Staying “Up” (and Productive) In Down Times


It would be wonderful if life sailed along, with no problems, traumas or turmoil. Yet the reality is, to coin a phrase, “stuff happens”. A bad market is enough to upset anyone. Slumps will occur in any market. And no one is immune (alas!) to personal problems ranging from relationships to family health. Even the best, most-skilled, most emotionally-stable recruiter is prone to such down times, especially in today’s market. And, in sales, attitude is much.

What, then, is to be done? Given that a bad attitude will affect production, and that poor production solves no problems, what steps should be taken to maintain production even during traumatic circumstances?

Following are steps which have been proven to be effective.

1) Focus on the Future

If part or all of your funk is due to a slow market, be of good cheer. Historically, our industry has always followed a pattern of long boom followed by short severe bust. This is our tenth post-War II Recession. After every recession, our industry has come back stronger, with higher average fees, higher per-desk production, greater market share. And so it will be again.

The real growth, the real foundation for major money is to be had in the aftermath of a Recession. The market comes back, and the most under-staffed industry is… ours.

Your timing is excellent! Hang in there, and the market will return. Focus on the future, which is exceedingly bright. An article on this subject entitled, “Bound for Glory! 2003 and Beyond“, may be found at this writer’s website.

2) Over-Plan

A depressed attitude leads to fewer calls. Fewer calls leads to less production and a more depressed attitude. It is a circle that has sunk
many a consultant.

The only answer is to keep “hitting the numbers” and that begins with a thoroughly filled-out Daily Planner.

Under the stress of depression, the tendency is to dither-get an extra cup of coffee, a “short” conversation, a look at the news, a pointless call to take up time. Before you know it, half the day is gone. A Daily Planner completed the night before is the answer.

The two best dissertations on proper planning are to be found in Larry Nobles’ excellent audio program, “Successful Search and Placement” ( and in the author’s own book “Breakthrough!“. We do have planners for sale, but the material in the two afore-mentioned products will enable you to construct your own.

3) Positive Results from Negative Expectations

It is frequently thought that a good attitude is imperative to making a good call. In new people, this is certainly true, due to their lack of skill. After all, lacking sales skills, what else do they have? However, this is not the case with an experienced well-trained recruiter.

A well-trained recruiter has developed reflexes and habit patterns over many years. Moreover, his pride will force him to do a good job when he is on the phone. The problem with an experienced consultant is not doing well on the phone; it is getting on the phone to begin with!

An invaluable aid in doing so is the concept of Positive Results from Negative Expectations.

Basically this involves agreeing with your expectations of poor results. Go ahead and tell yourself that it will be a bad un-thrilling non-productive day. But…just so you don’t feel guilty, have all the negative attitude you wish…and then push the stupid buttons on the phone.

In fact this is the very note ( “Push the stupid buttons on the phone” ) this author has on his phone when things get depressing, as when dealing with family health problems. It is the note you should have on your phone under trying circumstances.

Only a well filled-out Daily Planner will allow you to do this, to mindlessly grind through your day. But the reality is that by call ten or twelve, you’ll be not only getting results, but being darn good on the phone. And that will improve your day enormously. You will actually get Positive Results…from Negative Expectations!

4) A Step at a Time

The concept of breaking things down to individual bite-sized portions is a well-established methodology in many fields. Maybe you can’t run a mile…but you can run around the block. How about doing it again? Can you do that? Sure you can. Pretty soon you’ve knocked off a mile.

Putting in a two-hour workout, 5 days a week, for 15 years in martial arts was a bit overwhelming at times for this author. So he just settled for driving to his karate school and sitting in the parking lot. That was easy…and it always led to a good training session, even when he didn’t feel he could. Once there, it is another easy step to just walk in the door.

Same with you. Are you depressed? Ok. But just struggle up, take a shower, have breakfast. Is business bad? Fine. But just drive to work. Do you expect poor results? No problem. That’s the way it goes. But just push the stupid buttons on the phone. Will it be a bad day tomorrow? Probably. But just thoroughly fill out your Daily Planner tonight.

