Are you carrying your weight?

CaptureIf you really want to up your game and look good while doing it, I have an exercise for you.

I’m assuming that on a somewhat regular basis, you finish up after a hard day/week/quarter and you feel exhausted but you’re just not sure where your time went or what you got accomplished. Depending on your rep assignments and manager, you may also be fielding many questions about why you can’t take on additional work/meetings/projects/etc.

I set out to give you a hand with that.

Download the file in this post and have a look. It will, by category, give you a simple way to see where all your time is going during the day.

Here’s what I recommend you do:

  1. Download the file and put it somewhere on your system where you’ll see it several times throughout the day
  2. Put a 0-minute calendar entry at 4p every day to remind you to finish logging your time for the day
  3. Every time you come across the file in your daily activities, simply input the time usage up to that point in the day
  4. Record entries in no more that 15 minute intervals (enter a .25 in the spreadsheet). Don’t get crazy
  5. Rinse and repeat until the month is out and then tally the results

You’re going to see two things emerge right away:

  1. You’re not spending as much time with customers as you thought you were (real work)
  2. Going through the exercise gives you incentive to focus on your high-value activities

You probably won’t want to share it with anyone after the first time through. That’s cool. Try it again next month and see if you can get it more in line with something you’d be proud of. THEN share it with your manager or reps. Preface it like: “FYI, I found this tool here at this website and gave it shot, thought you might be interested in the output. I’d really like to be spending more time doing X, but a lot of my time is being taken up by Y. We should chat about that next 1:1…”

That is absolutely SE Management GOLD, and a great way to demonstrate seniority.

Some initial targets to shoot for (that I’m completely guessing at right now based on a few calendar reviews):

  • 50% customer-facing activities (first 4 columns)
  • 25% competency
  • 25% admin/other

I think all of us would LOVE to get that % to 80/10/10, I just don’t see that as realistic.

SE Managers:
As much as I know you’d like to mandate this across your team, I would refrain. Your team will be pissed off and wonder what your real motivation is. Best case you get 100% compliance but you won’t be able to trust the results. Better to find a casual way to drop it in conversation that you saw the tool, or maybe go to your top guy and ask if he alone would do it as a side project for some drinks or dinner out.

Download here:

Time Tracker for SEs

Seamless Integration with your Account Team

How well you communicate with your reps is a key determinant to your worth in a sales organization. It determines how well you’re aligned, the level of mutual trust, and ultimately how effective you are in your accounts. Given its importance, I’m surprised at how little thought goes into managing this more closely. I think many SEs feel they get to take a backseat to the discussion and simply wait for their reps to call them. Now, if you’re looking for a sure-fire way to get top of mind with your account teams while demonstrating leadership to management, read on.

Being that all of us have by now established the critical practice of a weekly review, leveraging your broader account teams for input into your process will greatly ease much of your decision-making effort. If it seems obvious that you should have a weekly review with your account teams that mirror your own review schedule, you’re already functioning at a high level of self-direction.

Before going further, understand that your rep is indeed accountable for the communications of the sales team. If you have a senior rep, they will have already organized some sort of review schedule that works best for them. This is ideal and you can simply plug right in. For now, we’ll assume you’re working with a newer rep or just coming into a sales team. Here’s some things you can initiate immediately:

  • Bring together all of the technical resources working on your accounts. This includes support and consulting personnel with active engagements or escalations. Schedule this weekly or as needed
  • Create a whitespace with all of your assigned accounts. Note deployment counts, active opportunities (such as status of POCs), escalations, and services engagements for each customer
  • Solicit these team members in the creation of the document. Note that many larger firms will have ready-made templates as part of the CRM or forecasting tool

While it is certainly optimal to collaborate with your rep on this document, you can manage it yourself if required. You can slowly reel other account team members into the process over time.

