Labcast: The Key to Stealing Back Your Productivity

December 19, 2013

Even outside the holiday season, it’s natural to want to volunteer your time towards activities outside your primary role. For salespeople, that might be helping onboard a new client instead of generating new leads. For CEOs, that might mean trading in the leader role for administrator-in-chief. But while being a team player sure might seem like the jolly thing to do, the truth is the giving spirit is likely distracting you from your most important duties — and hurting your company, overall.

Mike Weinberg, one of OpenView’s Top Sales Influencers for 2013 and author of bestselling book New Sales Simplified, has nontraditional tidings to share this year — if you really want to be helpful, start being selfishly productive. You don’t have to be a complete Grinch in your non-work activities, but if you really want to be productive, you need to start stealing back your calendar and saying “No” to non-high payoff activities. For example, salespeople: Ask yourself throughout the day, “Is what I’m doing right now leading to a sale?”

This Week’s Guest

“[Your] primary job is not deliveries. It’s not operations. It’s not program management. It’s finding new business. Your job is to pick up a weapon and go kill something, and every time you get distracted from doing that, you think you’re helping, but actually you’re hurting the cause.”

Key Points

  • Being too much of a team player can become dangerous when it interferes with your primary job. For salespeople, that’s finding new business. [3:00]
  • It’s okay to be selfish. [5:30]
  • Take control of your calendar. Make appointments with yourself for things you need to work on. [5:45]
  • CEOs: You’re not administrator-in-chief. [7:45]
  • Sales Managers: Stop being the firefighter, and start the being a Navy Seal. [8:30]
  • Take advantage of offloading. Mike uses EA Help, a virtual assistant. [10:15]
  • Pro tip for 2014: Do some year-end, post-mortem analysis and start planning for 2014. [14:50]

Listen Here

Labcast 127: Mike Weinberg on Being Selfishly Productive


Jonathan Crowe: Hello, everyone, and welcome to LabCast. This is your host, Jonathan Crowe. This week, we have consultant sales coach and speaker Mike Weinberg with us. Mike is the author of the bestselling book New Sales Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development. Mike also has a popular website and blog at, and he was even named one of our Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2013.

I’m really excited to have Mike here with us, especially during this very busy season. It’s busy for all of us, especially salespeople. It’s a mad dash to the finish, as everybody knows. And it’s also the season of giving, but Mike here is with us to suggest that, you know what? Salespeople should actually realize it’s okay to be a little selfish.

Mike, great to have you with us. Can you talk a little bit about being selfishly productive?

Mike Weinberg: Sure can. Good morning, Jonathan. Great to be with you. Thanks for the invite.

This is a controversial topic. And yeah, it is the season of giving, and we should all be generous with our money and with our non-work time. But I’m here to tell you something that is going to be pretty unpopular with the HR folks and the corporate culture police. The reality is that top producers, particularly in sales and in new business development and hunting roles, that top producers are some of the most selfish people I work with. They’ve got no problem shooing you away if you’re a time waster. They decline your invitations to meetings. They guard their calendar jealously and protect their selfish selling time because they know what they need to focus on to move the needle and drive results. And it’s not a popular message, but it’s the truth.

Jonathan: Right. But you raise a very good point. And I love that this is a topic that gets a rise out of people. And the thing that I picked up from the blog post that you wrote on this topic was that a lot of times, we think we’re doing the right thing by being generous with our time, responding to everyone, helping out, pitching in. In fact, though, we’re often not doing the job that we’re really there to be doing. So, in fact, we’re not doing something good. We feel that we are, but it’s really distracting us from… I think you called them the high-impact items. What’s really going to move the needle.

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Mike: Yeah. That’s exactly the case. And what drives me crazy is it’s usually the folks that are not making their numbers, it’s those that are underperforming, that seem to have the largest list of other non-high pay off activities that they’re involved in. They seem to find ways to volunteer for different committees, and they are the most generous when it comes to providing technology support for their colleagues. And somehow they find all kinds of ways to jump in and help the operations people.

