Efficiency Expert

A sales trainer boosts his productivity with a slew of gadgets and a strict no-doze policy

On a typical Tuesday afternoon, Mark Landiak, a 39-year-old sales-training consultant and full-time road warrior, arrives at his suburban Chicago office wearing a sweat suit and a pair of grass-stained cleats. Thusly attired, he checks his messages, consults with his 10-person staff, and briefly interviews a prospective new hire. The anxious hopeful is wearing a gray suit and is clutching a briefcase.

Afterward, Landiak climbs back into his standard-issue suburban-dad sport/utility vehicle and hurries across town to make the 4 p.m. practice of his young daughter's soccer team, of which he is the coach. This takes place on a day in which he arrived back from a 24-hour business trip to Lafayette, La., at 3 a.m., slept two hours, and made early morning phone calls from his home office, followed by a successful presentation to a large potential client. Soccer practice is followed by dinner at home with his wife, Barbara, and their four children. After the kids have been read to and put to bed, Landiak returns to his basement office to make more calls and work on projects late into the night. Then, around 5 the next morning, he gets up and starts all over again.

Landiak goes like this all day every day and has ever since 1989, when he founded Corporate Dynamics Inc., his roughly $2.5-million company. His clients include Motorola, Lucent Technologies, and NOVUS Discover Card, all of which pay him to improve their sales performance and make better salespeople out of their employees.

Part of what keeps Landiak moving at such a manic pace is his own metabolism ("I love this. I eat it up. I go nuts standing in one place"), and part is a more-or-less methodical effort to balance growing a family and growing a business by squeezing the maximum productivity out of every hour of the day and night.

The object of the game is to find and make use of all the minutes that normally get wasted. "It's a constant search," says Landiak. "You have to use every trick you can think of."

What follow are a few of Landiak's favorite tricks for managing time.

The first and foremost step in maximizing productivity is to figure out how much more productive you want to be. "Set a benchmark for yourself and ask, Can I do this?" Landiak says.

What your goal is doesn't particularly matter, so long as you have one. For instance, the sales trainer's personal goal for 1997 was to double his business productivity, measured in two ways: by "delivery days" (the number of days he's actually in the field training and providing consulting services to clients) and by the dollars he personally brings into the company. Landiak fell short of 100% improvement in both areas (he increased delivery days over the previous year from 140 to 160 and generated $1.7 million, a boost of about 50%). But that's OK: Landiak believes that hitting your goals isn't as important as simply improving your performance.

"Strive for perfection; settle for excellence," he says, quoting Don Shula, former coach of the Miami Dolphins.

Because Landiak travels constantly, much of his time is eaten up getting to or sitting on airplanes. To minimize the waste, he flies--whenever possible--at night, usually after dinner at home with his wife and kids.

"I have elected to take the late flights out each evening to ensure the maximum amount of dinners at home," Landiak says. "Occasionally, that means flying all night long to arrive at the location and to begin teaching immediately. My customer doesn't care that I had 45 minutes of sleep the night before. They still want a relevant message delivered in a highly energetic fashion."

To get to Lafayette, for example, Landiak had taken a flight out of Chicago late Sunday night. Delayed and sidetracked by bad weather, he found himself shunted to Tulsa, where he grabbed less than an hour of sleep before making an early connection. Still, there he was Monday morning, pacing the floor of a Holiday Inn conference room like a frenetic high school basketball coach, good-naturedly haranguing the somewhat sleepy sales staff of Sola Communications, a company that sells a variety of phone and safety gear to industrial customers.

Landiak's ability to segue from grueling night flights to successful early morning meetings is due, in part, to a third trick. About 10 years ago he attended a seminar on time management at which the instructor challenged the group to think of ways to be more productive. "The question was, How do you get more done in a day? And we exhausted all the possibilities," Landiak remembers. Nobody came up with one of the answers the instructor was looking for: sleep less.

Most of us spend something like a third of our time on Earth asleep. How much more productive could we be if we shaved even a sliver off that fraction? Landiak decided to find out, methodically setting his alarm clock one minute earlier every night. The result: over the course of eight years, "I've systematically reduced my sleep requirement from 7.5 hours to 5 hours per night."

"If you were to walk in here with some gizmo and say, 'This can save you a half hour a day,' hey, I'm sold," Landiak admits. "I'll probably buy it." The primary criteria he uses for selecting electronic gear are simplicity, utility, portability, and ease of use. "I don't want to have to take a five-hour course to learn how to use my calculator," he says.

Landiak employs the standard arsenal of time-saving gadgets: a Fujitsu laptop and a Motorola cell phone and pager. He's also got an 800 number at which clients can leave messages for him no matter where he might be traveling. His modest basement office includes a Plantronics wireless phone headset and a tiny Ultrak wireless video monitor that allows him to keep one eye on his kids (three of whom he and his wife delivered by themselves at home). The headset leaves his hands free for writing while he talks and makes it possible for him to dart into the children's playroom next door should they require a disciplinarian or a referee.

In addition, Landiak's briefcase, car, and nightstand are equipped with portable Lanier and Panasonic microcassette recorders for dictating correspondence or spur-of-the-moment ideas. He recently acquired a 3Com PalmPilot organizer, which he hasn't gotten around to using much. All told, Landiak reckons that the technology has set him back about $20,000.

Landiak is the sort of obsessive who compiles a daily to-do list on his laptop, using Microsoft Word. The list includes not only all the tasks ahead of him but also an estimate of how much potential income is at stake for each one. The idea is to focus his attention by putting a price tag on every second of the workday. Don't feel like calling that client? Fine, but you should know exactly how much your laziness is costing your business. With those figures staring him in the face, a call to a client becomes not a five-minute chore in a busy day but an essential step toward getting paid. Landiak also uses those figures to prioritize his activities: the larger the amount at stake, the earlier in the day he tries to get the task done.

That philosophy has made its way back into the business. Like many other offices, Corporate Dynamics has motivational messages adorning its walls. But at Landiak's company, those signs read: "What's the most important thing to do right now?"

Peter Carbonara is a writer based in Boston.