  • Ask your rep to review your document and add any holes or clarify any points you might be off on
  • Then determine what the top priorities are for the quarter and for the year. While this intuitively boils down to the largest opportunities, there is some nuance here. For example, there may be a large opportunity that the rep feels able to win on reference or political advantage. A smaller opportunity might be a highly competitive technical shootout. S/he is going to want you more focused on the latter
  • The output of this exercise for you is an active project list that can now be prioritized and worked into your systems

After the document is done, I also recommend reviewing this with your manager (assuming there is a dedicated SE management role).

  • Let them know early the process you’re working. They may be able to point you to specific templates they’ve used before
  • Once completed, incorporate it as part of the agenda for your periodic meetings (or status emails) as s/he desires
  • Word of caution: the last thing you want is to create a rift between you and your rep because you’re sharing details that the rep was not (intentionally) communicating to sales management. You can set that as a group rule when you undertake this with your rep

After it’s been going (well, hopefully) for a number of months, you can offer to your manager to present your process at the next SE meeting. Your goal here is to show some leadership, and help smooth the way for other SEs who may have had a harder time getting their reps to the table for a discussion.

For SE managers, you can help the process greatly by establishing a formal periodic technical opportunity review with your team. Collaborate with the district manager to enable you’re synced up. It looks better if the message comes down from the sales side whenever possible.

Finishing Strong

As the end of the quarter and most fiscal years come to a close, SEs typically benefit from having a few extra cycles around this time of year. Notwithstanding the obvious benefits of catching up on some quality family or personal time, there are some housekeeping and nice-to-have projects that can benefit from your attention to help ensure you’re hitting the new year at full speed. [Read more…]

From Dud to Stud in 90 Days – Part III: Account Management and More

I hate to say it, but if you can’t establish yourself as a valuable technical and industry resource to your customers, you have no business speaking with them. That’s why it’s so critical to establish a minimal base of product and industry knowledge before you start engaging with your new accounts.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t listen in with your account manager or shadow your SE-mentor. Actually, that’s the fastest way to learn. Just don’t jump in and insert yourself in to the lone-SE role before you’re ready. As they say about first impressions…

[Read more…]

Getting Things Done (GTD) for SEs – Case Study

This is the final post in the Getting Things Done for SEs series. As a reference point, here is a list of all the previous posts in the series:

  1. Introduction to GTD
  2. Collect
  3. Process
  4. Organize
  5. Review
  6. Do
  7. Case Study

I also created a product list of all the products I’m using, hopefully it ends up saving you some time.

Case Study

To conclude the article, I thought it would be really helpful to see this system in action. It’s less important that you follow and understand each discrete task from start to finish. The main goal is to get a sense for how various inputs flow into the system and are tracked. If you decide to implement a similar system, this is where you can come back and spend some real time understanding the nuance of dealing with SE-specific types of input.

To frame the story I’m going to use a case study of an SE persona. I’ll call him Dave in honor of Mr. Allen. Dave works for large enterprise software company, supports 2 sales reps, and has about 60 customers total. Here’s a typical day for Dave:

Day 1

Dave wakes up and begins his morning routine including some time on the treadmill. During his exercise he thinks about an upcoming product release about Enterprise Reporter 2.0 and has an idea that the ascii conversion widget would really help his customer Acme Corp. He has a pen and paper at is treadmill and jots down the idea and gets back to working out, free from this thought for now. As he finishes, he drops the note into his home In Basket. Before he heads to work, he clears everything out of that home inbox and inputs the idea from the note into his laptop as an uncategorized task for later processing.

Dave gets to work and opens up his inbox. He’s got about 20 emails and 2 voicemails. 16 of those emails are not important and he scans and deletes them. 2 are from his reps and 2 are from customers. For each of those 4 emails he must do something about them. 1 of them takes less than 2 minutes and he responds on the spot. He drags and drops the remaining 3 emails onto the Outlook Tasks folder, which instantly creates Tasks. He also looks at each of the hand written notes, including the one about Acme corp and he enters that into a task as well. He doesn’t bother to think about them at this point other than to just get them into his system.