I mean, it is not uncommon for me to find an underperforming salesperson who is volunteering to help out the operations folks, or the program managers, whether they’re jumping in to deal with an onboarding of a new client or they’re in a simple field sales job, they’re jumping in their car and making a delivery to a customer.

And they do it with good intentions, and in the name of customer service or being a great team player in the organization. But the truth is it’s a really convenient excuse for not working on the important, high-payoff activities that move the needle. And it’s a problem.

And it’s not just a problem. It’s an insidious, deadly problem. Because when folks act real nice, and play team player and good corporate ambassador, they feel like they’re doing the right thing, and they appreciate the fact that they’re busy, and it makes them feel good about themselves. And that’s really where it’s dangerous.

And the truth is, Jonathan, in most organizations, there are very few people that can move the revenue needle. I was giving a talk to a very large client last week, and I think they had 20,000 employees. And I was standing up in front of a room of 110 business development people. And my core message was really simple. I mean, the other 19,890 employees, their livelihood is depending on your success doing your primary job. And that primary job is not deliveries. It’s not operations. It’s not program management. It’s finding new business. And your job is to pick up a weapon and go kill something, and every time you get distracted from doing that, you think you’re helping, and actually you’re hurting the cause.

Jonathan: Wow. That’s a powerful way to put it. So we recognize now this is a big problem. It’s an insidious problem. What are some of the tips that you’ve been offering folks, specifically salespeople, on how to kind of focus back in and be selfishly productive?

Mike: Yeah. The first thing is I think we need to call it what it is. I think we need to give ourselves permission to be selfish. And I mean that in the most positive way. Because we’ve got to do our primary job.

And there’s a couple ways, practically, that you can execute this. But the simplest way, and this is going to sound uber simplistic. You take back control of your calendar. And the larger the company that you work for, the more important I think this coaching is for you. We’re in this age where it has become fashionable to put appointments on other people’s calendars. And it seems like the larger the organization, the more prevalent that is. And so it’s like this game, that folks look at your calendar, and if you don’t have it filled up with activity, they invite you to things because they want you to attend.

Jonathan: Right.

Mike: They think it’s helpful. If you’re going to a meeting, certainly you’re busy and important. And I do say that very tongue-in-cheek.

And I think one of the easiest things we can do is take control of our calendar and time block. And time block that discipline, and make appointments with yourself for things you need to work on.

Jonathan: Right.

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Fail Stamp

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Mike: And get those things in your calendar, out of the way, first, so other people can’t fill it up. And frankly, if you take the step of making the appointment with yourself, then for goodness sake, keep the appointment.

Kind of like the “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry reserves the car, and he shows up there, and there’s no car. And he says, “Hold on, hold on. You know how to take the reservation. You just don’t know how to hold it.” Really, the holding’s the most important part.

And same thing. You’ve got to schedule a time block, and then you’ve got to keep it. And that’s really one of the simplest things I can offer folks.

Jonathan: Great. I think it’s a great suggestion. And one thing that we were talking about, actually, before this call is this isn’t just a problem for salespeople, although it is a big problem for them, especially at this time of year. This is actually a problem that impacts people from the top down. So I’d love to hear more about, as you’ve been going to organizations across the country, you’ve been finding this in CEOs down to business development reps. I’d love to hear a little bit more about the different positions you’ve seen this prevalent in.

Mike: Yeah. That’s a great question. This is not isolated to sales folks. I see it up and down the organization, companies big and small. I see in a lot of mid-sized companies, even the CEO ends up playing administrator-in-chief. And I’m not sure if it’s just in the name of being a good leader, thinking that if I’m a sacrificial servant leader, that people will follow my example.

And I’m all for servant leadership. I’ve written about servant leadership. But when I see a CEO playing administrator-in-chief and trying to do coordinating of people’s schedules, I think, what are you doing? We’re all looking to you for vision and direction and setting the pace, and you’re caught up in your underwear in all kinds of minutia. That’s not helpful.

