My approach to time management is to ruthlessly prioritize what’s important and do it first.
I call this the 3 Big Rocks method.
Being busy was my problem. It all started when I was running a multi-state team of 3 managers and about 15 reps for a startup ISP during the dotcom boom. The internet was taking off, everyone was starting to use email and we all expected we’d become millionaires soon. Our sales were doubling every quarter.
As work got busier, I attempted to keep up by staying at work later. Then I added working through lunch. Then I added working from home on Saturday mornings. Then Saturday afternoons. Then Sundays. Before long I was responding to work emails immediately upon wakening and finished working right before I fell asleep.
We were hitting our numbers, but I just couldn’t seem to get caught up while running from internal meetings to customer meetings to 1 on 1s to fielding phone calls and putting out fires.
I was busy all day, but never could complete everything on my to do list. I was late to most meetings. I rushed through phone calls. I multitasked whenever possible, paying only half attention while replying to emails or compiling reports. Forget about having a fulfilling personal life. I had little time for my friends/family and arrived home completely spent after work.
I needed a solution so I started reading books on time management. The Big Rocks planning method (outlined in the the books “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and in “First Things First” by Stephen Covey) looked like it might work.
In the Covey method, he says to imagine you have an empty jar which represents your time available in a day. You then have activities you want to perform that day divided into 3 groups:
- Big Rocks – the most important activities which will most directly help you hit your goals.
- Small Rocks – still good activities, just not as critical to hitting your goals.
- Pebbles and Sand – other activities that “need” to get done.
Each time you perform a task, that rock goes into the jar and takes up space. Most of us work on things as they come up. As a result, we fill our jar haphazardly with rocks. Sometimes when we try to add Big Rocks, there’s no capacity left. The day is over and these get carried over to tomorrow’s list.
Covey says instead to plan your day around the Big Rocks first. Then add your Small Rocks. then add the Pebbles and Sand.
(My apologies to any Covey fans…I know this is a gross oversimplification of his method).
So I tried this. I bought a planner and methodically identified my big rocks, small rocks and pebbles. I meticulously scheduled my week on Sunday night. And then I went to work Monday, something came up in the AM that wasn’t in my plan and my schedule fell apart. So I failed at this for a few months and gradually developed my own approach.
My bastardized 3 Big Rocks method. Here’s what I came to realize. My day started crammed full of activities – some super important, some less important and some low value time sucks. My jar was overflowing. No matter how I rearranged the order of these tasks, my jar was crammed with too much shit.
So I had to streamline it. I started by identifying just 3 Big Rocks. These were my primary goals for the quarter. Here’s an example on my 3 Big Rocks for a quarter:
- Hit 125% quota
- Build 3x pipeline for next quarter
- Hire and onboard 2 more reps
I then ruthlessly cut any activity that didn’t directly move me toward these 3 Big Rocks.
- Attend weekly meeting to discuss network outage issues? Nope.
- Article on “Internet business success stories” forwarded to me by my boss? Delete.
- Checking and responding to email as it comes in? Nope.
- Help resolve customer service issue? Nope.
- Structured 1 on 1 coaching with sales reps? Yes.
- Deep dive pipeline reviews? Yes.
- Implement a CRM to provide visibility into pipeline? Yes.
- Recruiting and interviewing? Yes.
The results were immediate. First, I stopped being seen as the “fastest email responder”. Nor could I continue to humble brag about how busy I was.
Second, I started to realize that nobody really cared about all the small rocks and pebbles I had been handling. Either the right people picked up these tasks or they just didn’t get done. AND NOBODY CARED.
What everyone did care was that we blew out our quotas and that we were setup for a good next quarter with sufficient pipeline and staff.
And by the way, I started getting home for dinner every night.
I have used this method for more than 15 years to stay laser focused on what’s most important. It is probably the single most valuable skill I have taught to hundreds of inside sales reps, managers and peers.
I encourage you to give it a shot and see if it works for you.