Productivity Tip: BANT on the inside

Those people who are familiar with the world of sales know the term BANT intimately. For those who have not done selling as a profession, it’s an acronym from enterprise B2B sales that helps sales professionals assess a lead’s quality. The term stands for:

  • Budget: Can the lead afford our product?
  • Authority: Is the lead the decision-maker?
  • Need: Does the lead actually need our category product?
  • Timeframe: When will the lead buy from someone?

BANT has been through its twists and turns over the years, but now I want to put a twist on it for different purposes. Most project management software I’ve used recently has been very good at setting deadlines, but beyond that, there’s very little in the way of project scoring to help you sort out what’s important from what’s merely urgent. As my friend Chris Brogan says, the inbox is the ultimate delivery mechanism for other people’s priorities, and those tend to be urgent rather than important.

So what if we scored projects simply and effectively using BANT? Rather than just leaving it in the hands of sales professionals, why not make use of it for yourself? Suppose you had a project management system that looked like this?

  • Budget: What is the revenue impact of this project?
  • Authority: Is this project needed by a superior, a peer, or a subordinate?
  • Need: How important is this project?
  • Timeframe: How urgent is this project?

Suppose you made a simple spreadsheet that, instead of an ambiguous HIGH PRIORITY or LOW PRIORITY mechanism, you actually scored your projects? Here’s an example of how this might look:

Sample BANT Task Manager
Click to see a live version you can copy

This can then map more closely to the way your team or organization works. If Authority is the true deciding factor in what needs to get done, then you sort by authority. If Timeframe is how things get done, then you sort and manage by timeframe, with the ability to sub-sort by other fields that are part of the decision-making process.

Try it out – see if BANTing your workload is as effective for your productivity as BANTing your sales leads has been.

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How I get more stuff done

In my newsletter this weekend, I talked a bit about the benefits of improving focus. As I’ve added client work to what I do, the number and frequency of deadlines and deliverables has multiplied far beyond what I had when I was just doing marketing for one brand, so managing those without breaking any promises has required an entirely new level of focus for me. I had to up my game considerably.

Here’s what I did to increase the amount of focus I brought to the table. Your methods and mileage may vary. I used to manage by my inbox, which was thoroughly ineffective. It was water spraying everywhere, so many things competing for my attention, and stuff unquestionably got lost or went missing.


Today, I manage almost exclusively by my calendar. I block off time for each task that needs doing, and during those times, I do those things and nothing else. Client work gets repeating windows as needed, and everything else gets time as needed. The secret is this: during those time periods, one and only one thing gets attention, nothing else. Ask anyone who used to work with me how much time I spent on IM and email compared to today, where I spend almost no time on IM and do my inbox in short bursts infrequently throughout the day.

Here’s the second secret: if something can’t be defined in a block of time on my calendar, it gets put away until there is a timeframe defined. That’s the only way I’ve found that important things get done – they get a timeslot, and during those times, they get exclusive focus. If something doesn’t come with a deadline or a timeframe, then it doesn’t get scheduled and no energy is given to it.

Here’s the third and final secret: by creating blocks of time on a calendar and looking at it in a weekly view, I can move blocks around like kids’ toys so that the maximum amount of stuff gets done. If a block ends a little bit early (5-10 minutes or less), I can check messages or hit Facebook for the few minutes left over; if a block ends substantially earlier (more than 10 minutes) then I start moving things around and getting even more done. The goal is to keep a steady pace of work throughout the day with as few gaps and periods of downtime as possible while not being stressed about the workload. Having this system lets me stay at maximum productivity without maximum stress.

As I said earlier, your mileage may vary. You may find this practice drives you crazy, and that’s okay. Find a method that works for you – this is just what I’ve needed to do in order to maximize the time I have each day to get stuff done.

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What Mists of Pandaria teaches us about paralysis of choice

Dr. Barry Schwartz is famous for his TED talk about explaining the paradox of choice: when faced with too many choices, often we choose none. Nowhere is this highlighted more than in the new World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Once you reach level 90, you’re presented with a buffet of different choices for your endgame character. Actually, the buffet analogy works only if buffets could be several miles long.

Screen Shot 2012-10-02 at 7.13.42 AM

Here’s a brief look at what you can do at the maximum level:

Challenge Mode Dungeons
PvP Battlegrounds
PvP Arenas
Pet Battles
Daily Quests for Reputation for:
– The Klaxxi
– The Lorewalkers
– The Tillers
– The Anglers
– The Golden Lotus
– The August Celestials
– The Shado-Pan
– Order of the Cloud Serpent
Farming, including reputation quests for NPCs

Each of these branches of activities can lead you down a nearly endless path of quests to do, items to collect, things to make, or places to visit. Blizzard Entertainment was telling the absolute truth when they said there’s more to do at endgame than ever before.

…too much more. So much so that players are actually complaining about being overwhelmed by choice. So what’s the solution for the overwhelmed player? Set a goal. If you intend to raid, you need gear, and gear comes from valor points and dungeons. Run dungeons, do quests that award valor points. If you intend to make money in-game, focus on the moneymaking professions and the materials that support them. Getting a farm up to speed will help with this – and as many farms as you can support with your time.

Having a clear, well-defined goal cuts through all of the choices that Mists of Pandaria presents us. The catch is that with this many different ways to play, you have to pick one and only one goal. If you pick a couple or three goals, all of those goals eventually get fed back into all of the activities and you’re back to feeling overwhelmed again. For example, if you decide you want to raid and be fully raid ready with consumables, then instead of just focusing on gear, you’ll focus on gear, your farm, professions, and materials – and you’re back to a supremely large menu of choice that leaves you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Pick one and only one goal, focus on it like a laser, and achieve it, knowing that there will be plenty of time for the other goals to be accomplished.

It’s not a terribly large stretch of the imagination to see how this applies to the real world. Look at your to-do list. Overwhelming? Mine sure can be. I’ve got dozens of different items that support different goals and different aspects of my life. If I focus on just one in the short-term, I’ll get a lot more done than trying to do a little bit of everything and not moving the ball forward substantially in any one area.

Pick a goal for today, any goal as long as it’s something you can make substantial progress towards, and do your absolute best to tune out everything else in your work day for the day. See if that makes the difference you’ve been looking for in terms of satisfaction of accomplishment!

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