A lot of people mistake being busy for being productive. You might get to cross 15 things off your To-Do List, but unless these items are directly related to sales, chances are you are being incredibly unproductive. Productivity is a measurement of the progress you are making on important outcomes. You can say “yes” to all kinds of work and projects that consume your time and energy and while interesting, they do nothing to move you ahead toward your major initiatives or goals.
Being more productive requires a broader shift in thinking. It can be tough to improve your productivity overnight but there are some simple steps you can take to meaningfully boost productivity over time. Some of these strategies require lifestyle changes, while others require getting more organized and comparing your progress against peers. Read up on these tips to help you build a foundation for killer productivity.
Set Yourself Up For Success
You can’t have a great day without a little preparation the night before. Every night I set the coffee pot to go off 10 minutes before I wake up. I also get water bottles ready if I am running in the morning. I start the day in the office with mindfulness meditation, a journal entry and writing. Then I set to work with a cup of coffee and a blank page on my computer.
Everyone has different daily routines. But the more you can do to get your day in order before you are up and running, the faster you will get to work and the more you will accomplish. You set the tone for your whole day during the very first few hours. Review your calendar for the next day the night before so you know what to expect. It only takes a few minutes but it’s important to know what you’re doing and where you have space to fit in last-minute tasks that pop up. Make sure you are prepared for meetings and commitments you have planned.
It’s also important to write down your priorities or To-Do list – this can help you achieve three or four major outcomes each day. You can try to do this on a weekly basis, but if you’re really staying busy, chances are you will want to revisit your schedule and renegotiate commitments on a daily basis. Review the list and schedule time to do the real work – the proactive, intentional stuff, not the reactive stuff like responding to emails, answering calls, etc. Doing this work the night before lets you do purposeful work starting right at the beginning of your day.
Don’t Skimp on Sleep
Getting a full night of sleep is critical to boosting productivity. The average person needs at least 7 hours of sleep each night and some need even more than that. Figure out how many hours of sleep you need to function most effectively and set a “cut off” time for when you need to go to bed every night. You can even set that cutoff time on your smartphone so you get an alert when it’s time to get some sleep. It’s also important to detach from electronics an hour or two before bed. Studies show that the light emitted from electronics can disrupt your natural sleep rhythms. Instead of checking email or watching TV, try a book or other activities. Maybe get some exercise or use that time to pursue your hobbies. Getting enough sleep may require a significant change in your daily habits. When you set a time to get out of bed, stick to it. People that keep hitting the snooze alarm just come to work feeling groggy and lethargic. You want to pick a wake up time when you can jump out of bed and start your day.
Narrow Your Focus
Being productive is about prioritizing your top goals and narrowing your focus. You have to carefully select what is important in your day and eliminate the things that aren’t adding up to anything so you know you are spending your time wisely. A successful day is not just one where you are so busy you don’t have time to sit down – it’s a day where you make progress on the things that are the most important.
Keeping a time journal is a great way to take measurements and make adjustments. Write down everything you do from the time you wake up until you go to sleep. If you do this for a few days in a row, you will see exactly how much time you are wasting in between tasks or on tasks that just aren’t helping you stay productive. This is anything from lying in bed scrolling through social media to spending an hour on the phone talking through someone else’s issues.
Raise your standards by looking at what you really do and how little of it is related to the outcomes you want to produce. This will create the awareness you need to lead to positive change. Decide and act on the idea that you are going to prioritize what is most important and is moving you closer to your goals.
Set Long-Term Goals
You can’t be productive unless you have broader overarching targets to guide your efforts. Long-term goals help you frame your thoughts and give you a roadmap for success. The ideal timeframe for these goals is 1-3 years, but figure out what works best for you. This process might involve really taking the time to consider what kind of personal growth is important to you. Where do you want to be at the end of those three years? Think about what promotion you’re gunning for or what milestones you want to hit, then think tactically. The next step is figuring out the short-term goals that will get you there.
Set Short-Term Goals
Short-term goals are goals over the next few days or months that can help you reach your long-term goals. These goals might include developing a certain skill, learning more about the broader company, or attending conferences to network with peers. It’s not enough to just write down a few short-term goals. Make sure to evaluate your progress at the end of the week to make sure you’re on the right track. Think about what you did well and what you could have done better; there might be some lessons learned that you haven’t considered. Short-term goals are the tactical steps you need to take to reach your long-term goals and require a lot more detail. Depending on your progress towards your short-term goals, you might find it necessary to adapt your long-term goals. Setting goals, striving for them, and reaching them is an iterative process that requires periodic reflection.
