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Question: How do salespeople and entrepreneurs get so much done with so little time and resources?
The key differentiator of highly productive people is an absolute focus on activities that produce results, and then doing as many of those things (and only those things) as possible.
Entrepreneurs and sales people only get paid when their efforts produce revenue, not how busy they are, how many meetings they attend, how many emails they read, etc. Every activity must contribute to a customer paying for the product or service, or support closing a deal in a direct way. For them, the day doesn’t begin or end at a specific time, it ends when they have all of their goals finished for the day. There’s always one more call to make or something else to be done. That’s why they get so frustrated when other people waste their time – in their head they could be making money instead of whatever is in front of them. Everything is weighed as an . Time literally is money.
To get a sense of this, imagine if your current job only paid you if the activity you were working on produced a tangible, measurable result: Not partial work, lines of code or pages written, emails sent, or “progress”, but an actual finished product that is purchased by a customer – without a limit on how much money you could make. The flip side is that if you don’t hit a minimum threshold, you’re fired. (If you are an entrepreneur, it means closing your business.) Nothing focuses your attention like having that type of pressure hanging over your head day in and day out.
We all get the same 1,440 minutes in a day. Once those minutes are up, they are gone forever. There are some things you can multitask, but in general if you spend time doing one thing, you can’t work on something else. This is known as an opportunity cost. To be highly productive, you have to focus on the tasks that offer the largest return on your time.
The question that highly productive people have to constantly ask themselves is:
“Is this the best use of my time right now?”
The most valuable opportunities are typically the ones you choose to do proactively, rather than reactive firefighting. In sales and entrepreneurship you have to be out ahead of the opportunities, anticipating your customer’s needs, generating demand by educating your customer, and most importantly you have to always be ahead of your competitors.
This splits the workday into tasks that can only be completed during normal business hours (like meeting with people face to face), and tasks that can be completed during off hours (administrative tasks, prep work, research, reports, contracts, etc.) From 7am to 7pm, the goal should be to be face to face with as many customers, partners, suppliers, investors, industry insiders, and employees as possible, focusing on tasks that generate revenue or support activities that will generate future revenue.
Of course, all sorts of unplanned requests and tasks turn up all day. These are usually distractions and productivity killers, and productive people learn to quickly triage these. In general, the evaluation process looks like this:
- Does this need to be done at all? You will never run out of things to do (especially as an entrepreneur), so what you say no to is just as important as what you choose to work on. I’ve adopted “ to help focus my priorities.
- Am I the only person who can do it? Entrepreneurs often have a hard time delegating and want to do everything themselves, which just makes things worse for them. If you can effectively delegate a task, automated it, or outsource it, then move it off your plate.
- How important or urgent is the task? This determines priorities. Some “urgent” items aren’t really important, and some important items aren’t urgent. Ask yourself: Do you need to do it now, or can you work on it later? How long does the task take? Does it take one minute to complete? Does it have to be done during your valuable business hours (meaning it involves collaborating with other people in your time zone)?
This process will seriously cut the time wasters out of your day and push the less important but still necessary items to “off hours”. (For example, it’s 9:30pm at the time of this writing and I’m updating and rehearsing a customer presentation for tomorrow.)
In addition, here are some other things I’ve noticed working with highly productive people:
- They plan in 10-15 minute increments. Most people think of their day in hour long segments. The problem is that work always expands to fit the time allotted to it. () Highly productive people often have three or four items allocated to that same time and are hyper aware how long each task will take. They don’t allocate thirty minutes to something that will take twenty minutes, or an hour if it can be done in forty-five minutes. They always maximize those extra time segments and over the course of a day or week they add up.
- There is no such thing as dead time. If a meeting is canceled or ends early, many people take the opportunity to walk around the office and gossip. While networking is important and everyone needs a break, you can actually get a lot done in that same time that sets you up for success in the future. That could be making a few notes, tackling small tasks, making a quick call, collaborating with a co-worker, etc. They also maximize commute times in the car, on the train, or on a flight.
- They plan around their energy. Knowing your work style and your energy levels are key. Highly productive people know when their energy and creativity levels are highest and lowest and when they should work on certain things. If your energy “hits the wall” at 2-3pm, that isn’t the time to schedule a brainstorming session or work on a difficult problem that requires creativity and focus. Likewise, working on a routine task when you are at peak energy is a wasted opportunity.
- They constantly experiment. There are hundreds of productivity systems, tools, and tricks available, and for the most part they all work – they just don’t all work for everyone. Highly productive people constantly ask their colleagues how they plan and organize their day and are always trying a “tweak” to see if they uncover something that works – even if it is a 1% improvement. They modify and implement what works and replace or toss what doesn’t.
- They build and “stack” productive habits. We are the sum of our habits and choices. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all build routines in our day: the order we do things in the morning, what we do when we arrive at the office, what we do when we come home from work, etc. Good habits are essential, but they are even more powerful when they feed into other good and productive habits. Highly productive people stack habits that work together to multiply their effect. Getting up early gives you a jump on your day but has more impact if you spend the time fueling and energizing your body. Daily workouts and proper nutrition build energy and endurance. Having a solid morning routine gets you up and moving automatically, which saves time. Being organized eliminates wasting time looking for things. Having an evening routine avoids the “come home and turn on the TV” productivity sinkhole that so many people fall into. How you spend the last four hours of your day is just as important as how you spend the first twelve. These little efforts add up to big gains at the end of the day.
- They plan the following day before they leave the office. Most people get to the office, wander around for an hour and are on their second cup of coffee before they get around to figuring out what they will work on that day. Highly productive people already know what they need to do because they plan the next day before they leave the office. This starts with defining the MIT (most important task) for the day – the one that leads to revenue.
The more you can focus your time and efforts directly on the activities that advance you towards tangible and specific goals, and eliminate tasks that don’t (or waste time), the more productive and successful you’ll be.