Once he has entered all of his raw data comes time to Process them. Dave goes to Outlook->Tasks->[Process] and sees the five items (from 3 emails/2 notes) and goes through them one by one. The tasks are as follows:

  • New opportunity for DataView at Dynacorp
  • Need to schedule product demo for BBGE Group asap
  • Ascii widget for Acme
  • Update CRM before end of month
  • Pick up home office supplies

Note that in the current state, these aren’t actionable for the most part. They need to be further refined. So we Process each one.

DataView at Dynacorp

Because it’s a new opportunity, Dave needs a way capture it so that daily or weekly he can review progress and take action. Because this is a multiple-step activity, we consider it a Project. Dave goes to the [Project] task view and finds Dynacorp and adds Dataview to the list which already has 2 other product opportunities currently going on at the company. He will now see this entry weekly. He also decides that he wants to talk about the opp with his sales rep the next time they connect, but it doesn’t warrant a separate meeting, so he creates a new task called DataView at Dynacorp debrief and categorizes it as an agenda item @@Paul (his rep) for the next time they speak.

Demo for BBGE Group

Dave needs to coordinate with the customer to go out and demo a product. His other rep, Mark, wants this done today because the customer has a short runway to make a buying decision. Dave already has a project for BBGE so that’s covered, but setting up the demo will require scheduling the meeting, reviewing the latest product manual, updating his demo data, and customizing the demo for the customer after a debrief with Mark. Because it’s more than one Next Action it is definitely a Project, but he’s also got to move on it quickly. He decides that the first step is sending his customer a couple open dates on his calendar to get the meeting scheduled. He stops what he’s doing and sends the email right away copying his rep and himself. When he gets the email from himself he drags that email to the Tasks folder and labels it as .Waiting and saves the task. He then decides he needs to schedule a debrief meeting with his rep right away so he sends a meeting request right away for later on in the day. He then makes a .Waiting task for the meeting response from Mark. He decides he doesn’t want to take further action until he hears from Mark, but because it’s urgent he doesn’t want to wait until the end of the day to followup, so he makes a 0 minute reminder in his calendar for 2 hours from now to revisit the project.

ASCII for Acme

Because this would be a new opportunity, he appends ASCII to the master project list for Acme. He also decides that he should also review this with Mark next time they speak, so he creates a new task called ASCII for Acme and labels it as @@Mark.

Update CRM

This isn’t an urgent, but does have a definite due date 2 weeks out. Dave creates a task called Update CRM, labels it @Computer and also adds a Due Date to the task 2 weeks out. The day before it is due, he also adds a day-specific entry in his calendar called Verify CRM Updated. This gives him a safety net if he gets too busy to work out the task. Because it’s a single event he doesn’t create a project, but he thinks that he should maybe be setting aside an hour on his calendar every month to update the CRM, that way he never needs to react and try to squeeze it in next time. He creates another task and calls it Schedule Recurring Monthly Calendar Slot for CRM Updates and labels it @Computer.

Office Supplies

Perhaps the simplest task to complete, but one of the easiest to forget. Dave knows that he will be leaving a customer site at 4p and will want to be reminded to stop at the store around that time, so he adds a calendar event for 4p to pick up office supplies. He needs to go to a specialty store he’s never been to before, so he takes the additional steps of adding the address to his task so that when it pops up on his phone, he can enter it right into the GPS before he starts his car.

He then prints off a copy of his [Action] and [Agenda] list.

Let’s pause at this juncture for a moment. Although Dave has completed a few simple tasks, he really hasn’t begun his day in a discretionary sense. He has been reacting with the help of his system. He’s processed several inputs ranging from simple and mundane to very complex and important with a mix of urgent and non-urgent activities. Dave has had a place and mechanism for dealing with each of these criterion which means he hasn’t wasted a lot of brainpower dealing with them. At this point, maybe 20 minutes into his day, he now has a complete record of all his open loops and his mind can let go of the forces tugging at him from many directions.