Set Three 90-Minute Blocks
It’s not enough to just have goals for each day. You need to think about the little steps you’re going to take to get there. Break the day into 90 minute blocks of time (or another interval) and decide what work you want to accomplish in each particular block. This ensures you don’t have long stretches of time without a specific focus. Blocking time doesn’t mean you have to schedule your entire day with no room for last-minute meetings or other work that arises. It just means you need to have a plan and that you work that plan as best you can.
If you schedule three 90-minute blocks of time each day for your most important work, you’ll find you get more important work done, the work is higher quality and you finish your tasks faster than you would have if you stretched them out throughout the day.
Also, these three blocks account for just 4.5 of the 24 hours in your day. That leaves you plenty of time to be reactive or responsive to other things that come up. You are simply using about half of your work day to protect yourself from distractions and small work that doesn’t move you closer to your goals.
Use the first 90-minute block (say between 8am and 9:30am) to finish the most important task you need to complete. This is often the LAST thing you will want to do first thing in the morning but that’s even more reason why you should. Then no matter what else happens in the day you will have been productive and completed an important task. See how it works?
Using the second block in the late morning to work on your second most important task boosts the odds of you being doubly productive. Then you can take a break around noon to reenergize and refuel. Even if your day ended at this point you still will have accomplished more than most of your peers!
Having a third 90-minute block in the afternoon is a good chance to bang away at one of the important projects you haven’t yet finished or start a new task. If you’re interrupted by something urgent, and we all will be on some days, don’t worry about it. Just get back to it as soon as possible and try to devote the full 90 minutes to it even if it is broken up.
Be Aware of Demands on Your Time
When you create your workday budget, one of the most important things to do is to set periods of time when you won’t check your phone or email. An email is a significant demand on your time and so is a phone call or text. It might not sound like a heavy burden in terms of taxing your brain or energy, but it does require you to step outside of your current task and consider what to do, how to respond, etc. These interruptions are demands on your time without your consent.
Setting limited windows to check messages can stop you from constantly switching your attention from projects to responding to routine emails. Setting aside these blocks of time give you a chance to focus on one specific task and get it done faster.
It’s often impossible to ignore demands on your time, but you can bundle them together so you can control your focus and attention. If you landed your dream client, you want to be available to them when they call, text or email you because they are in need of your help. You want to honor your commitment to them but also make sure that every little distraction doesn’t end up keeping you from accomplishing anything with your day.
Double Activity or Increase Effectiveness
What if your sales results are off by 50%? You’re only producing half of your number. In order to close that gap, you can do one of two things: Double your activity or Increase Your Effectiveness.
Doubling your activity begins with the assumption that sales is just a numbers game. There is nothing but activity and more activity leads to more opportunities which leads to more wins and so on. Doubling your prospecting efforts might not be a bad plan for those who aren’t doing enough to create the results they need. However, only increasing your activity level doesn’t account for all the other things that one could be doing to improve their sales results.
Increasing your effectiveness assumes that better results will happen when the sales force is more effective and sales teams aren’t struggling as much. This involves training, development and coaching that help your ability to target dream clients and go after bigger opportunities. It requires more of a time investment but also improves win rates and creates a higher percentage of wins than just increasing activity alone.
Some people need more activity for better results and others need to get more effective at what they are doing. Implementing both strategies at once means more activity as well as new mindsets and skills – usually a winning combination.
Once you’ve got that personal feedback, it’s time to benchmark with counterparts inside and outside your company. It’s time to see how you stack up against the competition. Compare your productivity to peers you admire. Those comparisons are another objective way to evaluate your performance. Figure out exactly what metrics are going to be important when benchmarking. Is it sales growth? Number of new accounts opened? Invitations to speaking engagements? Any metrics can be valuable if they are relevant and easily measurable. Also look at what those people are doing to boost their productivity. Maybe they spend more time networking and getting to know people across the company. They might be more aggressive about finding ways to work smarter instead of harder. Observe your peers and if possible, have a chat; you might learn some new strategies to boost your productivity.
The time you spend at work is no indication of productivity. Neither is the number of dials you make per hour or day. The number of face-to-face sales calls or ear-to-ear sales calls or video face to video face sales calls are also no measurement of productivity. They are activity, and not all activity produces the right outcomes. You can have meetings in which nothing is accomplished. They may even be necessary, but that does not mean that any initiative was advanced.
Productivity is the measurement of the outcomes you create divided by the time and energy you invest in those outcomes. Time and energy invested in activities that do not produce an outcome do not mean that you were productive. This is true even when the non-productive activities are necessary. If you are vigilant and honest with yourself about the way you spend your time and can cut out or minimize the unnecessary tasks, you will become much better at focusing your time and energy on producing awesome outcomes.