Urgency versus panic

By Jason de Luca

In the midst of a panicked business environment, my advice to executives is: Calm yourselves, and look at your most precious resource, time and its investment in the context of growing your business.

Recently, a common theme with my clients is to raise “urgency levels” or “create a sense of urgency,” but what they are really doing is creating a “feeling of panic” and that stops effective work in its tracks. The issue is teaching your workers to prioritize tasks and action items that drive your business forward, not cause them to panic starting Monday morning.

In my opinion, priority is an investment. When you tell people, “I didn’t have the time,” what you are really saying is, you “didn’t feel it was high enough of a priority to do it yet,” so you invested your time in doing something else.

Here are some ideas to help organize your priority investment and keep yourself on top of your day.

  1. Eliminate office distractions, long drawn out conversations between staff (tell them to grab a meeting room), no CNN, BBC, NHK or radio (enough of the gloom already …), play music, preferably something upbeat, let your staff take turns on the selections.

  2. Attack everything you do NOT want to do, first thing, in the morning. That tough phone call to get a yes or no on a project, unpaid invoice, notification of late delivery, whatever, get it done first.

  3. Keep a simple notebook next to your keyboard with no more than 10 things to complete that day (date and month at the top). This allows you to have a quick glance at your day and know just how busy you should be. Draw lines through them one by one when they are completed.

  4. Once and for all, STOP MULTITASKING; you do neither activity properly and end up running around like a head with its chicken cut off (my 8th grade gym teacher used to say that), i.e., writing emails when you are on the phone with someone else, while saving a document passed to you by someone on Skype.

Try a format like this, to focus your activities hour by hour (or every 30 minutes) starting from 8:30 a.m. Why 8:30 a.m.? Because most people start at 9 a.m., so get ahead of them.

8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.: Focus on calling out (shut down email and mobile).

9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Focus on emailing/sending things out/Documentation for clients (switch phones to message service).

10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: Focus on researching prospects (shut down email and switch phones to message).

11:30 a.m. to 12 noon: Keep open for things that may come up.

1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Focus on calling XYZ (shut down email ).

2 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Focus on sending/executing something (switch phones to message service).

3 p.m.. to 4 p.m.: Focus on calling/communicating (shut down email).

4 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Focus on executing/delivering (switch phones to message service).

5 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Keep open for something that comes up or leave for home if you are done today.

Oh, and I can hear it now: “If I don’t respond to my calls/emails INSTANTLY, we will lose business.” Yeah and a 1 million to 25 million yen contract or purchase cannot be closed an hour later when you call the client back? (For people working in the stock market, this is different, but they have bigger problems). Nonsense. This may happen once in years, but what happens EVERYDAY is more dangerous. It's lost time in multitasking, unfocused effort and general scatterbrained activities that result in a pattern of lost sales momentum which is much, much more expensive.

Still don’t believe me? Next time you are getting a root canal, tell me you don’t mind your dentist typing text messages on his phone when he is working … focus, complete tasks, move to the next one.

  1. Give your week, month or day a THEME, a cool one, not something boring. I like: Calling Thunder (phone work), Frontal Assault (team presenting work), Storm the Gates (group sales, sending proposals) Take no Prisoners (I use this all the time for lots of things), Crow-Nesting (when researching prospects or gathering market data), Massive Activity Day (all day client meetings outside with your team) etc.

The idea is to have fun with your work, giving it a theme takes away the boredom and adds a little bit of freshness to activities that easily get repetitive.

  1. Have a few simple rewards for yourself throughout the day, for when you complete a difficult task or complete some long tedious work. I have a great game on my laptop that I open and blast away monsters as my reward sometimes.

Earth to Business Leaders: Your weekly meeting about lack of activity and “lighting fire under asses” does a great job of doing two things, generating PANIC and tuning people out.

I often hear “ we want to instill a sense of urgency” in people, but when it comes to their planning, focus and delivery, they just generate fear & panic and hope that brings up activity.

I disagree strongly, panic is a waste of time and kills team confidence when the quick-heat runs out with no result.

Sales managers: Yes it is YOUR JOB to create a strategy-focus for your sale’s team activity, that’s the leadership part of your paycheck and bonus structure. Please stop blaming them for not knowing what to focus on or for not having a weekly or daily themed activity planned.

In this market right now, we have but one choice, sell our way out of the trouble, and we can do that better when we organize, plan and do the tough things first.

The writer is managing director of Smart Partners KK, a company that offers sales training, consulting, business strategy and financial planning advice.

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The short sighted and greedy investment world are now running like a pack of frightened alley cats. Many are running straight into traffic to be wiped out along with their businesses. Others are just frantically running in circles.

These guys know that their domination of the planet is at an end. They know that the future of consumer markets will not be the credit heavy world it was a few months ago. And they know that revision of how we look at capitalism and markets is inevitable. So they are terrified. Terrified to lose their penthouses, massive pay scales, insane bonus payments etc...

They also know, and maybe this is one of their strongest freak out points, that they do not understand the market or their products as well as they had blinded themselves into believing. And that must leave them without a clear idea of how to take the next step. So they follow the Lemming herd off whatever cliff they find day to day in trading.

The answer may be that we need to regulate the hell out of markets for a while, do away with a lot of these imaginary products and get back to the basic concepts of Party A has a product that Party B is willing to buy and that Party B fully understands. These tricky derivatives etc... need to go forever.

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You are wise, I agree completely.

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Panic is the new black.

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Yes Panic! it is raining failed executives!

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Wow great article a lot of people create panic and don't get anything done because they are "so busy". Great stuff!

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Someone (can't remember who) said that you'd think that email would have been invented 130 years ago and the telephone 10 years ago, instead of vice versa, and we'd now all be going "Wow, I can actually speak to someone and have a conversation" and be quite amazed by this great leap in technology and spend all day on the phone. But actually everyone's typey typey typing instead like hamsters on a wheel.

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Not at all a great article. Typical consultancy tosh that bears little or no relevance to how work days really pan out.

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Good piece, especially #2. Thanks.

I occasionally get early-morning calls from my panicked boss. This has taught me never to answer the phone before 8AM. The rule is to resist other people's panic, or you will encourage it in them and in yourself. Things sort themselves out. Also, never accept a deadline you can't meet. In the long run, you'll get more respect doing a proper job than catering to someone else's lack of planning.

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Dear Wakarimasen, what kind of work do you do? Sorry to see you feel your job controls you rather than you controlling your job.

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