By breaking things down to small steps and accomplishing those one by one, you’ll find discipline almost by accident.

5) The Rules of Success

It is frequently thought that success is simply a matter of hard work and, perhaps, education. Nope. There are plenty who utilize both and do not succeed.

The reality is that there really are specific rules and a specific roadmap to success, and the formula will work for you. There is no better time to study and learn that formula than when you are in an emotional funk. For these not familiar with these logical concepts, we are not speaking of what Zig Ziglar has referred to as “Positive Thinking Snake-Oil Salesmen”. Rather, those who have studied the hard principles of success will enhance your life on a permanent basis.

There are three sources for this material.

A) The first step is to purchase the fountainhead of success literature, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. It is a great gift for a kid too. Read and underline. Many have read this book twenty times. You should too.

B) The most extensive body of this knowledge may be found at Success Motivation Institute in Waco, Texas. They have a wide variety of products on this critical topic.

C) The most concise summary of this subject may be found in the 3-tape audio series, “Success Behavior” by Larry Nobles. Visit for complete information.

6) Signs and Portents

The reality is that emotional downturns can become habits. The market is slow; worried, you grasp at a new search and it is the wrong search. Because it is the wrong search, nothing results from it. Thus you become even more disturbed, leading to more errors.

This is a circle that must be broken, and one way to do it is the use of signs and sayings around your work area. It is one thing to improve your attitude and motivation, but if a habit of depression exists, On-Going Reminders will be needed to truly correct the problem.

Hard-hitting posters, not fuzzy “love and co-operation” stuff, but accomplishment-oriented in thought, are what is needed. And if you have a favorite quote you can take it to an inexpensive printer, have it type-set and printed, and have it framed for very little.

A good source of motivational posters is Vantage Communications in Nyack, NY ( . A person walking into my office will see many of them. For example, over the computer, a framed poster bearing the words “The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.”

And over the copier, typeset, matted, and framed are the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; what he has said or done otherwise shall give him no peace.” Words to live by….

7) Emotional Motivators

Posters and quotes apply mainly to the intellect. However, emotions, if blended into your day in the right proportions, will also be of benefit.

Your best bet is not pictures of spouse, kids, or even your dog, but rather someone who is no longer with you. The purpose of these emotional jolts is just that-to give you an unaccustomed kick in the pants, and remind you to pick up the phone in the face of emotional turmoil.

Try a note taped to your phone: The Sigmund Freud quote, “That man who is sure of his mother’s love is Born to Conquer”, has been of help to many. There is a very high producer on the East coast who has ” what would Dad want me to do?” on his office phone. His father passed away ten years ago.

On the other hand, all motivation is not positive. I know a recruiter who keeps a picture of his ex-wife in a drawer. When he slows down, he pulls it out, snarls, and starts hitting the buttons on his phone-with great force!

8) Quantify Activity

What is the #1 enemy of production when under emotional stress? Less activity. What is the trap leading to less activity? The fact that it sneaks up on you. Fewer and fewer calls with more and more “Recovery Time” between calls leads to poor results…leading to more emotional stress. Now there’s a Downward spiral for you!

So what’s the answer? Measurement! As President Bush said regarding annual testing of children in school, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it!”

The same applies to working a desk in an economic downturn. Keeping track of and analyzing your “numbers” is critical to success in our industry, and this subject has been addressed throughly in the book “Breakthrough!”. However, in a slow market with results declining on a per-call basis, the tendency is simply to make fewer and fewer calls. This cannot be allowed to happen. Without a daily quantitative summary of the number of calls made, there in simply no objective way of maintaining call volume.

So what sort of summary is needed? First of all, keeping track of the old SOD’s ( spins of the dial) i.e. the number of times you push the buttons on the phone, is pointless. What counts is not button-pushing, but solid business conversations.

