Monday, December 16, 2013

Time Management Seminar

One conversation I have with buyers and others is about how so many people no longer respond to email, phone calls, or faxes. This often includes both people in the conversation, which might start with something like, "Did you get the list I sent you last night?"
"Yes, did you get the order I sent you last week?"

Part of the problem is the caller ID effect. Back in the bronze age, before many of you were born, when telephones were connected to wires and cables, before "voice mail," before phones told you who was calling, or at least their number, we would all answer the phone whenever it rang, if we were in the vicinity. We would say "hello," and then conduct whatever business had to be conducted at that moment. The term "phone tag" had not yet been invented. It was a hyper-productive system compared to the current weirdness. Now, call just about anybody, and if they do not pick up (they usually don't) you can be be fairly sure they know you called, or at least they will when they look at their phone, if it's functioning properly, or they will get your message, if you leave one, which you most likely will not, and, hopefully, will remember to call you back later. Unless they were on another call, in which case they often don't know at all that you called since that's one of those glitchy parsecs in the dumb-phone universe. The reason you probably won't leave a message is that few people ever listen to their messages.

There was a buyer, retired a couple of years ago, who had as his greeting, "Feel free to leave a message, but I will never listen to it." He then spelled out his email address. His voice mailbox was always full, so leaving a message was not possible, but he did occasionally call back, especially after the 5th or 6th attempt. He almost never responded to email. He was a pin on the map for most sales reps, so one had to persist and he knew this.

Email is more impacted by the caller ID effect than phone calls. Maybe I should call it the email effect, except that the caller ID problem came first, back when email was still enough of a novelty that everybody answered every message, often at the expense of what they really had to do, such as pay bills and answer the phone. Back then you were not cool if you did not answer email, but you were kind of cool if you let your phone get chock full of voice mail and then return calls once a day, or week. That questionable practice was, and still occasionally is, in the lists of top ten time management tips tucked into the folders handed out at seminars. 

My email inbox grows by between 300 to 500 emails per day. It is not humanly possible to answer them all. If it does not fall into the "Customers," "Orders," or "Lists" filters, I may not see it. I am very sorry about this, it is one of my terrible faults, something I work on and struggle with. I do not mean to imply that others are as bad as I, or even close. It has lost me friends and business. But if I have just enough time to put out the fires, enter the orders, and reply to customer questions by the end of every day (you know... 11:59PM), I have no choice. I often chew on more than I can bite off, something else I need to work on, so some areas just plain suffer. Does this sound like you? I hope not, but I'm sure more than a few readers are sadly nodding their disheveled heads. I'm bald so at least I don't have that last problem.

It would be nice if we still lived in the world of assistants and phones with curly cables, not to mention profits, but here we are. When we (we being those of us not working for the biggest companies) had assistants and/or managers and/or support staff that would handle some part of what we had to do to get our jobs done, there was a fantasy promulgated by software engineers that technology would one day free us from those "constraints" and make us much more productive. Now that we have been so freed, very few people have any support at all. You're on your own. Every little facet of your work or anything having to do with your work is something you have to do yourself or it does not get done. As it turns out, we are less productive, but it's too late to reinvent the old world.

You might think this is an old book guy struggling with his lack of organizational, communication, and interpersonal skills, and you would be right. I am crazy bad in these areas, and therefore write with authority. Still, judging by the vast ocean of books, software, seminars, classes, consultants, departments, and companies devoted to time management, this is a major issue for lots of people in business. We are overloaded to the breaking point and it shows.

Most buyers don't have time for networking, reviewing their competition's web sites, experimenting with new products, or reading blogs... well, maybe they have time to read A blog. Lists come in all day from dozens of sources, sales reps visit, and you shop several sites, looking for new arrivals. In addition, you have hundreds of things you do every day that don't come close to adding to your bottom line, you just have to do them, they are part of your profession. 

Jack LaLanne was once asked for his secret to long life and good health. He said, "If it tastes good, spit it out." I think the best advice for managing time, which really means managing yourself, is: Whatever you're doing, stop it and go do what you're supposed to be doing. I hope that's buying books from ol' Ben.

(And here I am writing another blog post when I should be selling books.) 

(...and if you need me, just put the words "order attached" anywhere in your email... at least I'll know I have a reader)

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