He now has all his committments in front of him and he can use sound judgment to knock tasks out without mental distraction.


Dave is now ready to get to business. He scans his [Action] list and sees about 50 tasks spread across @Computer, @Calls, and @Office. He has an @Office category because there is a computer lab he needs to use frequently where specific tasks must take place. He sees 2 @computer, 1 @call, and 1 @office task that are high priority and he completes each of those in turn. After they are completed, he looks back to his list and proceeds on the next office task.

While in the middle he gets a call from Paul, one of his reps. While on the phone he breaks out the Agenda printout and goes to the Paul section. As they’re speaking Dave takes some notes including a couple action items. He then brings up the couple agenda items he wanted to discuss including DataView at Dynacorp. They decide that Paul needs to do some further qualification before they can go out do a technical presentation, Dave notes this as well. As soon as Dave hangs up, he looks through his notes for actionable items and enters them as uncategorized tasks. He then enters a couple pertinent notes in a simple text file in their respective project folders and throws away the paper.

Dave then returns to his office task when he gets an Outlook reminder to check on Demo for BBGE Group. He checks his email and verifies he got a confirmation from Mark on the meeting later in the day. He goes back and knocks a couple more tasks off his list before lunch. Before heading to lunch Dave does a Process again and opens his inbox and gets it down to 0 items including processing the input from Paul earlier in the day. Because Dave needs to wait for Paul to connect with Dynacorp before he can begin to create a presentation, he creates a .Waiting task called “Paul to Qualify Dynacorp and get back to me”. With that completed he can head to lunch.

Upon returning he meets with Mark to discuss the BBGE meeting. Before the meeting he scanned his email looking for a response to the calendar invite, but nothing received. He and Mark discuss the account and a strategy for the demo. Dave captures the main customer points of interest until he is comfortable he can tailor the demo to the customer. Finishing up that conversation, Dave can also bring up the Acme account and several others. Mark thinks that Acme would indeed benefit from hearing about the new product and asks Dave to send him some good qualifying questions pertaining to the new features. Dave agrees and they finish the call. He then has a couple minutes to gather his materials and head out to meet a customer to conduct a presentation. During the presentation he captures some additional notes about the customer as well as some followup questions he’ll need to address within the next couple days. As he leaves the meeting to head home his calendar notification pops up to stop at the supply store on the way home.

When he gets home he takes 15 minutes to debrief from the day. So far he has a couple pages of notes and several action items from the call with Mark and the customer presentation. He enters the data into his system as before including emptying his head, email and voicemail into the system. He additionally reviews his .Waiting list where he sees he is waiting for a reply from BBGE about the meeting later this week and he still hasn’t received a reponse. He stops what he’s doing and he emails them a polite confirmation that they do indeed wish to meet this week and that he’ll follow up with a phone call tomorrow late morning to confirm. He adds a 0 minute calendar reminder at 10a to call BBGE if needed. He returns to his Process session. After processing, he has the additional data in his system:


  • A calendar slot tomorrow for building the BBGE customized demo

From the presentation:

  • A Project called Research for Customer ABC
  • A task to research the questions online
  • A task to email a colleauge about a possible reference that is similar to this customer
  • Additional notes added to his reference file for the customer (which get entered into the CRM)

For Acme:

  • A task to research qualifying questions and then send them to Mark

Before he finishes he checks his system if there was anything important he needed to do @home or anything he needed to speak to his wife about. After that he closes his computer knowing everything he has to do is accounted for and scheduled.

Let’s pause and review again for a moment. The day in the life of an SE can be intense and very interupt driven. I tired to account accurately for all the task switching that comes with the territory. It’s hard to follow all of the elements to this story, and that’s partially the point. Each of us needs a system that can deal with that kind of complexity without being overly burdensome. It takes a lot of text to explain each step, but once you’re in the flow this becomes automatic. The 10% overhead you’re adding to your day easily doubles the effectiveness of the other 90%.

