Episode #12: "Scheduling the Ideal Sales Day: 5 Ideas for Structuring Your Time," with Laura Stack

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Kevin Micalizzi

You can devote more time to selling by structuring your day effectively. Laura Stack, President and CEO at The Productivity Pro, productivity keynote speaker, and author, shares how to leverage your natural rhythm to make the most of your time.  

Read the article that inspired the conversation: “Scheduling the Ideal Sales Day: 5 Ideas for Structuring Your Time


Episode Transcript

Tim Clarke: Thank you for joining the Quotable Podcast. Today we’re speaking with Laura Stack, President and CEO, productivity keynote speaker, and bestselling author of seven books, including her most recent, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. Welcome, Laura.


Laura Stack: Thank you so much, Tim. Happy to be here.


Clarke: Thank you. Perhaps, for people aren’t familiar with you, maybe you can just talk a little bit more about yourself and some of the great work that you’ve been doing and why this area of productivity is such a key focus for you.


Stack: Thanks for asking, Tim.

I have been in business now for 25 years as a business author and speaker. My company, The Productivity Pro, is based on Denver, Colorado. I specialize in performance and productivity improvement in sales leaders. I speak about 80 to 100 times a year at sales conferences, kickoffs, onsite training, et cetera. So I guess you can say I am a professional traveler would be a good way to describe my work.


Clarke: I can certainly relate to that.

Well, great. I’m Tim Clarke, Product Marketing Director at Salesforce. Today our guest host is Kevin Micalizzi, Product Marketing CM Manager at Salesforce and Executive Producer of the Quotable Podcast. Welcome, Kevin.


Kevin Micalizzi: Thanks, Tim.


Clarke: Let’s dive straight in. Laura, you wrote a great piece on Quotable,  “Scheduling the Ideal Sales Day: Five Ideas for Structuring Your Time.” Now, clearly, in any role, whether you’re in sales, in marketing, in management, we all know how busy each day can be and the importance of being structured.

Maybe can you just give us a high-level outline? Why is this topic so important? You’ve just referenced there some of the great work that you’ve been doing with organizations around the world. Why is this such a big issue?


Stack: Sure, Tim. Well, in the work that I do with sales leaders, of course, the biggest thing they tell me is, “I just don’t have enough time.” What they’re really saying is, “I want more time to sell.” That’s the biggest key is, of course, the old adage “time equals money.” The more time we can spend on the selling activity, the more our profits and the higher our revenues will be.

However, so many people are frustrated by administrative inefficiencies, by things that waste their time, by things that distract them, that they really feel they aren’t spending enough time selling. So this piece on scheduling, I think, for all sales professionals, is a huge key.


Micalizzi: Laura, we’re using the phrase, “I just don’t have enough time,” but it really sounds like they should be saying, “I just didn’t prioritize this.”


Stack: That is kind of code, isn’t it, when people say, “Oh, I didn’t have enough time.” You’re thinking to yourself in your head, “Really? It just wasn’t that important to you.” I think, to an extent, that’s true. However, I think people know what’s important. I do. I think they totally understand priorities. When we have a little block of time, we should pick the next priority, but we struggle with different decision-making patterns around the scheduling and prioritization, I think, that are ineffective.

Some people are tempted to work on what they want to do, what’s enjoyable or fun or fast, rather than the priority. Other people are working by what they think about. “Ooh, I forgot to send that contract back.” “Ooh, I forgot to call Jill.” They’re doing things as they’re thinking of them, rather than their key priorities.

Other people are kind of doing email that the order that they come in, which we know, by definition, they’re not the highest priority as they come into your inbox. They’re not in order. So I don’t know if it’s as much as “It’s not important enough to me” or “I didn’t prioritize this,” but that we’re not working our priorities in the correct order, and that’s why it’s really critical to make use of your schedule correctly every day, so that you know right now “I am making the very best use of my time that I can be.”


Clarke: Let’s dive into some tips and techniques here. Within your Quotable article, you give some great examples about setting the rhythm for the week for example, doing your cold-calling on Mondays, your demos on Wednesdays. Clearly, this is something you’ve got to work with and adapt to and experiment to really find what works for you, but for many of our sales professionals that would be listening to this podcast, I suspect they’ll think, “Well, I’ve got Customer A that lives to work in this way and Customer B to work in this way.”

So it almost feels like you need multiple rhythms and you can’t really be linear in the way that you structure your week.


