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Don’t Cross the Priority Trouble Line


Just last week, I was asked by a new business acquaintance to hold an early morning business meeting (atop a local hillside ridge) at 5:30am. Of course, we had to hike to the top of the mountain, where we watched the sun pull the covers back and wake up. We were at the bottom of the mountain and off to our regular business day by 7:30am. He is a fanatical fitness person, I was huffing and puffing. It struck me that this type of commitment and literal conditioning takes a deep discipline - to work leisure activities in around accepted business hours.


Becoming most effective and efficient in our work roles requires this same type of discipline that is required of other true professionals.  Athletes, physicians, first responders – you name the profession, and the people at the top pay a price every day to stay there.  The price they pay is their conditioning.


Conditioning is a way of life.  It’s a set of rules, sometimes philosophical, but always practical.  Follow the rules and you’ll always be conditioned to make the best use of the system. Through the years, Sandler Training has charted the success and failure of thousands of professionals.  We’ve documented that those who become the top people in their profession and those who remain at the top year after year, condition themselves daily for success. 


One critical method of conditioning is to stay on “the right side of the trouble line.”  We all have a choice to make every day in how we prioritize our time. It can either be spent on “Pay-Time” activities or “No-Pay Time” activities.  Trouble occurs, however, when we spend too much time on the “No-Pay Time” side of the line.


As an example, for a typical business to business organization, pay-time is from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, or whichever part of the day or night is best time for interfacing with the team you work with and your customers / prospective clients.  


No-pay Time is important, too, but it’s set aside for planning, solitary activities that don’t involve team or customer interaction etc. In the B2B example above, no-pay time might be the hours prior to 8am or late afternoon when many person’s productivity is not at its highest any way.


When you perform no-pay time activities during pay-time hours, you create a worse problem than simply hurting your own performance.  If you’re supposed to be doing one thing, and you know it, but you do something else, two negatives occur:


  • You feel guilty because you’re violating your priorities and

  • You’re less productive because you’re doing the wrong thing

Do you see how that leads to trouble?


If you’re sitting in your office during pay-time, and spending time filing, replying to emails that can wait, or having low priority staff meetings, you can say you’re working, but you know you’re working on the wrong side of the trouble line. Instead, you could be having critical team conversations, having important customer interaction and / or tackling a big project (what we might call a “rock”) instead of sifting through “pebbles.”


One trick to help you use pay-time productively is to set goals.  I’m not talking about annual goals and five-year plans, they do have there place. I’m talking about setting daily goals.  Top performers condition themselves by beginning every day with goals.  “Today, I want to accomplish the following…” and they typically record their goals in writing. We suggest you keep a daily journal to help you maintain quality time management.


It’s easy to recognize people who violate the trouble line rule.  Instead of pacing themselves, they fall behind in their work and they’re always scrambling, at the end of the week or month to catch up on priorities that have fallen by the wayside but still need to be accomplished.  This occurs because the person failed to consistently spend time on the right side of the trouble line.


If you want to get to the top of your profession, be consistent.  Stay on the right side of the trouble line, and make your pay-time productive!



For the free whitepaper download: “Four Best Practices for Sales Leaders Who Are Pressed for Time.” contact Bob Bolak at and win back valuable working hours while effectively supporting your sales team. Bob Bolak is President/CEO of Sandler Training in the Greater Denver Area. As an accomplished leadership, management, customer service and sales consultant and trainer, he brings two and half decades of leadership, management and sales experience to the table, with a consistent track record of double and triple digit revenue and profit increases. Sandler Training has authored over two dozen books on effective leadership, management, customer service and sales.


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