When and How to Prioritize
Prioritization is as important for your schedule as organization. When is the best time to prioritize? The answer may be different depending on who's asking. What time of day you sit down and prioritize the things you need to do will depend on your sleep cycle. Some people do their best work at night, and others find they get more done early in the morning. Plan and prioritize your day depending on when you have the most energy, and stay flexible to changing priorities during the day. If you're a morning person and this is when you have the most energy during the day, then you may want to plan your schedule the previous afternoon so you're ready to focus on getting through your to-do list as soon as you start the next day. If you are high energy in the afternoon and evening, you will want to plan your day early that morning when you arrive at work.
The worst time to check e-mail is when you arrive at your office, because the e-mails will distract you from your main focus first thing in the morning and, more times than not, will have you putting out someone else's fires. E-mail maintenance can also keep you away from starting your projects and making phone calls first thing in the morning so that you feel motivated to keep working. It is not a fun feeling to lose steam and feel anxious and overwhelmed with everything you have to do just one to two hours after starting your day. You have now given away a great deal of your control over your schedule, the power to make the time needed to complete projects, and the motivation and push you need in meeting with customers in a positive emotional frame of mind.
So when should you read e-mails? The best time to check your e-mail is one to two hours after arriving at the office. Start weaning yourself now from checking e-mail first thing. There is one caveat, however. If you get your energy up and running in the late morning or evening, then mornings may be the perfect time to check your e-mail. It will help you “wake up” and start the day with less demanding work than your other projects.
Timing Return Calls
The telephone is a wonderful invention, but you must create boundaries to your phone use in order for it to ultimately help you expand your sales business and not be a drag on your time. Generally speaking, there are two times during the day that are best for making or returning calls—approximately between 11 A.M. and noon, and between 4 and 5 P.M. The first period is just before lunch, and the second is just before your prospect, customer, or vendor leaves work for the day. During these times you've got a better chance of actually reaching the person you're trying to contact (and not his or her voice mail) than at other times of the day. However, that is just a general guideline, and you must figure out what the best times are for reaching your targeted group.
With it becoming more and more common to have customers all over the world, it's more important than ever before to pay attention to differences in time zones when scheduling overseas calls, or even distant calls within the United States.
Scheduling your calls for these parts of the day will reduce the chance that you will miss the person you are trying to contact. Playing phone tag wastes your time (and the time of the person you are contacting) and can be irritating for both parties. It may be a good idea to give out your e-mail address when you leave a voice message to prevent telephone tag. Answering e-mails is often much faster and more efficient than returning phone messages back and forth, since both individuals can check their e-mail and return e-mail messages at any time of day or night, which increases the chance that your contact will respond by the next business day. Leaving your e-mail address when you leave a voicemail message encourages people to e-mail you with their questions or comments.
One of the biggest reasons many people don't return phone calls as quickly as e-mails is that they often do not have the phone numbers handy. When you return e-mail messages you have the prospect or customer's e-mail right in front of you and simply have to hit the reply button.
When to Delegate
Delegation is a wonderful concept, and it's especially beneficial once you get the hang of it. For many sales professionals, this is a very hard skill to master. Although it makes sense to portion out tasks to many individuals so that they will be completed more efficiently, actually implementing delegation can be difficult. The perfectionist might think, “I can do it better.” Although this may be true, if you have many projects and many deadlines to finish within a short amount of time, it doesn't matter that you can do it better, because there just isn't the time to do it all.
The secretive player may say, “I want the credit for it.” If you're a secretive player, you don't like others to know what you're working on, how you are doing things, or the systems that you're using. Chances are that you have had bad experiences in the past that made you feel that it is better to guard your methods of success carefully than to share them. However, not delegating some parts of your overload will only cause you more anxiety and a higher chance of making errors.
The workaholic might say, “I have the time to do it.” You may be able to make time to do it, but what part of your life is not in balance? You only have twenty-four hours each day, and when you spend nine to fourteen hours working, add only seven hours for sleep (and most adults need eight hours nightly), that only leaves three to eight hours for meals, spending time with your family and friends, relaxing, and everything else in your life. You may want to ask yourself what part of your life needs more attention and then develop strategies to balance your life so that work is not taking up too much of your time.
The overwhelmed sales rep may say, “I don't have the time to show anyone else how to do it.” If you find yourself working in this mode most of the time, then you may want to look at organizing systems that will help keep the different layers of things that can cause overload in neat “files.” It is easy to become overwhelmed with the different array of newsletters, news bites, changing company policies, interoffice memos, new product launches, and the like. Once you have established a “home” for everything that comes your way and you've made decisions about which items need to be saved, then organizing using a filing system will help immensely as you manage these items. When you're ready to work on a particular project or pull up information, you'll know where to look for it.
The procrastinator might say, “I'll get around to it eventually.” Procrastinators don't necessarily put things off because they are lazy or not accountable. People put things off for three primary reasons:
1. They feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start first; it is a feeling of being paralyzed into inaction.
2. They may not know how to do something, and the fear of doing it wrong stops them from attempting the project.
3. They may be waiting for more resources or information before starting.
If you find that you are procrastinating often, just start. Give yourself ten, twenty, or thirty minutes to get started and just do something related to the task. Once you start a project and spend time focusing on it, the mystery of the unknown becomes less intimidating, and often you may end up saying to yourself, “That wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.”