I work at a tech company that employs a ton of engineers, so almost every day, I come across something that makes me think, “Wow … It must be awesome to be a software engineer.”
While I’m neither an engineer nor likely to become one any time soon, I’ve taken a leaf out of their playbook to dramatically increase my productivity.
With a simple two-minute exercise called a stand-up twice a day, I’ve become more efficient and organized -- an unusual productivity trick I stole from our engineering team.
What Is a Stand-up?
In engineering, teams coding the same part of a product or feature will often have daily “stand-up” meetings to review their progress from the day before and priorities for the day ahead.
Stand-ups are generally, as their name suggests, held with all team members standing up. This is designed to keep meetings as short as possible -- ideally, a stand-up with six or seven people shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes.
How to Use Stand-ups in Sales
I use stand-ups to focus myself on my priorities for today and tomorrow. So I do a stand-up each morning to determine what I should focus on that day, and another in the afternoon to recalibrate my priorities if necessary.
The Morning Stand-up
This is the first thing I do each morning when I get to my desk. I use Todoist to keep a running log of to-dos, and use its calendar and flagging features to complete my morning stand-up, but you can use your online calendar, your CRM, or even a written list.
Use the following questions to guide your stand-up:
What prospect meetings do you have scheduled tomorrow that you need to prep for or confirm today?
Are there straggling tasks from yesterday (recap emails, resource follow-ups) that still need to be completed?
What do you need to do today?
I usually take care of tasks that pave the way for future days first (items under #1), then follow them with items that fall under #2, and finally tackle the remainder of my day. I “lock” my list for the day during this morning stand-up: Everything that’s not important enough to get done today is punted to later in the week unless I have extra time (more on that later).
However you want to prioritize these three categories of tasks is up to you. What’s important is that you don’t add to your plate throughout the day unless there’s an absolute emergency.
The Afternoon Stand-up
Just because I start each day with a plan doesn’t mean my day will actually follow those lines. And in the world of sales, the one thing that’s certain is that a single call or prospect can change the direction of your entire day. An afternoon stand-up when you’re around two hours away from the end of your day can help you refocus after a distraction derails your plan.
Here’s what to ask yourself in the afternoon:
What on your list has to be finished today?
What’s left that can be pushed to tomorrow? (Or, if you’re done with your list -- what should you pull from tomorrow to today?)
Push anything non-essential to tomorrow or later in the week, then focus on knocking out what’s left for today. Or if you’re having a particularly productive day (lucky you!), start working on tomorrow’s list.
The Science Behind Stand-ups
The Zeigarnik effect states that we tend to fixate on unfinished tasks. Holding a to-do list in your head is exhausting, and becomes even more difficult when you’re constantly adding and completing tasks. By having a twice-daily standup that focuses only on today and tomorrow’s tasks, you’re able to cut through the clutter and focus only on what matters to you right now.
A stand-up might not seem like anything more than a to-do list. But deliberately scheduling time into your day to readjust your priorities is this productivity tip's real value. They’ll force you to assess how you spend your time at regular intervals, and will help you work on the things that actually matter.
Originally published Nov 16, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017