September 18, 2018

Permission Granted to Block Your Calendar, Focus on High-Payoff Activity and Become Unavailable for Short Periods of Time

In my last post, I made the bold statement that in order to become more productive at work AND to improve our quality of life, we must become more selfish (in a good way), and more focused on the very few things that truly move the needle – that increase productivity.

Productivity, or the lack thereof, is becoming a bigger and bigger topic for salespeople and sales leaders. Our constant state of hyper-connectivity combined the sheer volume of inputs we receive appears to be destroying our ability to not only focus our attention, but also to spend any significant time on the precious few activities that truly move the needle (drive results/increase sales or sales team effectivness). Just in case we may have forgotten this truth amid the chaos: In sales, we are not compensated to do “work;” we get paid to produce results!

Here are a few radical thoughts that I promise, promise, promise will help you be more productive and drive increased results (and quality of work):

  1. Stop trying to do everything at once.
  2. Block time in your calendar to work on ONE high-value activity at a time.
  3. For that defined time block, focus exclusively on that ONE critical activity, and…
  4. Become completely unavailable to inbound communication and other forms of distraction.

Friends, by now, we all understand that time management is an unsolvable issue. Time cannot be managed and the sheer number of time management solutions available for purchase should be proof. But the one thing, actually, it’s more than a thing, it’s a discipline, that I see highly successful executives, leaders, and sellers do is time block their calendars. They have a clearly defined list of a select few high-value, high-payoff activities, and they exercise the discipline of making appointments with themselves to work exclusively on one of these highest-payoff activities during a single time block.

Time blocking is not a new concept and productive people have always been good at carving out the time to work on results-driving tasks. But today, this discipline has become more of a necessity than ever. Between email, text  messages, and instant messaging, there is always someone vying for our attention and seeking an immediate response. Add to that our own addictions to connectivity, social media and just the feeling of being wanted, and it is pretty much impossible to focus on the task at-hand unless we  A) make ourselves unavailable to others, and B) turn off/shut down the devices that prey on our addictions and scream out to us for attention.

Please hear me on this: YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO SHUT OFF COMMUNICATION TO OTHERS AND BECOME UNAVAILABLE FOR SHORT PERIODS OF TIME. Read that again. I’m not trying to be dramatic nor funny here. I’m as dead serious as I’ve ever been. Consider this permission to turn off others and the outside world for a short spurt. 99.9+ percent of the people reading this are not emergency room doctors or nuclear power plant safety managers. We should be able to be unreachable for 90 minutes or so to work on a precious high-value activity that drives results.

If for some reason, it is not possible for you to go on DO NOT DISTURB and avoid email, inbound communication, pop-ins, and either your boss or your customer for an hour or two, then something is seriously wrong – either with you or with the system around you. 

I recently led a series of workshops for a very sophisticated group of sales managers. It was a bit surprising how empowering the combined message of time blocking along with remaining unavailable during the time block was to these managers. Many not only admitted their addiction to email and phones, but also expressed a touch of fear about going offline for a couple hours and not being accessible should their bosses need to reach them. And for many other people, if it’s not the fear of being disconnected from a boss, salesperson, or customer, it’s the FOMO (fear of missing out) of a mention, reply, or something intriguing on social media that draws/steals their focus.

The number of ways to contact/interrupt/notify us is not going to decrease. Those who best figure out how to control themselves and their environment will thrive while those who don’t will live in a perpetually distracted and unproductive state. Just because technology has evolved to the place where people expect to reach us at their every whim doesn’t mean that we should let them. And just because we can distract ourselves with a quick check of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter when we are supposed to be thinking/working deeply does not mean we should allow ourselves to.

Challenge Questions:

  • Can you imagine what might happen to your personal productivity and your results if you mastered the discipline of time blocking your highest-value/highest-payoff activities?
  • How much more quality work would you get done if you sprinkled in just four 90-minute time blocks per week where during each block you focused exclusively on one results-driving activity AND prevented others and your own addictions from distracting you?
  • List three or four of your highest-impact activities. What needs to happen to ensure that you dedicate exclusive chunks of time to focus solely on those few activities that will increase you (or your team’s) productivity/performance/results?
  • What is stopping you from carving out dedicated blocks in your calendar and then remaining laser-focused, uninterrupted, on the task at-hand during that time block?