Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
So many distractions. We are bombarded with information, videos, pictures and thoughts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It never stops coming. The conduit for this stream of distraction is, of course, your phone.
No doubt your phone is within sight or easy reach right now. (Well, odds are pretty good it’s in your hand if you’re reading this. You’re distracted, again. Patience, Grasshopper, some helpful advice is coming.)
Business and economic pundits have been saying for decades that time is best spent on dollar-producing activities. Well no kidding. It’s really just common sense.
If your goal is to make money (and that goal doesn’t make you a capitalist money-grubbing pig, it makes you a business person who needs a place to live and a way to clothe the children), then you need to focus on doing what it takes to generate revenue.
Ultimately you need profit, so you also need to focus on things like balancing expenses and operating costs with building market share and brand recognition. You know, that whole running a business thing. That’s you. You’re the entrepreneur, the business owner, the CEO.
There are plenty of income-producing activities to keep you busy. Who needs distractions?
For this column, we’re going to skip over the fact that you absolutely need some distractions in your life. Reality smacks us constantly, which means the vast majority of us could use a little help sometimes. You probably can’t eliminate the noise, but you certainly can reduce it and redirect the hours you can save to things that produce income — be that physical dollars in your bank account or deposits into your mental health reserves.
Do you know how much time you spend on your phone? Last week I spent 17 hours and 44 minutes on my iPhone. Facebook was, as is usual, the largest time-suck with just over four hours.
Three years ago, when I started to actively reduce my screen time and distractions, I was on my phone 60 hours a week.
Just being aware of your usage and what it is that’s distracting you is a huge step toward making changes. The iPhone’s Screen Time function is very useful and a powerful tool in reducing screen time. (I assume Android phones have similar functionality or an app that provides it.) You can see how much time you spend on each app, schedule downtime and set time limits. It can basically force you not to use the phone or certain apps.
I found it most useful simply for awareness. You can state that goal like, “I want to reduce my screen time,” which is a good thing to do. Or you can have a goal of reducing your screen time 20 percent per week or cutting your time on Facebook from 10 hours per week to five.
If you can measure your progress to a defined goal, you are far more likely to achieve it.
Be aware of your screen usage. The actual hours consumed might horrify you. Studies abound and vary widely, but average phone use for adults is on the order of three to five hours per day.
That’s a lot of time. Sure, some of it is mandatory, and it can be quite productive. Be honest. You and I both know that much of that time is wasted.
Meditation? How is spending time sitting with your eyes closed productive and income-producing? Have you lost your mind?
I’ve been singing the praises of meditation for a couple of years. It seems counterintuitive to suggest sitting and intentionally clearing your mind as a way to eliminate distraction. Isn’t that nothing but the definition of sitting around doing nothing?
Not really. Taking five minutes to clear your mind of distraction has a lasting effect. You can’t work 24 hours a day. Taking physical breaks is important, and so is taking mental breaks. There is no question that practicing daily meditation allows me to be much more focused and less distracted with the daily grind.
Employ the Pomodoro technique
Speaking of taking breaks, there are many time management techniques and strategies out there. One that I’ve found effective is the Pomodoro Technique.
The concept is simple. You use a timer to break down work into 25-minute intervals, with a five-minute break between intervals. After every fourth interval (two hours) you take a longer 30 minute break.
Probably sounds too structured and a little hokey. Try it. It’s very easy to implement. Breaking time down into small chunks allows you to get super-focused and the distractions become distant memories. It works.
There are countless variations, and volumes have been written about the technique, yet every time I mention it, people look at me like I’ve got two heads.
Use a watch
“What time is it?” you mumble to yourself, maybe out loud. You pull out your phone to check and oh, look, Billy posted in the Realtor Facebook group. He’s funny.
The next thing you know, you’re caught up on Billy’s latest missive, and you’ve dropped a couple of likes in the comments, watched a video of whales breaching off Maui, and 20 minutes of your life is gone.
You didn’t even look at the time, which was the reason you took out your phone.
I don’t think many people realize how often they check the time. Honestly, one of the easiest ways I’ve cut my screen time is simply by wearing a watch. Yes, that old-fashioned thing strapped on your wrist that tells time. When I look at my watch for the time, I don’t get trapped in the spinning vortex that sucks me into the phone.
Use a watch, and your screen time will drop.
Read a book
No, not read a book instead of being distracted, though becoming more educated on a topic is rarely a bad idea.
What I really mean is read a book on minimizing distractions or reducing screen time.
These books tend to have different tips, tricks and techniques for helping you cut your screen time. One that I found very useful was, How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. It’s a step-by-step guide to cutting through the madness. I used bits and pieces of it, finding some suggestions startlingly simple, yet very effective.
For example, just making it hard to get to an app by putting it on another screen or in a folder works very well.
Volumes have been written. Search Google or Amazon for a lifetime of reading possibilities.
Find an app
You want to minimize distractions?Get them out of your face. Simply turning off notifications can do wonders for your sanity and screen-time usage. This New York Times article has good tips for controlling notifications on different phone (and desktop) systems.
Time management control and wrangling apps abound for all platforms. News aggregators consolidate newsfeeds, which reduces all those breaking news alerts.
Search your app store for “time management.” Be careful! Paradoxically, you can get yanked into the app store for days. It can be so distracting.
Refocus, and prioritize
Finally, keep the end in mind. While I am certainly in no place to tell you how to best spend your time, I do think it’s fair to say we all waste a lot of time, effort and energy worrying about things we can’t change or control. It’s just human nature.
Travel groups right now are full of people obsessing over the coronavirus. Misinformation is spreading like wildfire. Buried in that stream of misinformation and speculation are some nuggets of usefulness.
These groups and discussions remind me of real estate groups. You know the type, where the same arguments, fears, concerns, bashing and distrust have gone on for years. Discount brokers, iBuyers, FSBO, listing portals, venture capital, “disruptors,” Realtor associations, news groups — you name it, people are gnashing their teeth over it.
Focus folks. I’ve said variations of this a thousand times, and suspect I’ll say it forever: If you take all that effort and energy spent obsessing on people, companies, groups and events and instead focused that time on your business and your life, you just might find yourself too busy selling real estate to care about all these distractions.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.