And then it plays itself out at the management level. I see all the time sales managers who take on initiatives that are not anywhere near tied to revenue. And they are, indirectly. I’ve got a situation with a client where the VP of sales, their company’s having some quality issues in the way they’re engineering new products. And because this VP of sales has a pretty good technical background, he’s jumping in to not just the firefighting, trying to appease the customer who’s frustrated — which, that part I understand — but he’s jumping into the planning meetings, trying to solve these technical issues with the engineering folks.

Jonathan: Right.

Mike: And that’s all happening while the sales team’s out there floundering. And I’m like, dude, that’s not your job. There are really smart engineers in your company. Get the heck out of there. You get out with your folks and help them knock down some walls.

So it’s there. And then you’ve just got the typical sales manager who’s the dumping ground. And he puts on his firefighter’s hat, instead of maybe his Navy Seal helmet. And he’s just trying to put out every fire, appease every customer, babysit his high-maintenance people, and allowing people at the company to keep giving him work to do, because if it has anything to do with the customer, surely it’s the sales manager’s issue.

And that’s not healthy. We’ve got to push work off of our desks, not let people put more work on our desks.

Jonathan: Right. Absolutely. And before, you were talking about one simple tip is take control of your calendar, structure your day more tightly, and really own it. What about leveraging help?

Mike: Yeah.

Jonathan: Learning how to say no, but also be one of those people who is not just taking everything onto their desk, but trying to very smartly look at what they can offload onto the people around them.

Mike: Boy, yeah, that’s a big one. And I’m learning that for myself. I’ve got a solo practice, and I’ve been committed to staying a solo practitioner in my solo consulting and speaking business. Having said that, there’s a reality in my world: there’s three or four things I should be doing all the time. If I’m not consulting, or creating content, or marketing for my own business, I’m probably doing the wrong thing. And as my business has grown, the reality is I find myself all the time doing the wrong thing.

And this goes back to what I heard Brian Tracy, who’s got 97 books that almost say the same thing. But the thing is, they’re all great. And I heard him at a conference, I don’t know, 12 years ago. And this is the question he asked. He said, “Salespeople. Multiple times a day, you should ask yourself: is what I’m doing right now leading to a sale?”

And man, that just stuck with me, Jonathan. And all day long, we should be asking ourselves, is what I’m doing right now, in whatever our job is, is it leading to what I’m supposed to be doing?

And I found myself, the answer, more often than not, recently, was no, just because I was too busy. And I did reach out for help. I was reading a lot about virtual assistants and help, and actually got hooked up with a pretty neat company called EA Help, and got to know some folks there. And I have engaged the help of a virtual assistant. Very affordable. I cannot tell you the excitement I have as I offload cleaning out my inbox, and travel planning, and coordinating scheduling for all my trips and individual folks I’m coaching or consulting. And I feel totally freed up, in the sense that I’m taking things off my plate.

And honestly, I’m actually encouraging some senior executives I work with. You know guys in $500 million companies, but they’ve had cutbacks and they’re operating really lean because of where the economy’s been the last few years. And I’ve got senior executives that don’t have any admin support, leading gigantic divisions. And I see these guys plain buried in 500 emails, and trying to travel plan for their team for a meeting. And I’m thinking, you’re kidding me, right? There’s no way that’s moving the needle on your business.

So, yeah. I think, one, being selfish and saying no. Two, taking control of the calendar. But if there is an affordable way to offload some work so you can focus on what’ll move the needle, let’s do it.

Jonathan: Right. Absolutely. And I love that piece of advice. Is what you’re doing right now moving you closer to getting a sale? Extending that past salespeople. One thing that we do at OpenView, me personally, we have our goals in front of us all the time. Our quarterly goals, our annual goals. And the top items. I like the idea of having them actually printed out, and just stapled right in front of your desk, where you’re constantly looking at it, to keep your priorities straight.

