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Managing Your Most Valuable Asset

As a sales professional, time is your most valuable asset to earning a living, so it's important to manage it well. But you've probably felt the helpless sensation of time slipping away.

Rather than managing time, you scramble to catch up and do your best to stay in the race. However, it's not too late. You CAN regain control of your time. (However, understanding the value of time and managing your time well are two very different skills.)

Take an Honest Look

The easy part of time management is acknowledging your parameters. There will always be 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. This will not change. Managing time is often easier than managing other things, such as inventory or personnel, because you always know how much time you have.

Once you recognize this, tackle the issue of determining how to spend it.

The first step in regaining control of time is to examine your time management habits, and do so honestly. The truth is that we all waste time and use it ineffectively.

In order to change habits for the better, take a look at how you spend the days, hours and even minutes. Here's how:

If you've ever dieted, you probably tried keeping a daily log of everything you consumed and found that the "devil's in the details."

In other words, while the salad you had for lunch was healthy, the handfuls of M&Ms from your co-worker's candy dish and the bag of chips on the way to a sales call were the real culprits.

The same principle applies to time. Keeping track of tasks and actions will help you see how the little bits of time add up; it will help you recognize activity patterns. Keep a log of how you spend time.

After a few days review the log and do the following:

  • Identify poor habits
  • Determine if time investment agrees with desired return
  • Determine if activities are truly important
  • Identify behaviors or periods prone to procrastination
  • Find pockets of time in which to complete small tasks

Identify Poor Habits

Be honest about your bad habits. As you log time and activities, notice the time-wasters.

However, don't stop doing them; you want the log to serve as an honest record of how you spend time.

Simply make note of the time wasted and what you did to fill it. Some common culprits include disruptions by others, such as phone calls, "urgent" e-mail or office visits.

Other universal time-wasters include disruptions because of a lack of discipline, such as socializing, Web surfing, extended breaks, disorganized workspaces or simply procrastinating inevitable tasks.

Determine if Time Investment Agrees With Desired Return

A substantial return requires a substantial investment. Would you like to close 100% of your prospects? Of course, we all would. But do we spend 100% of our time working to close those prospects? No, it's impossible.

The point is, if you expect to close a certain amount of sales you will have to invest an equal amount of time and energy.

It's unrealistic to expect to close 90% of your sales if you spend only 40% of the time selling.

Determine if Activities Are Truly Important

It's not only how you spend your time, but what you spend your time doing.

For instance, you might have managed time effectively on a certain task.

You remained focused, resisted the urge to procrastinate or take breaks and completed the task on time, only to discover this task did not move you any further toward your goal.

Part of time management is differentiating those tasks that are truly important and vital to achieving your goals, from those that are simply time fillers or time wasters. Review the log to discover if you complete tasks that have a false sense of importance or urgency.

Identify Periods of Time Prone to Procrastination

As you review the log, take note of any patterns. Are specific times of the day or days of the week prone to procrastinating or interruptions? For example, are you at the candy machine or break room at 4:00 p.m. each day?

Do you consider 4:30 p.m. too late to start a new task and therefore waste time on unimportant tasks until the end of the day?

Find Pockets of Time in Which to Complete Small Tasks

You might start and end each week filling out a time management log or other paperwork for human resource purposes. Does this busy work bring you any closer to your goals? Does shuffling papers or submitting forms increase the dollar figures on your residual checks or the bottom line of your paycheck? If so, great.

A certain amount of bureaucracy and paperwork are necessary for any business, but see what you can do to eliminate all but the most necessary paperwork. Then, instead of blocking out and hour or two for the task, find 15 minutes here or there to complete the paperwork, since it doesn't require intense concentration or an uninterrupted workflow.

Once you've identified the time-snatching behaviors, regain control of your time by planning, prioritizing and scheduling. Remember, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

  1. Make a list. Determine what you want to accomplish and make a "To Do" list that includes tasks to move you toward accomplishing those goals.
  2. Prioritize the list. Use your daily activity log to identify unimportant tasks to move to the bottom of the list or, better yet, remove entirely.
  3. Schedule time for each task. As you make a schedule, make sure to invest time proportionally to the desired outcome. Also, pay special attention to the times of day you've identified as "risky" and schedule tasks to accomplish during that weak time.

By sticking to the plan, you'll be more organized and focused and will actually have more time. There are only twenty four hours are in a day, but when you eliminate unnecessary tasks, identify problem behaviors, and organize your time and your physical surroundings, you regain control of your time, adding hours to your day.

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