For some reason I always think of B.F. Skinner’s rat experiments, where the rats get an electric shock every time the scientist wants them to perform a specific action.
That’s what life was like when I had all my notifications turned on. Work email, personal email, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter…all of them.
Do all these notifications make me better? More productive? More successful?
A colleague of mine just came off the elevator and walked to his desk. He didn’t look up from his phone once.
It’s easy to go through an entire day and not be present.
Even when I’m not on my mobile devices I find it challenging to be present.
When I was living in Tokyo I spent my weekends and coffee breaks studying the work of G.I. Gurdjieff together with my close friend, Michael.
Gurdjieff taught that most humans go through life in a kind of waking sleep, never fully present or conscious, and that “in order to awaken, first of all, one must realize that one is in a state of sleep.”
My commute to work was a 9-minute walk downhill, and for weeks I tried walking that commute mindfully. I tried to make it from my apartment to the office, without ever forgetting what it was that I was doing.
“I am walking to work…I am walking to work. It is April 17th, 2010, I’m in Tokyo, I am walking to work…”
It was weeks before I could make the entire walk “awake.”
My mind would invariably pull me into the past or the future and without even realizing it I’d be “asleep” again, unaware of what I was doing.
With the rapid rise of technology and devices, it is harder than ever to be here, fully present.
Is this a problem for businesses? Is this a problem for sales organizations?
You bet it is.
The average number of employees for a Fortune 500 company is 50,000.
What’s the impact of mindlessness times 50,000?
Our ability to focus is at an all-time low.
The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft, people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.
That sounds a bit exaggerated if you ask….sorry hold on, I just got a text.
Ok, where was I.
Oh yes — focus. It’s harder these days.
This is compounded by the fact that sales teams today are expected to do more with less.
Good luck doing more with an 8-second attention span!
The development of open offices and hot-desking further stacks the chips against us as it’s nearly impossible to find somewhere to work for long periods of time without interruption.
Focusing on a single thing is a skill, and it requires practice.
A great way to start would be to join the likes of Jeff Weiner and other world-class CEOs who are known to take 10 minutes a day to strengthen their focus.
Stress is killing your sales teams, now more than ever.
Figures suggest that the stress of modern life is increasing rapidly, with some studies showing a 45% increase over the last 30 years (Miller et al. 1997).
Within that lie sale as a profession, and in a survey by online career database PayScale, sales was ranked as the second most stressful job, with 73 percent of respondents rating the role as “highly stressful.”
Salespeople are under a lot of pressure to hit their KPIs, convert quickly, and meet quota.
This matters because employees suffering from high-stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absenteeism levels than those not working under excessive pressure, according to research from professional services firm Towers Watson.
If this trend continues — and it will — then your sales teams’ ability to regulate their stress and their emotions are going to becoming increasingly critical to your success.
In sales it’s easy to get thrown around by the waves at the surface, struggling to keep our head above water.
A deal is lost, quotas grow, customers complain.
When practiced, mindfulness lets salespeople sink down below the waves, removing themselves from the mercy of the choppy surface.
Your teams can learn to surf the waves in sales, not drown, and mindfulness is the vehicle to get them there.
Expectations from customers are at an all-time high, creating a rising demand for deep work.
Customers are more knowledgeable than ever before. As a result, their expectations of what you bring to the table as a salesperson are at an all-time high.
They don’t need you to come in and tell them something they already know. They’re looking for value, and it takes a lot more than banging the phones and pitching your product to deliver real value. It requires salespeople to think…for themselves.
It requires salespeople to come up with creative solutions, putting them in a position to truly help customers solve complex problems.
This will never happen if sales teams don’t develop the ability to focus. This will never happen if sales teams are in a constant state of stimulation and notifications.
How many times have you been distracted since you started reading this post?
One thing alone is certain, that man’s slavery grows and increases. He no longer needs chains. He begins to grow fond of his slavery, to be proud of it. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man.GI Gurdjieff
Professor Cal Newton, author of “Deep Work” explains that “deep work is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive twenty-first-century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep—spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.”
Sounds like Gurdjieff and Professor Cal would’ve had lots to talk about.
AI will replace the parts of sales that a monkey could do. The new era of star sales organizations will be built by people who create mindful spaces where they can use their brains, stir creativity, and in doing so be in a position to deliver something of real value to their customers.
It’s not surprising that it’s also in these moments of quiet where powerful insights can occur that help you uncover a new path to closing a stuck deal.
Starting January 2017, companies in France will be required to guarantee their employees a “right to disconnect” from technology as the country seeks to tackle the modern-day scourge of compulsive out-of-hours email checking.
French officials note that the “overuse of digital devices has been blamed for everything from burnout to sleeplessness as well as relationship problems, with many employees uncertain of when they can switch off.”
Well done, France.
But where do the rest of us start?
Most learning happens through experience, so my suggestion is to start with some A/B testing. Try the following for 7 days. Go in open-minded, don’t form any conclusions, and report back with your results.
- Turn off all notifications: if you believe at all in the power of being present then this is really a non-negotiable. Being buzzed is great for science experiments but not for humanity. Turn them off and get your humanity back.
- Remove email from your phone: I have a computer in the office and at home, so there’s always access to email when I need it. Why do I need email on my mobile? Here were the main times I turned to email on my mobile: (a) just after waking-up in the morning, (b) in taxis on the way to work/meetings, (c) while walking to meetings in the office, (d) while eating lunch, (e) while at the gym, (f) while out with friends. Basically I replaced every quiet space, every opportunity for deep work, reflection, and human engagement with email.
- Invest 10 mins every day for “focus training”: Just download the Headspace App and press start. It’s never been easier.
- Block time in your calendar for “deep work”: block an hour every day to let yourself think. I live in Singapore so I like to take long walks around our office building, but other times I sit in a room with a pen and paper, reflecting, jotting down ideas, letting creativity go to work. Try different methods but find a way to have uninterrupted time daily.
In sum, you can have the best business strategy in the world, but if your teams can’t focus, regulate their emotions, or find time for deep work, you will lose.
And the companies who can, will win.