their priority lists for his review. If I feel something is more urgent, I let them know.”
“Letting go” took a little getting used to in the beginning, but Greemon says having a team is a distinct advantage. ;“I can assign a task and manage the process, instead of being the process.”
He divides his book of business between himself and the two account managers, divvying up who manages what. The three meet and discuss how to handle various tasks. Problem solving and being creative are a big part of Greemon ’s job description, and giving his team responsibility and accountability goes a long way in freeing him up to perform those tasks.
Proforma ’s Golden recently hired a part-time employee to help out with invoicing, which he says was becoming a bottleneck.
“Hire the best of what your company needs,” suggests BSG Promotional Consulting ’s Grall. “You get further faster using your strengths,”he notes. “Hire experts for where you have weaknesses, and assign appropriate projects to the appropriate experts.”
The book Strengths Finder, by Tom Rath is required reading for Matt Kaspari ’s team. The president and CEO of Kaspo Inc. (asi/606245) says that the book proposes that people possess strengths and weaknesses that remain steady throughout life. It recommends identifying and leveraging those strengths in the workplace. The book includes a quiz that is designed to help the reader identify their core talents.
Kaspari has enacted a scorecard system to set goals, for the company itself, as well as for individuals. “The scorecard system, combined with Strengths Finder, is an important part of our culture,” he says. The scorecard is collaborative, and aims to help employees spell out goals and outcomes, as well as the actions needed to achieve them. He also has weekly sales calls to follow up and make sure his salespeople are being proactive and taking the right actions to achieve those goals.
Kaspari is constantly refining his process as the company grows. "My team is an evolutionary process," he says. "We are all accountable to each other, and everyone has to pitch in. We are always looking at what we ’ve done well and what we can do better."
Don ’t Put Things Off
“The Scatterbrain ’s Guide to Managing Your Time” advocates tackling the intimidating or unpleasant tasks first. The blogpost cites behavioral scientists who have concluded that we are programmed to prefer experiences that improve over time, so that accomplishing the dreaded tasks first paves the way for a more pleasant and more productive day.
“There is a law of diminishing returns," says BSG ’s Grall“;The end of a long day is less productive as compared to the beginning of the day.”
Activate ’s Greemon tries to get some of his administrative work, like billing and invoicing, done before the day starts, so that he can carve out at least an hour a day for prospecting. He relies on Activate ’s CRM platform to send him notification when an order is ready to invoice, and keep him apprised of where he is in the selling and billing cycle.
“It ’s easy to get complacent, but business development is the lifeblood of a company” he says. "Take that five or 10 minutes to make that call. Whatever it is, don ’t procrastinate."
He also makes it a top priority to make time for face-to-face meetings. “I like to talk to people and ultimately I want to be in front of them,” he says. His goal is to get his prospect out of the office in order to get their undivided attention. Whether for coffee, lunch or a beer, people let their guard down and it ’s easier to develop relationships when they get out of work mode, he explains, which is actually a time saver.
Greemon treats every opportunity with the same urgency. “You never know when one 12-shirt order could end up on a CEO ’s back,” he says. “I don ’t have to hit home runs. I don ’t mind hitting singles – they can grow to doubles and triples.”
It could save time, too, to phone a friend. Kaspari says mentors help boost time-management and efficiency. He both mentors others as well as nurtures his own network of close industry friends. “I believe surrounding myself with successful people helps me solve problems most efficiently and effectively,” he says. “When I have a question, I pick up the phone and call someone in my network, and invariably, they offer me ideas I might not have thought of that I end up implementing.”
Detach From Devices
It may sound counterintuitive, but taking a step away from technology can help recharge your batteries. “It ’s hard when they ’re your lifelines, but shutting down during breaks, evenings and weekends gives us a real breather,” says marketing expert Jill Konrath, in her latest book, Agile Selling.
She recommends turning off the cell phone for a period of time, or at a minimum, she suggests taking a short break from email. “Several years ago I read that French workers who put in 36-hour work weeks were more productive than Americans who averaged 50-plus hours per week,” she writes. “Long hours and high stress levels do not equate to getting more done.”
Kaspari sets aside certain times to read his email. “I am connected all the time, but I get over 150 emails a day,” he says. “Setting aside times to read my mail allows me to work on my to-do list. I can prioritize, and when I leave for the day, I am done.”
He allows flexibility within his team and for himself. “If an employee coaches their daughter ’s softball team, we encourage them to do that. They may log in at 9 or 10 that night, but we believe it ’s possible to work around coaching, or volunteering, or whatever is important to that employee,” he says. That recharging helps with better time management the next day.