There are many factors that can interrupt your productivity when you're in the flow of things or disrupt your train of thought. They may cause you to feel irritated or angry because they take valuable time away from more important things that you need to do. If you find that you are not getting as much work done as you would like, look for the specific time wasters that recur often. Look at your calendar and see where your time is going. Are you stuck in meetings most mornings and as a result you have less time to be out meeting with potential clients in person? What time do you actually begin working in the morning? Do you find that you end up around the coffeemaker chatting with other coworkers most mornings? This idle chitchat can suck up thirty minutes of time without you even realizing it!
It may be useful to keep a time journal. For a full week, keep a log that details what you are doing every thirty minutes. This will give you volumes of information on where your time is going, when you are most productive, and what interruptions are most affecting your time.
Most time interrupters can be turned around with a little planning, focus, and commitment on your part. You must first be clear on what time interrupters occur most commonly during your day. Maybe specific days of the week or times of day are more prone to interruptions. You may realize that certain people or meetings are responsible for most of your time interruptions. Once you identify the culprit, it is easier to do something about it.
Phone Calls and E-mail
One of the biggest time interrupters is the telephone. The telephone can be a wonderful tool for sales reps when you are in control of your phone. When your phone is in control of you, then it becomes a huge time interrupter. Many sales reps believe that they have to answer every call that comes in immediately or else they will lose customers. In most cases this is not true. Leave a message on your voice mail letting customers know that you will return their calls within twenty-four hours (and then do it). This takes some of the pressure off of your time and allows you to schedule blocks of time for getting other things done.
There are very few areas in business where you need to be on call at all times. The rapid growth of technology has made it possible to communicate with lightning speed at any time of day or night. It is important to be in control of this technology rather than allowing the technology to control of you and your schedule.
If you check your phone messages frequently, there is no reason you can't plan a few hours of private time concentrating on something else. Even doctors are not available around the clock. Set up at least two blocks of time daily for returning phone calls. During these blocks of time, return as many calls as you can.
It is also a good idea to include your e-mail address in your outgoing voice mail message so that a prospect or customer can get in touch with you this way if he prefers. He may find it easier to write out his question in an e-mail immediately rather than wait an hour or two to hear back from you, at which time he may be busy with something else. Also, remember it is courteous to turn your phone off when speaking to or visiting clients in person.
What did people do before the wonderful invention of e-mail? Well, they relied more on the phone and postal service. As with most everything that technology brings, there are advantages if it is used wisely and disadvantages if people let themselves become slaves to the technology. Just as you take a few times during the day to listen to your phone messages, schedule several specific times during the day to check your e-mail—perhaps once in the morning, once in the early afternoon, and a third time about an hour before leaving the office. Do not check your e-mail first thing when you arrive at the office, or you will get off track for the day. Once you start responding to e-mails, sending out your own, and sorting through junk e-mail, you can lose track of time and waste an entire morning or more with nonpressing work.
Coworkers and Family
While it is generally necessary to make yourself accessible for discussions with your colleagues, if you find that your colleagues or staff burst into your office unannounced more frequently than you would like, then these exchanges can become disruptive interruptions. Keep your office door closed during the blocks of time you have scheduled for work that requires more concentration. Let people know that when your office door is shut you do not want to be disturbed. If you don't have your own office, you may want to wear a telephone headset to indicate to others that you are occupied. Suggest to your colleagues that the best way to get your attention is to e-mail you for a more prompt response.
Although your family likely provides you with immeasurable pleasure and joy, if you find your family lacking in respect for your time or your need to devote hours to your business, then you need to kindly but firmly communicate boundaries to them. You should communicate rules to your family before you get to the point of anger. Keep your office door closed and let others know that these are times you are not to be disturbed. If you have a home office, post office hours. If you have young children at home, you may want to break for lunch two or three times a week and make it quality time with the children. Then it's back to work.
Exercise and Errands
You know that daily exercise has a number of health benefits, but you just don't have enough hours in the day to exercise and get your work done as well. Or maybe you make plans to exercise in the evenings, but when the evening comes you are too tired and lack the motivation to follow through, even though you had every intention of really doing it. Make the time to exercise first thing in the morning, if possible. Not only do you get your exercise in, but the effects of exercising work their magic all day long. Even if you don't have time for a full workout during the day, get in at least a couple of brief sessions. Exercise thirty minutes in the morning, take a fifteen-minute walk during lunch, and do a fifteen- to twenty-minute exercise routine after dinner.
You have errands to run—you need to pick up materials, drop off other materials, and make purchases for work. While your weekly errands need to get done, in order to have a successful career as a sales rep you must prioritize and multitask so that your errands do not become a waste of time, energy, and money. There are several things you can do to keep errands in check without their taking away your valuable time and energy. Cluster errands to one evening, one lunch break, or a few hours one weekend day, rather than doing errands every day or every other day. Identify the amount of time you're spending doing errands for work, home, and family. Then figure out your daily income, plus the cost of gas and the intangible but real cost of the stress caused by not having enough time to do what needs to be done. Which errands are the costliest, in terms of either time or money (or both)? Focus on the three errands that take the greatest amount of time and find ways to do each errand in half the time. Perhaps you can start making purchases online, use a dry cleaning service that offers pickup and delivery, or use a grocery service that delivers.
Clients and Customers
Do you find that certain prospects and customers take an inordinate amount of time by continually calling or e-mailing with the same questions over and over? This is where the Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule, is important to remember.
The Pareto principle states that you can count on 20 percent of your customers taking 80 percent of your time. In other words, out of ten customers, two of them will take up to 80 percent of your time. Armed with this knowledge, you can focus your efforts on working with the top 20 percent of your most profitable customers, in hopes that the majority of time you spend working will be servicing them. The good news is that you can plan for the amount of time you will need to dedicate to these customers beforehand so that you can service these customers as efficiently as possible without wasting time.
You will learn to identify rather quickly those 20 percent of customers who will take up 80 percent of your time. Communicate clearly to your customers how best to contact you. You may prefer to have your most time-consuming customers contact you via e-mail as this is by far the most efficient way to handle these types of clients. For those clients who do not “do” e-mail, you may want to suggest that they leave a specific message or question on your voice mail so that you can have a response for them when you call back. This allows you some control over how they will contact you. Remember to always follow up with them in a timely manner.
There will be times when you have to ask the tough question: Do you want this person as your customer? At some point, you may decide that you do not want certain customers, and that's okay. You may suggest another person or company for them to work with.
Some prospects and customers need more handholding than others because of fear; they may not understand the whole process. Focus on explaining the entire process for them from start to finish—you may even want to put it in writing for them in an easy-to-follow bulleted form so they know exactly what to expect when.