Is Unscheduling a Practical Time Management Tool for Sales Professionals?

Before we go into our topic for this post, we just wanted to note we’ve been named the #1 Sales Performance Blog by Feedspot. It’s an accomplishment we’re all quite proud of, and we’d like to thank you, our readers and commenters for helping us make this blog the best.

On to the topic. As you know, here at Janek Performance Group, we’re always staying abreast of current research and trends – either through our own studies and analysis or examining the work of others. Recently, the BBC posted an article about unscheduling, a time management strategy some people are using to be more productive. It’s an intriguing idea – one we decided to look at more closely to see if it might fit for those of us in sales.

What is unscheduling?
Unscheduling is, despite its name, a scheduling process. Like most methods, it involves plotting out your week into blocks of time for activities. However, it inverts the process by carving out time for things you want to do rather than what you need to do. So instead of listing, say, Respond to Client Emails, you would write in something like Read a Sales Book. You also would include things like vacations or meetups with friends.

What you don’t do – schedule anything to do with work. No “Prepare for presentation”, “Make calls to prospects”, etc.

The concept was devised in 1988 by Neil Fiore, a licensed psychologist who taught and practiced at the University of California-Berkeley for over 15 years. He’s also the author of the bestseller The Now Habit. In the 30 years since, unscheduling has gradually entered the mainstream, even being adopted by psychotherapists.

What’s the theory behind it?
Essentially, unscheduling is a response to procrastination and constructed upon Fiore’s observations that doctoral students who completed their dissertations far faster than others were the busiest, due to relationships and social obligations other than work.

Conversely, those who took longer were consumed with the work and a mindset of “having to” – having to meet deadlines, having to finish work, etc. This creates pressure and anxiety, with nothing to look forward to, and is particularly procrastination-inducing in those with perfectionist mentalities.

How does it actually work in practice?
What happens when unscheduling is actually implemented, according to its proponents, are two things – 1) the unscheduler’s mindset is improved because they can look forward to leisure time, and 2) the work that needs to be done is accomplished in short, intense bursts of 15-60 minutes (depending on how big the project is) earlier in the day.

This second happenstance might be a little difficult to understand, but it occurs because you’re fitting work into your busy, pleasure-focused life, rather than making work the central priority (which can lead to cancelling plans or skipping activities you enjoy, because you feel the pressure of needing to get work done).

What’s really going on here is a combination of high-intensity, briefer periods of focus and activity (a methodology also seen in other areas, such as working out – High Intensity Interval Training [HITT]) and dedicating yourself to a positive work-life balance by emphasizing what you enjoy, while also getting work done.

Does unscheduling really make sense for sales professionals?
The big question: Does this work for sales professionals?

On the face of it, unscheduling may seem too counterintuitive and against the grain of how the sales process operates – how are you supposed to remember when the discovery call with Dunder Mifflin is, for example? And indeed, there’s potentially serious logistical challenges with the whole idea of not listing work on your schedule.

But that doesn’t mean the concept is completely without merit. As we’ve analyzed here, the resulting attitude shift from work-centric to a holistic view is valuable for mental health.

In fact, you could consider a partial unscheduling just by making a few, more specific tweaks into your existing schedule. For example, instead of writing “Break” or “Lunch”, you could write “Play Candy Crush” or “Try new Indian restaurant”. That change transforms it from the generic to something that you enjoy and can look forward to doing.

The best takeaway, however, might be in the idea of the short, hyper-focused blocks of work as opposed to longer chunks of time that traditionally get used in schedule planning. Such a scenario could well lead to higher quality productivity gains and improved mental and emotional well-being.

Regardless of whether sales teams – either individually or as a collective – consider implementing some of the ideas involved in unscheduling, they’re still fascinating methodologies to explore with potentially positive returns.

As we noted above, unscheduling is often a response to procrastination. Procrastination in turn can be one of the major symptoms of burnout – a serious condition.