Don’t Get Caught in a Time Trap

By Heather Baldwin

If you’re in sales you probably have a problem with time. In 15 years of sales training, Todd Duncan, founder of The Duncan Group in Atlanta, GA, says time is the most repetitive and pervasive problem he comes across. The vast majority of salespeople, he says, either leave work at a decent hour worrying about everything they didn’t get done, or they work late feeling guilty about not being home with their families. Duncan insists there’s a better way. In his book, Time Traps: Proven Strategies for Swamped Salespeople (Nelson Books, 2004), Duncan outlines eight common time traps and how you can avoid them. Here are two of them.

Organization Trap. Organization seems impossible for many sales reps on most days. You finish one thing and three more tasks rain down on you, making you feel out of control and completely disorganized. Often you go home wondering what you really accomplished, even though you were busy all day. Get out of this trap by recognizing that disorganization usually isn’t the result of too much work and too little time, it’s the result of investing your time in meaningless tasks. Start to take charge by blocking the accumulation of unnecessary tasks. Duncan calls it building a dam – putting boundaries on your business to create balance in your life. Your goal here is to set up boundaries that prohibit interruptions or distractions. Start by not giving personal phone numbers or email addresses to customers. Similarly, don’t give work numbers or email addresses to friends. At work, turn off the instant message and email alert functions on your computer, don’t check personal email during work hours and don’t answer the phone unless it’s someone expected. Duncan estimates these steps alone can save 3 hours per day, or 747 hours per year.

Technology Trap. Advances in technology are supposed to save time and help us be better organized, but in reality they actually are stealing time away from us. Think about it: How much time do you spend dealing with spam? Viruses? Computer crashes? Learning to use the features on a new cell phone? When it comes to technology, less is definitely more – as in, the fewer tools you rely on to accomplish your work, the better. Therefore, to avoid the technology trap make sure you substitute, instead of stockpile. In other words, when you get a new cell phone, get rid of the old one. Give your old computer to a nonprofit company or a college student you know. Let a coworker or customer have your old PDA. Another hint: Ask for directions when you buy something new. Don’t spend 7 hours learning how to use an MP3 player – as Duncan recently did – when you could have learned it in 15 minutes from the salesperson. Finally, don’t be afraid of low-tech tools. If a paper calendar or organizer works for you, don’t think you need the latest PDA. Go with what works.