Focus: The art of finding more time to sellby
New Year, new sales targets, and probably a bunch of New Year’s resolutions that effectively became “to-do” lists for the first week of January. However, there’s one thing that we could all do with more of every year, and that’s time. If your EOY figures are 20% up on last year, you might think you need 20% more time in order to match them.
That’s not always the case. You just have to be 20% smarter.
I’ve battled with time over the last few years. Having young children ensures that there’s not much of it to go round, so those 24 hours a day have to be allocated appropriately. What’s more, I’ve had to be ruthless about what I spend my time on – will this activity help me achieve my objective? Can someone else do it instead?
It’s about focus. Where do you put your focus – and where do you not? If you can find a way of cutting down on time spent badly, you can find more time for time spent well.
I started reading a book about Essentialism – the art of only doing what is absolutely essential. I read the first chapter, and as with many business books, that was enough. No need to read the rest.
There’s a lesson in that, I’m sure.
The crux of the argument is simple enough – why spend hours in meetings that you’ve meekly accepted only to discover that the outcome is more of the same. Why spend hours in meetings where your presence, you know, is actually not required. Instead, you’re doing it to show you exist or to save face. Or because you couldn't say no.
Actually, the crux of the argument is that you need to learn to say “no”.
Saving time involves firstly asking yourself whether your presence is going to make a difference or not. It’s fine to accept that it won’t – and the alternative is deciding that it will. It's about understanding the activities that don't add value, or that aren't going to produce a return, and weeding them out.
Least value, less effort
It is always worth allocating some of your valuable time to understanding where the “least value” activities lie. These could be relatively menial or simple tasks that, frankly, could be done by a junior. Yet – for some reason, potentially as they’re mindlessly enjoyable sometimes – we end up doing them. Excel files that require massive copy-pasting, data harvesting or cleansing… time sucks that, frankly, someone else should be doing.
It’s not arrogant to think that your skills should be used in a more valuable manner. But we all get sucked into tasks that don’t make maximum use of our skills. If we’re good at closing, if we’re good at sniffing out opportunities and upselling, then that’s where our efforts should lie.
So outsource. I use PeoplePerHour, and there are many others – Elance, ODesk, etc. Find an expert in that field, and pay to have it done properly by someone who is maximising their skills. Don't waste your time, even if it's enjoyable in a Chinese-Proverb kind of way, emptying your mind of all conscious thought.
Measure your own time and record it
I use Harvest, which is linked to Basecamp. And yes, I have to kick myself to remind myself to use it all the time, but the discipline is worth instilling.
In short – you have a timer constantly running, which is set against Basecamp tasks or independent of them. However, to start the timer, you have to describe what you’re doing. Once the timer is running, it’s harder to waste time. So long as it’s visible, it’s a constant reminder that you are using up your time, and you should be using it up in an optimum manner.
What’s more, you can look back on your time and understand where you’ve put your effort. I discovered that a lot of my own time was being spent on what I’d label as “Admin”, and as my old colleague Warren Butler wrote on his blog, there was enough time spent on lower value activities to create a further x amount of sales by not doing it.
I started attributing a value to the time I was spending. Some time would be “assist” time, some time would be “goal” time – other time was, frankly, wasted.
The trick is to be honest with yourself.
Incremental steps to add focus
Sitting in an open-plan office is an invitation to distraction. On top of that, you have your e-mails, instant messenger (Slack, which may be a wonderful team collaboration tool, is a total distraction), the Internet, forever at your fingertips, the radio…
It’s time to reduce the fuzz. There are ways of doing this. There’s an app called Isolate which you could install and that blurs out all windows that you’re not using. Particularly handy if, like me, you’ve got e-mail and IM open in a second screen and it’s always visible.
Next, go through your notifications one by one and turn them off. You don’t need them if you can schedule in the time to go through them in one sharp burst. If someone really needs you, they probably wouldn’t send an e-mail or an IM message. They’d probably get up from their chair and talk to you.
There are distractions you can block out – so do so. Identify them – most of the time, we take them for granted and almost don’t know they’re happening – and block them out. Five minutes saved every hour adds up to half an hour a day, which adds up to 2 ½ hours per month. Increments.
Your time is precious, and most of us don’t put enough of a value on it. We’re happy to do things that don’t add value, and we’re unaware of how distracted we can get. The key here is to better understand what it is you're doing, and what - of those tasks - is really adding value.
Then - what is not. Can someone else do it? Or, will the world end if it doesn't get done?
So give yourself the focus and the discipline this year to find that extra 20% - ask yourself “am I needed”, “is this needed”, and you’ll find the 20% time and 20% extra budget that you’re tasked with.
Gareth is Director of Digital Marketing at Clever Little Design. He's interested in B2B marketing, search, technology and customer service - and essentially how the customer should be placed at the centre of all marketing (and business) strategy.