Stack: Well, of course, it depends on your industry, your role, the rhythm of your business, the nature of your calls. Do you have windshield time? Are you on planes? Are you working at home? Are you in inside sales? Depending upon all of that, yes, every person’s rhythm is going to be different.

I mean, I have days where I’m flying, speaking in hotels, on the road. That day looks a lot different than a day that I’m in the office in my home, for example. So I think trying to understand what’s going to work for you and fixing your schedule appropriately, so that you can work around that natural rhythm for example, I have days where I’m not going to take any conference calls.

That day is going to be spent on strategic thinking and long-term planning and really moving my business forward, whereas other days are big marketing days and big sales days, and I’m on the phone with customers, it seems like, all day long. I have a challenge, however, mixing the two.

As much as possible, if I’m going to have a strategic thinking day, I try not to put a lot of conference calls into that day, for example.

I’d rather cram eight into one day and then have, say, Friday totally open, and maybe that day is the day I’m going to be organizing and planning for the next month and doing some administrative work. Maybe want to do all of your paperwork and contracts and invoices and whatever you need to do on a routine basis. Maybe you’re going to have one day a week that’s going to be a maintenance day.

Some people also, Tim, find better to have a rhythm where every day, say, for two hours, they’re going to block out call time that if they don’t have something on their calendar to block out, well, everybody is going to end up distracting them, and so they find that a better rhythm for them is to have something more on a consistent daily basis. So you do have to play with this.

Of course, it changes depending upon the week, but that’s why every Friday, before I leave, I like to take a look at the next week and, as much as possible, try to block out those periods, so that I have some focus time on some of those key activities.


Micalizzi: I love it. You’ve still got me thinking about the beauty of a day without conference calls. [Laughs]


Stack: Ah, it’s lovely.


Micalizzi: Absolutely. A lot of what you’re talking about here seems to be picking different days of the week or blocks of the day. Have you found that some people are more effective at getting into the rhythm of completing certain things at certain times of the day?

Like I love to get up early. I love to get my inbox emptied, organize my day. I call it my “plan my day” session, and I pretty much do that every morning. I have other coworkers who love to get up and do their kind of big, creative thinking first thing in the morning.


Stack: Yes, and I think it depends upon the person and each person’s energy cycle their times where they’re feeling like their brain is working. [Laughs]

Your friend that does their strategic, big-time thinking deep thinking in the morning it would actually, probably, be counterproductive for that person I wouldn’t know; I’d have to talk with them myself but counterproductive to try to do that in the afternoon. There are times where sometimes you could just put your head down on the desk and take a nap. [Laughs] We all have these times where we’re up and we’re down.

I would say at about the top 25% of a person’s energy, what I often refer to as their prime time, where they’re really in the zone and they’re high energy and their brain is working, those are the times that our brains are capable of doing these higher-order types of activities making financial decisions, doing important tasks, like deep thinking or strategic calls with important clients. Or maybe it’s something that’s difficult for you. Maybe it’s creative writing or thinking or doing some sort of budgeting or financial analysis.

Those types of things are really difficult to do when you’re not alert yet and up. I am not a morning person. I need a couple cups of coffee to get going, but I really kick in around 11 o’clock. For me, 11 to 12:30 is a really important 90 minutes of the day, because I’m back. My coffee’s there.

So, like you, I do some more minimal types of things in the morning that are more routine maintenance types of tasks that really don’t require a lot of thought, but from 11 o’clock to 12:30, that time is very expensive, and I’m incredibly disciplined about blocking off that time and doing things like media interviews. I don’t want to say something that’s not intelligent and be quoted on that later talking with clients, doing financial activities for my business where I can’t afford a mistake and don’t want rework.

Absolutely, what you’re discovering with yourself and with others is that part of that rhythm is really identifying those key times during the day and protecting them for all they’re worth from other people trying to take a piece of them.


Clarke: So they’re still good at protecting these times. You reference in your article that using your calendar is clearly a great technique to block out this time. I will share a secret with you. I get easily distracted, so if I block out 11 till 12 and say, “Hey, I’m going to write a talk track for this podcast,” for example, I sometimes start to look on my email, or I look at other things that I’ve got going on.

Have you got any tips here to avoid getting distracted and to truly stick to the commitment of what you’ve calendared?


Stack: Well, I think what you’ve mentioned is already part of the key is that you actually calendar it, and you’ve got to put it on your calendar, and some people say they do that routinely anyway. They block out time to work on their calendars, because if they don’t, other people will either interrupt them, schedule with them that they’d never actually get a block of time to write that script that you mentioned.

