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How Do You Use Your Downtime?

by David Brock on September 5th, 2012

Sales people always seem to be busy and on the “go.”  We’re running from meeting to meeting, we have phone calls to make, and then there’s always email.  We seem to always be in motion, always doing something.

But then there is the “downtime.”  Those few minutes waiting to see the customer.  All that time traveling to and from the customer, all the spaces between those activities we have on our agendas.  Upon reflection, it piles up.  There are huge chunks of our day that are downtime, opportunities to do something.  How do you use your downtime?

Let me get this out of the way first–sometimes we just need to do nothing, we need to decompress, let our minds wander, listen to music.  We can’t always be working, time spent refreshing ourselves is time well spent.  However, doing this during all our downtime is time and opportunity wasted–and I see too many sales people doing this.

How do we use our downtime:

1.  Waiting for meetings:  This is the opportunity to review your call plan.  Do we have a strong plan in place?  Do we have clear objectives and goals for the call and do these create value for the customer?  Does the plan give us the opportunity to significantly compress the sales cycle.  I may rehearse my initial benefit statement–yes, after 1000’s of sales calls, I still find this powerful and I still have butterflies delivering it, so I rehearse it. 

I may check use my phone or tablet to look at the latest updates or news about the customer I’m calling on.  Have they, or their competitors, made any significant announcements?  Has anything happened in their markets that may impact them?  Many sales people I meet check their customer service records, has the customer called recently, have they had any issues?  Finally, I may re-look at the person I’m meeting with’s social profiles.  I’ll re look at their LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter streams.  If they blog, I look at their most recent blog posts.  I want to use pre meeting down time to makes sure I’m well prepared, that I have this meeting nailed, that nothing has happened–up to the point of the meeting that will impact my ability to achieve my goals.

2.  Post meeting downtime:  Immediately after the meeting, on my way to the next meeting or back to the office, I debrief myself on the meeting.  I may sit in the parking lot for a few minutes:  I’ll send a quick email (you mean you don’t have a phone, tablet or PC that can access the web from wherever you are???) to the people who participated in the call.  I’ll thank them and outline the next steps, actions, and target dates we agreed upon.  I want to make sure I don’t forget–or that the people I met with don’t forget.  I’ll take a moment to schedule critical activities and next steps in my CRM system.  I do it while it’s fresh–I also find it takes so much less time to do it immediately, then to try to remember all that stuff at the end of the week. 

Finally, I’ll take a few moments to reflect on the call.  Did I accomplish everything I set out to accomplish?  Could I have done more?  What should I have done differently?  What could I have done better?  Just like sport teams look at the game films and analyze their performance, I run the “meeting film” in my mind, thinking how I might improve my performance.  If I’m with someone, we talk through it together, coaching each other on how we each improve.  Does all this take a lot of time?  Actually, it only takes about 5 minutes, but those 5 minutes are probably among the most important of my day.  They keep me constantly moving forward on each deal, with each critical activity.

3.  Travel time:  I spend a lot of time sitting in airports, waiting for planes.  I spend a lot of time on planes, I spend a lot of time in cars and taxis going somewhere.  That’s valuable telephone time.  I always have a list of people I need to speak with.  Some of it’s follow-up calls, some of it is prospecting calls, and there always a few “re-connecting” calls.  I carry a list of calls I need to make and I use these extended periods of down time to connect with customers–moving a deal along, moving a project along.   Between calls, I may dictate follow-up notes to myself, so I don’t forget agreements reached on the phone.

I tend to use airplane time to read.  I find it difficult to “work” on airplanes.  First there’s no room for my computer, seating is so cramped.  Second, and more important, there’s always the guy sitting next to me, looking over my shoulder.  I don’t like them looking at the strategic plans of my clients, their confidential financial information, or the deal terms for an acquisition.  It’s a hazard of my job, I have a lot of very sensitive information, so I don’t want others to see it (By the way, I’m one of those guys that takes a peek at the computer screens of the guy sitting next to me.  I’m always amazed at the information people “let” me see.)

Plane time is my “continuous improvement time.”  I catch up on all my professional reading.  I’ll carry a bag of trade magazines with me, skimming them to catch up with what’s going on with my customers.  The airlines “love” me, I always fill up their recycle bags with lots of obscure trade publications–but it lightens my load.  I also use that time to catch up on blogs, I clip a lot to read off-line, it’s great stuff to look at on the plane.  Finally, that’s where I get a lot of quality reading done.  I have a lot of books on my Ipad, I use plane time to read and learn.

4.  Downtime as “downtime.”  I kicked this post off by saying sometimes we need real downtime just to decompress.  Being always “on,” always “busy” actually dulls us.  We need time to decompress or refresh.  Some of my reading may be totally unconnected with business.  I like reading history and current events.  OK, I’ll fess up, I’m a sucker for a mystery thriller.  When I bought hardcopy books, I called these my airplane books.  I’d buy them in the airport book store, read them on the flight, and leave them behind for someone to pick up and read.

Downtime to refresh is important.  I meditate, usually I “schedule” blocks to meditate, but sometimes on a plane, it’s the best use of my time (I try to avoid it when I’m driving, found that doesn’t work well).  I live in Southern California, the home of the endless traffic jam.  I carry gym clothes in my car.  If I’m on the way back to my office or home and am stuck in traffic, I’ll go to the nearest gym and do a quick workout.  Often, I can get 45 minutes in and it doesn’t extend my total travel time by more than 15 minutes.  Rather than sitting in traffic, I use the time more effectively.

5.  What I don’t do during downtime:  There’s one thing I try to avoid during downtime–email–at least I try to minimize the amount of time I spend on email.  Email often becomes a time drain, but I see too many people chained to their email systems, feeling compelled to constantly look at it, instantly responding to messages.  I find myself more productive by scheduling my email time to a few times through the day.

How do you use your downtime?


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  1. Charlie permalink

    Hi Dave

    I enjoyed reading your blog and wondered if you had any ideas for my team?

    We have a new system application that is going to free up an average of 2 hours per Telesales operator per day, probably spread throughout the day as opposed to in one chunk, my challenge from a telesales management point of view is how to make the best use of the “found time”. From the trials, we conducted we know that we should “gain” about 2 hours of time per TSO per day. The risk is Parkinson’s Law…

    So – questions i have on this is:

    – How do we avoid 45-50 calls still taking all day despite the fact that they are now prep’d?
    – What else do we do with the time to add value? How can this be measured?

    We’re potentially talking about 25% of our TSO resource being freed up by Autoprep – this represents around £300K of resource so we absolutely can’t just allow it to disappear without a tangible benefit.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance Dave


    • Charlie, intriguing question. Without knowing more context it’s difficult to say, but my knee jerk reaction is since you are giving them a tool to free up their time, I’d leverage that time toward making more calls. Having said that, I’ll give you more thoughts privately and open this up to others for suggestions. Thanks for asking.

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