Becoming Externally Focused to Get Productive

Generally, I have found people like to please. Increase the importance of the relationship, and the desire to be helpful goes up. Anyone in a sales position, customer service, or client facing role wants to satisfy the needs of the client. A subordinate seeks to make the boss happy.

Each one of these examples is not a bad thing. It could even be looked at as a virtue, a form of high moral standards. However, when it lacks durational guardrails, it can become a time management challenge.

Larry is a Customer Solutions Manager. He provides services within the medical industry. The selling process is complex, he needs buy-in from a lot of people, and he has a lot of requirements that must be met before the sale can be considered complete. Larry gets a lot of external demands on his attention that challenges the use of his time. He tries to get control over the external impact that is a necessary part of his job.

In my book The Time-Optimized Life, I cover the impact that outside influences have on our time. We can be challenged when it comes to our external focus through three areas: talking too much, interruptions, and saying “no”.

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Talking Too Much

Talking too much in a time-optimized sense is not about small talk. Meaning we engage in lighthearted conversations that can bring moments of non-essential clarity and joy. Talking too much usually comes in the form of a lack of specific goals, a project is complex and hard, others seek affirmation from you, perfection is sought, fear of moving forward or of failure.

Larry gets caught in this often. He can get caught in the middle of internal team members needing information from a client or vice versa. His desire to assist often leads him to have to answer the same questions multiple times. Instead of reactively answering, he now tries to set expectations by starting out by asking, “What do you specifically need to have what you need to move forward?


Interruptions are external disruptions that come at you in three major ways: planning, surrounding, and communication. Each one of these makes you stop because someone else is demanding your time.

Larry knows interruptions are going to come with the territory. Nonetheless, he lacked detailed planning in his schedule, so he had a habit of just stopping to address what was coming his way. Instead, he now can weigh the importance of what or who is trying to stop him from the current task or activity. In almost all the cases, waiting just a little while until he has an opening has not hurt relationships and improved his performance.

Saying “No”

From the book The Time-Optimized Life, “only 25 percent of respondents to the Time Management Analysis (TMA) tool expressed they are fully confident in their ability to say no. That means, for the majority of us, we adjust our schedules and work to accommodate a need of someone else before we really have had a chance to consider the impact to us.”

Larry now works on a “no…but” approach. Through upfront planning, he is ready to decline with alternatives when someone comes asking for him and his time. Over time, it will train others to think twice before assuming Larry is going to say “yes.”

Heighten Your External Focus

As talked about in my book, talking too much as a time-optimized approach is seeking to preemptively engage with those who might impact your ability to do your work. Interruptions can be overcome by holding fast to what you need to get done. Saying no stinks. However, unless it is a life-threatening situation, in many instances, the person asking for your assistance is not relying on you only.

Larry knows that becoming externally focused is a continuous process, the same will apply to you.

Learn more about Time-Optimized External Focus from my book The Time-Optimized Life. Get a flavor by downloading chapter 1 and be registered to win a copy.

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David Buck is the author of the book “The Time-Optimized Life, owner of Kairos Management Solutions, LLC, and founder of the Infinity Lifestyle Design program. As a certified professional retirement coach (CPRC), David works with financial services providers helping their clients create a post-career lifestyle strategy. To learn more, contact him at or visit Infinity Lifestyle Design.