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November 02, 2009

Working Smart

It’s About Time

by Francine Watkins

Working Smart

I was coaching a top party-plan sales leader recently, and she e-mailed me to ask if I would give her my opinion regarding the best use of her time. As a wife and mother (who home-schools her children) she is a master at organizing her personal life: assigning specific days for various home responsibilities, making sure her spouse and children get deserved attention, even squeezing in daily exercise. She also doesn’t hesitate to delegate—in both her personal and business life. (My first thought was, I could likely take a lesson from her.)

At first glance, her question seemed pretty clear-cut. How would I suggest she divide her business time? She sent me a simple laundry list of responsibilities and asked if I would give her my opinion as to what I saw as their order of priority.

I immediately recognized that there was no way I could do that, because it’s ever-changing.

I sent her my response; it took two pages instead of the direct answer—one paragraph—she likely expected. Afterward, I thought about whether this kind of information is usually communicated in company-sponsored training, and I guessed, not likely. Yet, I know that for sales leaders, juggling a personal life and a business life is anything but easy. Unlike employees, they must create their own structure around a multitude of demands. With that in mind, I am sharing my response to that special lady (with her permission and only slight revisions) so that, as the company’s leader, you can consider whether the message might be helpful to those dedicated sales leaders who represent you so well.

Open Letter to a Sales Leader


Dear _______________________,

As I read your question, I knew I couldn’t do justice to the answer by giving you a cut-and-dried response regarding prioritizing your list of business responsibilities. What follows is a combination of logic and subjective opinions. I am writing it as though I am a sales leader. Much of it is certainly not new to you, but writing it from my personal perspective helps me think it through clearly and may help you have a different perspective. There is no right or wrong here. The goal is to help you decide how best to use your business time.

First, I would schedule “blocks of time” without interruption (as much as reasonably possible). I would separate the “mundane but necessary,” like paperwork, filing, mailing, etc., and delegate as much of it as possible to family members or a paid assistant. Anything remaining in that category to be done by me would be done in non-prime time. I would free up most of my prime time—with prime time being the best hours for personal contact—because I recognize that the only thing that will build my business and tap my skills is connecting with people.

  • I would then list the key responsibilities that are on my plate.
  • I need a decent schedule of presentations, not only because they give me an immediate financial return, but also because they are the well I go to for booking and recruits.
  • I want new recruits because they are the lifeblood of my business. I recognize that I can never depend on a set number on my personal team, because no matter what I do, some will leave. New blood is always the  answer.
  • I need to build a cohesive team by coaching, motivating and inspiring. I also must be keenly aware of those who truly need my special attention at any given time. (I know I have a tendency to gravitate to the upbeat team members with whom I have a natural affinity, but they are often the ones who need me the least.)
  • I need to work closely with new people because they are most vulnerable in the beginning. I want to help them have a good start so that they get the return I promised them when they signed up. Plus, I want to retain as many as possible.
  • I need prospective leaders, because that is how I build a successful business. I am not in this as a part-timer—I want an excellent financial return, and I know that only happens when I build wide. I also receive enormous personal satisfaction from helping others grow.

Wow! I have many responsibilities. So how in the world do I determine my priorities on any given day? Well, fortunately, some of my goals overlap. I am always on the lookout for recruits at my presentations, and when feasible, I can take a new person with me, both to teach by example and to connect with her personally (so valuable). I can use three-way calling to support a struggling consultant who’s afraid to pick up the phone, so she can “learn by listening.” There are other pairing-up possibilities. In fact, one of the things I want to ask myself regularly is:
What pressing responsibilities can I combine  today?

And sometimes I can make my time do double duty by combining what’s on my plate for business with something in my personal life. I’ve learned that it’s not always possible—or feasible—to separate my two lives completely. It’s never so black and white.

Other than that, it looks like I must plan my business week and then break it down into each business day by asking myself the following key question:

Who—and what—need my attention most?

If I have a new person who is depending on my coaching and encouragement, she’s right up there on my list. If I am getting “scary low” on personal presentations, more time must be devoted to booking till I have a decent schedule. (That’s the well I go to for continuing growth.) If I know it’s time for an upcoming host to hear my voice, then she’s on the list. If I sense that a top consultant is feeling down, she’s up there, too. And I’m always on the lookout for the next leader, so I must be aware of planting those seeds and nurturing those who are making a sincere effort and whom I believe—with encouragement and guidance—would go for it. (I’ve learned the hard way that it’s never wise to depend on one or two.) Obviously, there are other priorities that ebb and flow. A weekly plan and daily update—assigning each priority its own block of time—will keep them from slipping through the cracks.

So as you can see, as I looked at your list, it was quite difficult for me to prioritize in the way you might have expected, because I am dealing mostly with people, rather than chores, and they are always fluid. Also, as an entrepreneur, I have learned that I must react in the moment. So I leave a little wiggle room in each day for the inevitable unexpected. The only other thing I might do is to ask a higher power to give me the wisdom and courage to make the right choices.

This may not be the exact response you were looking for, but it is my best and most honest answer. I know that’s what you want and deserve from me.


Francine Watkins is the author of From the Ground Up: The Lift You Need to Succeed in Direct Sales. She has served as sales trainer and vice president of educational services for a Fortune 500 company. She has co-created an interactive, in-depth leadership seminar, which she has facilitated in the United States, Canada and Australia. For more information, visit