Still, it’s easy to get tripped up here. Some of us have reps that schedule 5 account calls back to back with little time to eat let alone Process effectively. This is where the Review comes into play. It gives you the dedicated time to sync up with yourself and address any open loops you’ve been accumulating. Anything you don’t catch during the day you catch at your Evening Review. Something missed there can be captured at the Weekly Review. This extra redundancy gives you a safety net and permits imperfection (not read as: sloppiness) which I personally feel is crucial to minimizing stress.

Weekly Review

The next day Dave has his weekly review scheduled. Before doing that he processes everything to 0 to begin with a clean slate and goes through the standard review process. When he starts to review his projects. He looks at the project item for each customer. He starts with the one for Acme.

Inside the Task details he has:

Database Suite
Email Security
– Demo for security group
– Presentation for network group
Encryption Manager

Each of the main items (e.g. Database Suite) are specific product opportunities. Underneath each one are specific projects he needs to manage to closure alongside his reps. As he thinks about the POC (proof of concept) he adds a task to call the customer to check in on the status. For the demo, he had completed it earlier in the week and addressed all questions making it a “closed” project, so he remove it from the list.

For the remaining items he doublechecks his current Action list to ensure he has items for each one (.Waiting or Action).

Dave repeats this for each account and ends the session with a fresh set of tasks for the week. The total time spent was about 1.5 hours.

This wraps the series on Getting Things Done (GTD) for SEs. My hope is that this provides just enough motivation to start your own inquiry into the possibilities of getting more done and stressing out less in this difficult profession of ours. I, like most other recent GTD graduates, am proud of my accomplishments and still amazed at how well it helps me get through the day. I want everyone to experience that feeling, and to that end I’m happy to help with any other other pointers or advice I can should you choose to get started–just hit me up on the contact form.

Getting Things Done (GTD) for SEs – Doing

In the previous post I provided a detailed look at some Review strategies for SEs. Today I am going to provide my GTD “Doing” process.

When it comes time to doing, Allen lists out his main selection criteria of:

  1. Context
  2. Time available
  3. Energy available
  4. Priority

The engineer in me loves the elegance and precision. One rough spot that kept creeping up was that I always got hung up on talking myself out of doing certain tasks because of the “energy” constraint. Not wanting to do them
and not having the energy are two different things but are surprisingly difficult to discern (at least for me). It took a bit of reprogramming of this model to get myself into the zone. In order to get there I needed a way to take some of the subjectivity away.

When whitespace comes up in my calendar, I now start of with my short list of high priority activities for the day that I created during my morning review. I simply go from most important to least, given my time and situational constraints. It’s far easier to do this with a list of 5-8 things versus my complete task lists of 30-50. I now spend a little time on the frontend each morning, but don’t have to spend hardly any mental effort on my schedule during the day.

Now, I’m a morning person by nature. 80% of my high value activities need to be done by 1-2pm or there is significant liklihood I’m running out of steam or other things have gotten in the way. I now plan for this.

When I get to that afternoon discretionary time, I now can just go to my chosen context and work from the oldest to newest. To this end I keep my Task list sorted by date added. Because I’ve already addressed high priority tasks I can mentally give myself permission to work serially down the list without much thought. Once I removed the line by line decision making from the list, I just process and I don’t 2nd guess myself and I don’t procrasitinate. I get a lot more of them done with a fraction of the mental energy.

The insight for me throughout this process is how important it is to get yourself in a mental state where you can be most productive. My stuggle has led to the realization that achieving that state is both elusive and fleeting. I’ve had to adapt my process many times to get to state where I don’t have that voice inside my head wandering to other tasks, “what ifs”, and second guessing. When you finally tame those thoughts is when you will start seeing exponential increases in your general effectiveness.