I think the biggest distraction is not from our coworkers, is not from our clients, from other people. It’s what you just alluded to. It’s yourself. It’s having the discipline to actually stick to the things that you’ve put on your schedule. And everyone’s different.

You said you like shiny objects your email. You know that it’s tempting to you. One of the things that I’ve always encouraged people to do is to understand their personality and what’s distracting them. Is it technology? Is it your brain talking to you and you doing things that you think about, rather than working on that script? So always have a pad of paper handy, so that, as you begin to work on that task, as you think of things, don’t do them.

Don’t click off on another tab on your browser. Don’t click on to your inbox. Write down everything that you think of while you’re attempting to get into this state of flow. Then, if you, for example, can’t stop checking your email, then I would go into your settings and go to your mail and your options and uncheck the four boxes that say, when new items arrive in my email, do the following, and uncheck those.

Then maybe turn on an alert simply by right-clicking on someone’s email and saying, create a rule that, if this person emails me, then play a sound. What that does is allows you to minimize your email. You don’t have to turn it off, but you can minimize it rather than keeping it up on one of your two monitors constantly monitoring an inbox and checking things as they’re coming in. You can at least have a comfort that, “Hey, if this client emails me, if my boss emails me, I’m going to hear the alert.”

So I think really getting a handle on what’s distracting you do you find yourself suddenly needing a cup of coffee before you go sit down to write your script? Well, then you need to bring that to your scriptwriting. Do you find that someone’s conference call on their speakerphone is distracting you? Maybe you need to put on a pair of noise-canceling headsets before you sit down to write that script really understanding where your own self-discipline is lacking and what keeping you from doing what you know you should be doing.

I think everybody knows exactly what they should be working on, what those priorities are.


Clarke: I love those headphones, for sure. I think that’s a great [technique] with that, because it’s also a visual display for others to show that you’re really concentrating and focused on a task.


Stack: It’s a great signal, whether you put on a headset some people put up a stop sign. They put up a flag.


Clarke: Right.


Stack: Whatever it is to alert your coworkers, “Hey, I’m really trying to be head-down and focused and would prefer you don’t interrupt right now, if not essential.”


Micalizzi: Laura, some teams are now blocking off no-meeting times, whether that’s a few hours or an entire day. What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of it?


Stack: Well, I have a lot of clients who have tried this and played with it. One large consumer products company I worked with had a no-meetings Friday, and I think that that worked well initially.

Then what started happening is, really, the leaders started busting the boundaries, and they’d say, “Oh, we’ve got to get our team together. I mean, just this one time we’re going to do 10 o’clock,” and it just didn’t last very long.

So I think really committing to it at an upper-management level because as a contributor, as a salesperson, you can’t decline a meeting that your boss says. I mean, even when they say, “Ah, we said no meetings on Fridays,” well, your boss is going to trump you every time.

You’ve really got to have an organizational commitment to doing it, not just a few people, because it doesn’t work if a couple people say, “Hey, let’s not have meetings from 9 to 11.” Well, if no one else is going to buy into that, then it’s simply not going to work. So for those teams that I have seen really committed to it, up and down the organization and are we going to do it with the entire organization? That’s very difficult, because even if your team says no meetings on Friday, for example, well, someone in another department could put you on a meeting.

So I’ve seen the effectiveness vary, really, depending upon the commitment level and the size of the organization, as well as the leadership’s desire to help it stick.


Clarke: I’ve sat in many meetings, particularly with your sales kickoffs in the beginning of the year, and it always seems like such a great idea. I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan whatsoever, because I’ve lived through these, and it’s a great theory, but when you start to particularly when you have a role where you’re interacting with lots of other teams, I don’t find it effective.

I think you need to find something that works for yourself and for those around you, but again, it’s so subjective, I guess, with the organization as well.


Stack: It is. Obviously, with Salesforce being such a massive organization, that would be very difficult to do. I think, in that case, it would be more important to have enough time in the future where people they know a good month in advance about this meeting, because what is frustrating for many people is they’ve got their day planned, and suddenly, someone’s trumping it.

“Hey, three days from now, we’re having this meeting.” And you’ve already got a full deck, and now you’ve got to reschedule things. So that’s a lot of the frustration level in some of these larger organizations, where we’re pulling in people across many different functional areas is to make sure they give ample time to get on people’s schedules.


