When everyone is asking you to do something and everything seems important, where do you start?
In sales, you have endless reminders pinging your desktop, a never-ending list of people to call and email, follow-ups stacking up higher than your commission checks (amirite?), and on top of it all, you have to devote time to revising and improving your process. It all gets overwhelming, and at times, paralyzing.
There’s nothing worse than staring at a long list of tasks and feeling a loss of where to start. We’ve all been there, but particularly for those of us who usually procrastinate in ordinary life (will the Real Chronic Procrastinators please stand up?), a nonspecific, yet urgent task list can send productivity spiraling:
Whether you’re an SDR or full-stack AE, your to-do list is at great risk of becoming unruly; I get it. Your day is a never-ending stream of choices. Oftentimes it feels like everything is business-critical (and sometimes it really is), but even if that’s the case, you still won’t be able to do everything you want to in the same moment. You’re left with no choice but to pick your “first fire” to douse.
Here’s how our team at LeadUp does it. No one gets anywhere without asking questions, so we’re giving you our best prioritization questions to put in your toolbox:
1. TOP PRIORITY: Which one (or ones) of the items on my list is business-critical?
Business-critical scenarios resemble something like losing a deal you’ve been working on closing for months, or realizing a client is on the brink of churning. These kinds of tasks should not be put off just because you have something else due EOD or because you are supposed to follow up with someone (this is when having perspective can be one of your greatest strengths). Business is not a game of fate; it’s a game of determination. Meaning in order to win, you have to make your own luck, but not excuses. If a high-risk event is happening, putting off your other tasks will not cause your to-do list to explode; it will simply move things around. Don’t be afraid to place some things above others. Business-critical items are always your top priorities.
2. SECONDARY PRIORITY: Which items have immediate impact?
It’s important to note the difference in questions 1 and 2. If something business-critical is happening, then you have a fire to douse as soon as possible. But something that has immediate impact could be getting a meeting on the calendar by making a quick confirmation call with a hot lead. Things that have immediate impact don’t necessarily take a long time to complete, but they will change the game, making them your second highest priorities.
3. TERTIARY PRIORITY: Which client is at the greatest risk?
If you have a client in the red zone (no, not the football kind), then you have a spark that could do one of two things: (a) turn into a fire or (b) be stamped out. It’s up to you to tackle a problem before it turns into something business-critical. So train your eyes to identify these based off of your personal responsibilities and your overall business priorities. Address these issues next so you can stay on top of them.
4. Are any of these risks/business-critical situations lost causes?
Hopefully this doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. If you know something is non-recoverable, don’t waste time being a hero. Accept the situation and move on, just be sure to analyze the scenario without bias so that you can be confident in your decision.
5. Does anyone on your team have info that you don’t have?
There’s no way to tackle a problem without all of the information. Your team can be your resource and your competition at the same time; that’s why it’s so important to cultivate relationships as you go. Ask for advice and gather all of the relevant information before you try to put out a fire; otherwise, you will probably fail.
6. What will take the least time? The most?
Some of us take great enjoyment from striking a line through something on a to-do list (dare I say it–some of us even add unexpected tasks to our to-do list, just for the sole purpose of being able to cross them out…yeah, I see you guys). But even for those of us who don’t, tackling a simple and quick task can be just what you need to clear your head before getting to something bigger. Unless something business critical is happening, try to get one of these small items crossed off if you’re feeling a block. The fact of the matter is, these kinds of things rarely make it to the top of your priority list, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Whenever you feel your mind slipping and you’re trending towards procrastination, at least procrastinate productively.
It’s helpful to start off every day asking yourself these questions. And if tasks seem to be stacking up all at once midday, take 5 minutes to readjust so your priorities are logical. It’ll make much more of a difference in your daily effectiveness, and it will also give you the headspace to believe in yourself enough to finish it all.
It’s important to remember that your process is yours, and yours alone. You have to find what works best for you and take advice where it applies. We are sharing a system that works well for us in the hopes that it frees up time to find a long-term solution that works best for you.
Good luck finding your first fire today.