Mike: Oh, yeah. And people make fun of that. I always laugh. “Oh, you’re writing down your goals.” All the data shows that people who write them down and talk about them are more successful. So why do we try to reinvent the wheel?

I mean, same thing with business development folks. Those people will write down their target prospects, and carry those names around. And they’ll write down their goals of what they’re trying to… how many new accounts they’re trying to open, or what kind of revenue they’re trying to build. Those are the ones that hit them, because it’s a constant reminder, day in and day out. This is what I am supposed to be doing.

Jonathan: Right.

Mike: And I think in the world we’re in today, where everyone has access to you. I mean, the addiction we all have to our smartphone, and the buzz we get from the inbound email, and the text message, and the Twitter retweet, and everything else. And we’re so accessible. And if we don’t keep our eye on the prize, it’s so easy to be distracted. There’s so many inbound demands on our time and distractions that it’s almost impossible if the key stuff’s not front and center.

Jonathan: Right. It’s inbound. It’s a very powerful tool. It can also be a bottomless pit, if you allow it to be. So I like all of your tips about taking charge of that. Not letting these activities run you. You’re actually running your own schedule.

I think this is a good segue to kind of look forward to next year. We’re right on the cusp of it. We’ve been talking about some good tips, I think, for setting priorities, and really kind of focusing on what really matters. But do you have any other tips for salespeople, to help them get 2014 kind of started on the right foot?

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Mike: Yeah. I think the biggest thing, I would say, is do some planning. Do some year-end post-mortem analysis. And then write your plan for next year. It’s so simple, but it works. I’d take a look at what did you do this year that worked, that you need to do more of. What did you do this year that did not work, that you need to stop doing immediately. And what you stop doing is just as important as what you stop doing.

And then I would say going forward… I mean, I’ve written about this, it’s in the book, I’ve got a blog post on it, if someone wants to search it. Salespeople need individual business plans. You’ve got to carve out on paper what are your goals specifically, everything from income to number of new accounts open to types of cross-sell opportunities. Write down the goals. Write down a few strategies. The how you’re going to get to the goals. And then create your own list of actions and activity metrics which you’re going to hold yourself accountable to.

I mean, self-management. Me management, is what I’m starting to call it. You’ll be hearing more about me management in the near future, here. It’s a critical success factor.

So take a look at last year, and decide what you need to keep doing and what you need to stop doing, and then just be ruthless in planning out what you want to do going forward. And then hold yourself accountable.

Jonathan: All right, Mike. That’s great advice, as always. For our listeners, I can’t recommend more going to Mike’s website. It’s Reading his blog, signing up to get it regularly. Check out the book, New Sales Simplified. It’s fantastic. Mike, I really appreciate you taking the time.

Mike: First, let me say thanks, Jonathan. I appreciate you and what you folks are doing. I love your newsletter. I look forward to it every weekend for just the fun assortment of content that you assemble and put out there, bringing value to folks. So thank you for that, and I thank you for the support of what I’m doing.

I think you’ve got it pretty much covered. I would say one other place, if you want to follow up on me, is I’m pretty active on Twitter, and my handle is @mike_weinberg. And if you like fantasy football or little inside humor and then some sales tips, you can keep up with me there.

Jonathan: Nice. Nice. Okay, well, Mike, thank you so much again for helping us learn the value of being a little bit more selfish during the holidays. And happy holidays to you.

Mike: And to you. Thank you so much, Jonathan.

Jonathan: All right. Thanks again. Take care.


Mike Weinberg is a consultant, speaker and bestselling author of two #1 Amazon Bestsellers: <a href=""><em>New Sales. Simplified.</em></a> and <a href="//"> <em>Sales Management. Simplified.</em></a> He’s on a mission to simplify sales and offers blunt truth and practical help to executives, sales managers and sales teams.