Clarke: Yeah, absolutely. You talked about, obviously, some calendaring, blocking out time. I’d already shared some of my insights about the issues I have with my email inbox.


Stack: [Laughs]


Clarke: Yeah. I definitely have OCD. I like to have a zero inbox. I always look at some coworkers that have 17,000 unread emails, and I know I couldn’t cope with that, but clearly, they are managing it in their own way as well.

Within your article, you talk about the system the 6D information management system for managing email. Maybe you could just talk us through this and just give some tips for people here.


Stack: Yes, and I’m a big empty-inbox person, too. I think that, depending upon your time management system, this is going to work at varying degrees for different people.

I never tell people “The way you’re doing it” is right or wrong or good or bad, but my job is to simply show people an alternative way to do it.

The struggle most people have is they simply don’t know how to have an empty inbox. They literally don’t know how in terms of the mechanics of their email and calendaring system. I mean, 99% of my clients that I work with at a corporate level onsite doing training are all on Outlook.

Other organizations, of course, are on Gmail, but the same functionality exists in whatever platform you’re on, and you can actually use the same processing system that I call the six Ds, and it’s evergreen. I’ve been using it ever since email came out.

The Ds stand for discard, delegate, do, date, drawer, and deter. When you translate that to email because, of course, it will work for any type of information, whether it’s paper or voice mail or internet or whatever it is.

The D for discard, of course, you would delete it.

The D for delegate, you would forward it, or you could send it as a task request and this works, again, in Gmail or in Outlook, but if you never even know “What is a task request? I don’t even know how to use that. I don’t even know what button to click. How do I turn an email into a task request?” So that’s an example of you don’t understand how to do it you can’t use that function.

The do is, of course, you reply if it’s something you can answer very quickly.

Step four, date it. This is where a lot of people get confused with email. I call this the email black hole, because if you can’t delete it or forward it or reply, but you need to reply, but you can’t reply right now, because you’ve got a call in 10 minutes, well, you don’t want to file it, because then you’d forget about it. So this is where most people either keep it as new, and then they’ve got to redo that whole process again, or they flag it, which, in Outlook terms, is not a task; it’s a todo.

If you don’t know how to use the “move to” task feature and actually convert that email and turn it into a task same thing with Gmail. If you’re on an email, you go to the button that says “more,” and you can add to your Gmail tasks. Some people don’t even know “Oh my gosh. Is there even tasks in Gmail? This is unheard of.”

Some people go and put it in a folder and then schedule a follow-up in their Salesforce, their CRM. You’ve got to have a method for getting the email out of the inbox and scheduling that to do or that followup.

The drawer, of course, is where we save things, and so you can either use a file “save as” command and put the email on your hard drive, which many people don’t know. In Outlook, it’s just another office document, just like a PowerPoint or a Word document.

Then, if you’re going to deter it, then you want to unsubscribe or add the person to your junk mail list.

These tactical pieces, I think, of inbox zero and how to keep an empty inbox is largely a function of not understanding the task functionality in Gmail, in Outlook, and really spending some time either watching videos mine or anyone else’s to understand and educate yourself, because what you’re doing right now is simply habit.

If you really want to change your habit and get out from under the 17,000 emails, you have to learn a different processing methodology and be committed to using that system for several weeks before it becomes a habit.


Micalizzi: Absolutely love it. You make me want to go back now and look at my process, because I’m sure there are places I’m not being as efficient as I could be.


Stack: Well, if you want to, Kevin, you can download some screenshots I put up for free.

You can look at some step-by-step instructions on how to do this, if you go to my website, The Productivity Pro, and put a slash Laura, and at the bottom of that page, there’s a page that you can put your email it’s an auto-responder, and it will send you the screenshots and the step-by-step instructions on how to use the six Ds to process your email down to zero, if you really want to give it a try.


Micalizzi: I love it.

I want to take a look at your fifth and final focus area that you talk about in the article, the Get Selling I know it can be so tempting to jump straight into a sales email or call without doing the research. It is so important to engage at the right time with the right content. What tips would you offer?


Stack: Yes. I mean, that’s difficult for a lot of people. They’ve got a call, say, tomorrow with a big prospect, but they didn’t put any time on their calendar to prepare and plan for that call to actually go into the company website, look at the latest annual reports, to go into LinkedIn, to look at that person’s profile, to do some reading on that person, to understand their role in the company.

What are they doing? How is my product or service going to help this person? Because then you just wasted all the time that you spent finding this person, getting an appointment, getting through the door in the first place, and if you aren’t prepared, then, of course, you’re not going to make the sale.

