Email has become a black-hole that we begrudgingly throw our time into. If you are not careful, your entire career can consist of nothing but dealing with email. The more emails you create, the more replies you get, which increases the number of "replies to the replies" that you need to keep up with.
It is a vicious cycle...
Your challenge for today is to respond to all of the emails you receive today in no more than two sentences.
One of the most talked about subjects in the realm of personal productivity is the subject of "deadlines" and how they are best handled. How a person handles a due-date or deadline can determine alot about their success any time they are trying to stay organized and on track. A due-date has a greater influence on us as a potential de-motivator, rather than something that keeps us on track and helps us to meet our goals.
If you tell a prospect that you will get them an estimate by noon on Friday, and you are unable to deliver the proposal by then, not only does the prospect lose confidence in you, but you lose confidence in yourself. Chances are, you are staring down the barrel of at least a few deadlines right now, and, even though you know when they are due, it is very likely you are going to fail in delivering on time with at least a few of them.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS WITH DUE-DATES
#1 - Learn how to say NO: The fewer deadlines that you commit to, the fewer that you will miss. We are far too willing to agree to just about anything, and any agreement you make tends to turn into something you need to do that has a dealine associated with it.
"Can you give me a hand presenting at the conference" - can you say no?
"Is there any way you can get this to me tomorrow?" - is that really essential?
"Do you want to be a part of the relocation commitee?" - how many deadlines will it saddle you with?
Saying NO, is more powerful than saying yes. The time you have is valuable, don't be willing to give it away so easily
#2 - NEVER create a self-imposed deadline: This is the #1 mistake people make when they are really trying to stay organized and on track with their work, and it goes something like this:
"OK, so I need to get this analysis into my customers hands my the end of the week at Noon. So, let's say I need to finish my research by Tuesday afternoon, my rough draft needs to be complete by the end of Wednesday, all my graphs and graphics need to be done by Thursday morning. Let me put these due-dates on my calendar."
Most people think the above strategy is a great way to stay on track, but it is actually the worst thing you can do. What you have done is set up 3 opportunities to fail. If you have 12 fires you need to put out on Tuesday and have no time to spend on your project, you will feel like a failure right at the beginning. Will the project still get done on time even if you miss this imaginary first deadline? Probably: but you will feel crappy driving home on Tuesday because you failed to deliver on an unimportant self-imposed deadline.
#3 - Commit to as few dead-lines as possible: #2 is a great example of being careful about not having too many deadlines. The fewer you have, the fewer you will miss.
#4 - Write all of your deadlines down: You need to be able to review all of your dead-lines on a daily basis so you can stay on track with these commitments. One place you can do this is on your calendar, but unless you have a habit of scanning a few weeks ahead every day, this is a fabulous way to get yourself in trouble. I suggest having one list with all of your deadlines written on it, that you get into the habit of checking every day.
#5 - ALWAYS complete items on time: Now that we have limited the number of items we are committed to, make sure you deliver all of them on time. The list should be "sacred territory", and the less organized part of yourself needs to know that anything on your deadline list needs to be finished on time, no exceptions. The first time you miss a deadline, the rest of the list will become less important.
#6 - You can "re-negotiate" a deadline at any time: Clients generally do not mind if they get a call on Thursday like the following: "Jim, your estimate is taking a bit longer than I thought. Is it OK if I get it to you on Monday morning, as opposed to Friday?"
What clients HATE is a call on Friday at 3pm, saying you are going to be late with the proposal.
Any deadline that is renegotiated, is never late...
Becoming more effective in your sales process, in many cases, means knowing where you put your time and energy throughout the day. If you concentrate on the important stuff that leads you to closed sales, you will close more sales. If you spend half of your day on "irrelevant" stuff... well?
As you move from task to task today, keep a record of how much time you spend on each type of activity:
I have no idea what you will find, because everyone is so different. But I guarantee you will see some patterns that you would have never expected.
There are very few on us that can be proud of the state of our email in-boxes (unless you are Merlin Mann or David Allen, of course). Many of us use our email in-box as an endless list of all of the messages we have ever gotten, some responded to, others ignored, and some never seen as a result of the sheer, obscene number of messages that has become impossible to sift through. This messy backlog, makes it impossible to think clearly about the various tasks, commitments, and queries that are lost and unanswered.
One option to deal with this mess, albeit the impossible one, would be set aside a few hours, days or weeks to sort through all of these messages and respond, delete or defer each one until you were rewarded by an empty in-box and a clear head. However, this is an option that is unrealistic for those of us who don't have a large block of time and stamina.
The other option, and one that sounds ridiculous at first, is simply to delete all of the messages you have to date, and start from zero again. The goal of this exercise, is to get out from under the crushing psychological weight of all of you unanswered messages.
How to declare Email Bankruptcy in 3 easy steps (and about 2-3 hours):
1. Go through all of your unanswered email and collect the email addresses from each one, and copy the addresses into the BBC line of a new email message. (DO NOT bother to read any of these messages. The goal is not to catch up on email, the goal is to get rid of all of it and start fresh.)
2. Write an email explaining that you have fallen hopelessly behind on your email backlog, and the only way you can see fit to get caught up, is by taking this drastic step. Ask if anyone has sent you anything pressing that you have not yet responded to, please ask that they resend it. (As an additional way of explanation, you can also link back to this blog-post to help explain further.
3. Drag all of your email backlog into a folder called "bankrupt" so that you can refer back to it if you ever need to.
Congratulations, you have gotten the email monkey off of your back!
Next Action? check!
Ubiquitous Capture? check!
Waiting For List? check!
Project List? check!
Tickler File? check!
Weekly Review? check!
If you have not yet taken a look at this book, I suggest you do. In the meantime, here is the wikipedia article that is a great intro to the Getting Things Done methodology.
There is a HUGE body of work in books and on the internet centered around being more efficient with email, and I have no desire to reinvent the wheel on the subject, however, I would like to get you thinking about some of the concepts at least.
Grab a bag of candy (M&Ms, Sour Patch Kids, Skittles, whatever) and dump them in a coffee cup. Note (roughly) how many are in the cup at the beginning of the day.
Eat one piece of candy each and every time you stop whatever you are doing to check your email in-box (even if it is in between tasks). How long is that candy going to last? Till 10am, Lunch?
Checking your email in-box is exactly like eating candy. Very easy to do, pleasurable (the human mind loves that which is new and distracting), and is nothing but empty calories. Traditional email productivity wisdom is to check your email in-box only 2 - 3 times per day (unless you job REQUIRES you to check it more). If every time you check your email in-box you distract yourself for 5 minutes, and you check it only twice per hour, you are "costing" yourself over an hour and a half.
Instead of eating candy for an hour and a half, tackle one of your big projects instead!
Believe it or not, I am embarrassed to say I had been in sales for about 15 years before I totally understood the concept of "Networking". Now knowing how powerful it is, I wish I had been working my network from the very beginning of my sales career.
The overall concept of networking has gained alot of awareness over the last 10 years because of the plethora of "social networking" tools that have been given to us, and for many, that has been their first introduction to the concept. It is important to realize that you already have a network of clients and customers, but you need to be actively working that network for additional prospects and referrals.
If you feel the need to start networking in less than 5 minutes, here is what I would do:
1. Call a friend or business associate who you feel could bring you business
2. Invite them out for a meal or coffee
3. Spent time talking to them about your company, what you sell, and what makes your product or service better
4. Spend time learning about your associates business
5. Exchange a pile of business cards
6. When each of you leave the table, you are each going to look for business for the other person
That is the basic networking model. Can you use a much more complex model, yes you can.
Can it also be just that simple? Yes