Help with time management?!
Advice for transitioning from AE to sales manager
DEAR STAGE 2: I was recently promoted into a sales manager role. I had a great routine when I was an AE, but am struggling to adjust to this new schedule —there are a lot more meetings and more people who need my time. I get to the end of each day and still have a full inbox and a long to do list. What advice do you have for someone making this transition? ~When do I actually do work?
DEAR WHEN DO I ACTUALLY DO WORK?: Welcome to sales management! Your time is no longer your own and you are experiencing the joys of having a team for the first time. Let me assure you that you are not the first to feel this way. Ending the day with a full inbox, a long to do list, and a feeling that you somehow worked an entire day without anything to show for it is… real.
So what can you do about that? Here’s advice I would share with myself. I’d love to go back to that first year of management and more proactively take on my schedule. I recommend tackling this challenge in four steps:
Define your priorities
Understand the constraints
Get in tune with your own working style
Start making changes
First, what are your priorities? These are not the same for every person. We work in different companies, in different roles, with different team members and have different short and long-term goals. Realize that your priorities can change over time and may vary based on the situation.
You might find it helpful to create a hierarchy for yourself — direct reports, peers, boss, customers, prospects, partners, etc… all of these people are going to want and, to varying degrees, need your time. How will you prioritize?
Also, consider what you are prioritizing versus what other people are prioritizing for you. For most people, Slack and email are basically someone else’s to do list. It’s easy to spend hours there each day and feel busy without actually addressing your own priorities.
Decide what takes precedence for you!
Second, understand your constraints. Every company operates differently and some of the advice I share below may not be possible for you. For example, are you working from the office or remotely? Do you have standing meetings you are required to attend? Does your company have specific expectations around communication and meetings? Once you understand what has been normalized at your organization, you can determine how can you work best within those parameters.
Here’s a rather extreme example — I have a strong belief that Slack has made us less productive on the whole. While it’s great for quick questions, we have conditioned ourselves to expect real-time responses, and often try to address topics that are better-suited for other mediums. If your company has normalized Slack usage, it’s unlikely you will be able to avoid it. But, you can try to move real conversations (more than X people, more than Y replies to resolve a problem) to a call.
Third, get in tune with your own working style. Take the time to reflect on your own energy levels. There is no right or wrong answer here, but you do need to understand your own habits. I’m a morning person. If you want my brain firing on all cylinders, it has to be before ~3 PM. Meetings booked after are going to get a much lower-energy version of me. Afternoons are great for catching up on to-do list items, administrative work, editing a blog post, but if I have to do deep-thinking work, it has to be early morning.
Other things you might consider — what’s your workout schedule? Do you need to build in more breaks to stand up, stretch or walk? When do you eat, or what do you eat to feel your best? Do you have a morning ritual that’s important to you? Do you like to be around others, have background noise, enjoy music while you work?
If you know these things about yourself you can optimize your work schedule to match it — just don’t make the mistake of assuming others operate in the same way as you.
Finally, it’s time to start making changes. With the context above, you have to start taking control of your week. Don’t get discouraged if this doesn’t happen overnight —it will take time, and a few iterations, to find what works for you. A few tips to get you started:
On Friday afternoons (or Sunday nights or Monday mornings), look ahead at your week — are there any meetings you can cancel or address with an email? Are there any meetings that you can bow out of because you aren’t needed? Do you have the RIGHT people in meetings you have booked to ensure you can make a decision?
Create time blocks for deep work. Hold two or three 60-120 minute blocks each week that are for you, and plan how you are going to use them in advance. By time-boxing projects into shorter, focused working sessions, you are more likely to actually complete the work and be comfortable moving on.
Manage a to-do list — I like a kanban format with a modified Scrum. Maintain a backlog with all of your ideas, projects, to-dos, etc. At the start of each week, prioritize the backlog, and move the work you are committing to for the week into your “Do” column. From there, use each morning to move the items you are committing to for the day into the “Doing” column. As the week progresses, more and more should move into the “Done” category. Reflecting on your planning process should help you learn your own pace of work - do you usually overcommit? Do time blocks allow you to get more done and increase your pace of work?
Set your own communication policies and be clear with them. For example, email is my primary mode of communication. I only check slack twice per day (morning and evening) and I keep notifications turned off. My team knows that if they need me in real-time, it has to be a text or call.
Train your team. This is a big one and it takes time, but make sure that you do not become a crutch. Encourage your team to think through problems on their own, and come with solutions and recommendations, instead of just answering a question. It will take longer up front, but if you get in the habit of saying “What do you think?” instead of just answering a question, you will change their behavior and develop their skill set along the way.
And if you can only do one thing — create accountability for yourself. The easiest way to do that is to publish your schedule. Let’s say you want to spend 8 hours per week coaching your team. If you block that time and publish those hours to your team, you are way more likely to follow through.
Good luck and see you next week!