So you do have to spend a commensurate amount of work preparing to have that prospect call, not just jumping on the phone and then you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

You’re spending all this time. It’s like a salesperson was telling me the other day. He went with one of his consultants to help in a sale, and there they are, sitting in front of the customer, and the guy pulls out his phone, and he’s texting with the customer right there, so the sales manager kind of takes over the call, and it’s no problem. They still get the deal and everything, but the sales manager said, “Oh my gosh. Is everything OK? What happened? What’s going on?”

He was like, “Oh, no. I pride myself on being responsive to my customers, and I just needed to get back to this customer.” It’s like, “Wait a minute. You had one sitting in front of you right there, and you’re spending time trying to line things up,” so you’ve got to place most of the emphasis on actually getting the sale.

It’s one thing to have it on the calendar, but you’ve got to spend that time preparing and planning for that visit, and then actually being present and focused.

As a sales leader, you’ve got to find sales, you’ve got to make sales, and you’ve got to keep sales. That’s where your calendar needs to reflect that effort for everything coming up as well.


Clarke: Laura, this is going to be a bit of a leading question, but you stated, on average, only 20% of time is spent by salespeople actually selling. Clearly, we know there’s a whole variety of factors here, but what results have you seen?

You referenced that organizations that have really been able to focus on the productivity and structuring their time have seen a massive increase in the time spent actually selling double, triple, quadruple.


Stack: Yes, and that’s very anecdotal, from many of my customers who write to me afterwards, saying, “Oh my gosh. You saved me 60 minutes a day, 90 minutes a day,” whatever it is. So many times we’re bogged down as you can hear, just from this call by email, by technology, by distraction, by our own OCDs, by a lack of discipline, a lack of being able to stick to a schedule.

All of those things really add up, and people eventually realized, “Wow. Out of my entire day, I’m really not spending that much time selling,” and we actually need to shift that. We need to spend 80% of our time on the selling activity, so that we can close the majority of those deals.

I mean, that’s the 20% of the things that we do that are really critical to our work and our results, and that’s where we need to focus. So I think that, with many people, if they’re working 50, 60 hours a week, and you can save, say, an hour a day by tightening up your efficiency and your time management, your organization, and you can get down to 55 hours a week instead of 60, get greater results, do it in less time, get out of the office a little bit earlier, that’s what productivity’s all about.

That’s where it’s a real win for the organization and a win for you. That’s why we really need to focus on being efficient and really scheduling our days and making the very best use of our time.


Micalizzi: We’re almost out of time, Laura. What I’d love to ask you is: What’s your one big takeaway that salespeople can take back to their business right now?


Stack: Well, I think that we all know how to work hard. We know how to make less. We know how to check things off. We all know that we need to have a good time management system. But I think the biggest thing of all is that we just need to do it. We need to pick ourselves back up. We need to tighten up our bootstraps.

We need to go back to doing the things that we know that we should do that are yielding the results and what those key selling activities are and figure out how am I not able to get more time in? And look at your own individual patterns, whether you’re not blocking your calendar, whether you’re not working with your energy levels, whether you feel you’re spending too much time on email. Really make a commitment to a self-improvement program. Pick one thing. Work on it just a little bit every day, and in a few weeks, you will be better for it, and your numbers will reflect that.

So I think that doing what we know we need to do it’s always easier, I believe, to have the pain of discipline, doing the things we know we need to do, rather than the pain of regret still not getting that project off your desk that you’ve been procrastinating on for two weeks, still getting out of the office too late, missing your kid’s baseball game because you’re not structuring your day correctly and you didn’t get that task done when you should have.

I think that, when we do the things that we know we need to do, everything else becomes easier.


Clarke: Perfect. Well, Laura, I know, for me personally, this has been an immensely valuable use of my time, and I’m sure it has been for everyone that will listen to this podcast as well. So massive thanks for all of your insights that you shared today.


Stack: Thank you, Tim, Kevin, for having me. I appreciate being here.


Clarke: Thanks. And thanks also to Kevin for being our guest host today.


Micalizzi: Happy to join.


Clarke: Thank you.

How to Craft the Perfect Sales Pitch By Annie Simms,
Account Executive, Salesforce
The Simple Client Meeting Rules Every Salesperson Should Follow By Laura Stack,
President and CEO, Productivity Keynote Speaker and Author, The Productivity Pro, Inc.
Learn from the best. Sell like the best.