Steve got back to the office at 3:00 pm on Wednesday with every intention of putting together the preliminary proposal for what could be one of the biggest clients he’d have to date. A two-hour job at most. He had promised to have a preliminary proposal first thing in the morning.
There, actually covering his desk, were row after row of “While You Were Out” messages. Running down the first row of 10, Steve decided that they could all be called and dealt with within a half-hour. Ditto for the second row of 10. The third row of 10 had two that could be pushed off until the next day.
No problem, he thought, I’ll run right through these. Take maybe an hour. Tops. That will leave me at least two hours to do the preliminary quote. I’ve got all the time in the world.
As he dialed the first return call, Steve felt good. If I land this account, it will mean we have a really profitable client who will spend a lot.
“Ah, yes, this is Steve; I’m returning a phone call from… ”
And in a very methodical fashion, the “While You Were Out” messages disappeared.
Returning the last phone message, Steve wondered why no one was answering. Guess he’s not in, he thought. Never going to succeed by keeping banker’s hours.
Putting down the phone, he finally looked at his wristwatch. 6:10 PM. No, thought Steve, this must be wrong. The clock on the wall only confirmed the time. With a loud sigh, Steve spent about 10 seconds wondering if he’d ever get finished before 9 or 10 o’clock at night. He realized he could not remember when he had had dinner at a reasonable hour.
“That’s the price you pay to succeed,” he said aloud to an empty office, “that’s the price.”
Steve spent another night working late. Perhaps the preliminary quotation would be accurate. Perhaps, with lack of proper rest, he’d still be able to make a good presentation the following morning, but none of this had to happen.
One of the great, and usually destructive, tales of business handed down from one business owner to another, and from older salespeople to younger salespeople, is the burning of the midnight oil. “The only way to succeed is to burn the midnight oil.” “The sooner you start burning the midnight oil, the sooner you will have success.”
This tale, this myth, is so powerful that many burners of the oil truly believe that long hours are really a sign of success.
So it is obvious Steve has pledged allegiance to the miraculous effects of burning that oil. He will arrange his day to make sure that the oil will be burned.
Which of the following do you think Steve would see as a sign of hard work leading to greater success:
1. Leave the office at 6:00 pm.
2. Leave the office at 10:00 pm.
Time’s up. Make your choice.
If you picked number two, you are a true believer in the curative effects of midnight oil.
How could Steve have dealt with his phone calls and need to produce a preliminary quotation by 6:00 pm? It’s as simple as a three-minute egg timer. Here’s how it works. Steve had 28 phone calls to return. Of those, at least half would result in voice mail, an answering machine, or the person would not be in. That left, at most, 14 contacts.
At the beginning of the conversation, all he had to do was state, “I’ve got three minutes to talk. Can we take care of your concerns in that time or should we schedule a phone call for tomorrow when I’m not limited?” Flip the egg timer over.
Steve would have spent, at most, an hour on the phone. That would have brought him to four o’clock instead of six o’clock.
The egg timer solution is not high tech; it’s not fancy; it’s not even expensive. But it works. And Steve could have been out of the office by six.
Burning the midnight oil produces no light and no heat. Why do it?