How many Business Conversations? Minimally, 30 per-day. Short 1-minute calls or messages left do not count. And there should be at least 5 presentations of either your services or a specific candidate to new prospective clients.

It may be necessary to plan and make 60 calls per-day to get in your 30 substantive conversations. But on an accumulative basis-when combined with improving skills-this number will yield the results needed to excel.

Just keep track of your substantive business conversations, by means of “hash marks”. But don’t quit doing this. Otherwise, your activity will inperceptively spiral down. After all, “If you can’t measure it…you can’t improve it!”

9) Exercise

Down times, regardless of the reason, mean frustration and irritation. Perhaps the market has you down. Or perhaps it is a relationship, family illness, loss of a pet. Anything that generates anger is counter-productive to doing well in business.

The best way is get rid of that anger is to find a socially-acceptable outlet for it. That means exercise. In men, something that is destructive in intent is best. Weight lifting is great. Destroy that blankety-blank weight by powering it up! If you have the training, blasting away at a heavy bag or a solid heavy sparring session ( with an opponent of equal or better skill) is the best outlet. Women tend to do better with aerobic exercises.

It is well-known that better-conditioned people handle stress more effectively, our well conditioned President being a good example. But even he pumps iron as well as runs.

It’s hard to be angry when you are physically tired and you’ve just killed something…even if it is only a barbell.

10) Forward Movement

If your slow work pace comes from non-business circumstances, you’ll find the above points to be highly beneficial. But if your problems are due to market conditions, there is one additional critical element to improve your attitude.

Get better! Improve your selling skills! The same thing over and over, the same ideas, the same techniques, will lead to no improvement. It’s boring. It generates no hope. And sitting around just waiting for the market to turn isn’t exactly conducive to better results.

How long since you’ve read a book on industry-specific selling? On classical selling? On Time Management? Do you listen to audio cassettes on the way to work? (Suggestion: ) Does your firm have any videos? Have you watched them recently?

Improvement, learning, forward movement gives you a great sense of destiny, of zeal, drive, confidence. You are taking control by using your mind. A fine book on this subject is “Self-Renewal” by John W. Gardner, former HEW Secretary and founder of “Common Cause”.

An article on skill improvement for our industry may be found at this author’s website.

If you are in a funk, get better. Get renewed!


So where are we, in terms of keeping your attitude “up” in down times?

First of all, realize that a sense of depression is normal under some cicumstances. A long-term poor market or personal problems makes it unreasonable to be cheerful at all times. But this does not have to result in a slow work pace. While you may not sparkle with joy throughout the day, you can still remain productive.

If your perception is due to a bad market, you should take heart and even congratulate yourself. Our industry has always followed a pattern of long boom followed by short severe bust-followed by another long boom. We are at the end of the bust. You have outlasted your competition. Stay right where you are. Good Times Ahead !

You don’t, however, have to just sit around and wait. Even in an emotionally disturbed state ( for whatever reason), you can still get decent production. You will just have to be a little “mechanical” about it. But that’s ok.

Plan. Plan. Plan at the end of the day. Even if you don’t want to, take one step at a time. Just do your planning before you go home. Don’t worry about production. Just plan.

The next morning, hit the phones early and don’t worry about your attitude. Just push the stupid buttons on the phone. Don’t even worry about results. Push the stupid buttons on the phone!

Along the way, gain some knowledge. Learn. This is an ideal time to do it. When the market comes back, you won’t have time to improve. You’ll be too busy with business. So use this time. Get ” Think & Grow Rich” and “Self-Renewal“, “Breakthrough!”, and some good classical selling books. Don’t just read. Underline. Re-read. Implement. Listen to Nobles’ audios in your car. Watch videos. Role-play. Distract yourself by learning, and you will improve attitude, skills, and income.

Nothing lasts forever. That includes both business and personal problems. This too shall pass-faster than you think. And when it does, you’ll be well-positioned to take full advantage of the romping, stomping, roaring bull market that most certainly lies ahead!


Written by Steven Finkel