Next week will be the last in the series and I’ll provide a case study if a typical SE using this system.

Getting Things Done (GTD) for SEs – Review

In the previous post I provided a detailed look at some Organization strategies for SEs. Today I am going to provide my GTD review process and schedule.

I’m starting this post with the assumption you’ve read up and understand just how important this part of the process is. Without a constant check in with yourself and your system it simply becomes out of date within a couple weeks at which point it completely breaks down.

My review process has gradually shifted to a more and more precise routine. I’ve had to get specific to ensure that I don’t have any leaks in the process. Additionally, while I still love the weekly review, I have moved some of those tasks to a daily review so that I catch urgent items more quickly.

As with most of my routine it takes a lot longer to explain than to do. I hesitate to even call my morning and evening session reviews as really they are really just checkpoints and take me less than 15 minutes each.

Morning Review

I have a morning check in where I do a Process of all the items that came in since yesterday. Next I review each Context on my Action view as well as a simple list of tactical activities that I’d “like” to do on a daily basis, time permitting. On this tactical list are things like calling a friend, writing a journal entry, writing a blog post, etc. Looking at both lists I simply jot down on a scratch piece of paper the most important tasks that I’d like to make sure get done that day. Sometimes there’s 10, sometimes just 1 or two.

Evening Review

This review is a very lightweight weekly review sans a project review.

  1. My evening check in also begins with a Process.
  2. I then update my Actions and Agendas list.
  3. I then review all the tasks I completed that day (via the Outlook view) and use that as a trigger to add any tasks that I feel can’t wait until next week.
  4. I check my calendar for the day and tomorrow to see what’s coming up just as a mental spot check to make sure my day is in order and nothing fell
    through the cracks.
  5. I then check my sent mail for the day (again using the Outlook view) and note any action items or waiting for items that I didn’t capture.
  6. Finally, I review my Waiting For list to see if anything there triggers an immediate action. So many times there will be a project I need to complete by a due date and I haven’t received an input from a colleauge that I
    need to remind them of. This is when I send those out; many times those items are in my inbox by the time I get in the next day. For instance, if I sent a note to a product manager and I needed a response for my customer, assuming I didn’t receive anything by end of day I might decide to do something additional based on priority. My goal in structuring this was to end the day with a clean break and to address concerns about any issues before leaving the office.

I’ll be the first to admit how pedantic this seems, but trust me and give it a try it and simply appreciate the absense of stress on the drive home.

Weekly Review

When I’ve been dilligent during the week with my morning and evening check-ins, my weekly review usually takes no more than an hour, and that time is mainly spent on reviewing higher level goals and prioritizing projects. My weekly review is done on Monday afternoon. It is blocked (red) on my calendar. I also disconnect from email and turn off my phone. With 3 young kids this is far easier than aiming for a Sunday afternoon.

  1. I always start off with a review of completed tasks for the previous week just so my prior progress is fresh in my mind. All of these steps are done via a simple Outlook view I explained under the Organize section.
  2. I then scan my quarterly goals to make sure I have at least 1 project addressing each one.
  3. I then go through my active project list, assign next actions, and prioritize (I use a simple 1-4 reference).
  4. I then review my Someday/Maybe list to see if anything should be moved up to active.
  5. Finally, I review a couple of trigger lists (I recommend you create one for your specific job). A couple examples are !here! and !here!

I finish by printing off a copy for myself and emailing 1 to my wife.

Now, when you’re on the road it gets tough to be regimented. Airline travel across time zones especially interupts this schedule for me. I may go a couple days without hitting my morning or evening reviews. I plan on this happening which is why I build in some redundancy in my weekly review to always catch me up. I hit about 60% on my evening review but always 100% on my weekly, even if I have to reschedule it. This gives me a pretty good balance between speed and integrity.

Believe it or not, on Monday morning I now look forward to my weekly review. After completing that process, it is the clearest and most stress free state of mind I’m in all week.