Game-changing improvements without the hustle hype? Christy Murdock offers common sense tips for recharging your productivity and doing more without the stress.

This April, one of Inman’s most popular recurring theme months returns: Back to Basics. All month, real estate professionals from across the country share what’s working for them, how they’ve evolved their systems and tools, and where they’re investing personally and professionally to drive growth in 2022. It’s always smart to go Back to Basics with Inman.

Do you ever have trouble answering the question “How was your day?” Sometimes we fill our hours with busy-ness, only to end up with very little sense of personal or professional accomplishment. 

Although you may think of productivity as a means for getting more done in less time, it’s really about optimizing and enhancing your time, attention and resources so that you feel more productive and accomplished. That sense of accomplishment is essential for motivating yourself to get up and get things done the next day as well.

Mindset for a productive workday

How do you know whether you’ve had a good day or not? For some, the answer may be couched in dollars and cents or the number of new clients signed. However, if that’s the only way you measure your day, you’re bound to have more bad days than good.

Judging your productivity and the quality of your workday by external factors is a recipe for disappointment. That’s because during slow or challenging times, external validation can be hard to come by. Instead, try creating internal measures of success and accomplishment. Any of the following goals can help you end your day with satisfaction, even during tough times.

  1. Did you try something new today?
  2. Did you meet someone new today?
  3. Did you learn something new today?
  4. Did you communicate with your sphere of influence, social media followers or email list?
  5. Were you kind to someone today?
  6. Did you help someone today?
  7. Did you teach something today?
  8. Did you take care of yourself today?
  9. Did you spend focused, quality time with your family or a friend today?
  10. Did you take steps toward achieving a short-term or long-term goal today?

Of course, you won’t hit all 10 every day, but if you hit two or three, you can probably consider the day well-spent.

Productivity tips for multitaskers

If you pride yourself on your multitasking abilities, put down that coffee, stop looking at Twitter, and have a seat. I’ve got some bad news for you. According to a host of studies, multitasking isn’t just hard to do — it actually makes us more prone to errors.

In most cases, when you think you’re multitasking, you’re actually just juggling a number of tasks and doing each one too quickly and too shallowly. You’re not paying enough attention, and you’re not taking enough time to focus and complete the task at hand properly.

You may feel that you have no choice but to multitask, especially given the demands of the real estate industry with multiple clients, multiple listings and multiple transactions at any given moment. However, there are ways to improve your focus and become more of a monotasker.

Here’s how:

Use timers and alarms as prompts

Rather than trying to do everything at once, make a to-do list, set incremental timers, and don’t switch tasks until the timer goes off.

For example, if you sit down to catch up on paperwork, set a timer for answering emails, another for updating MLS information, another for scheduling social media, and so on. This will help you to focus on one task at a time rather than switching back and forth as you think of new ones.

Create phone boundaries

Most agents and brokers say that they must be on call 24-7, which means that they’re doing everything with one eye on the phone. Give yourself, and your phone, some boundaries. Perhaps you won’t have the phone in front of you when you’re having dinner with the kids. Maybe you’ll keep it in the trunk when you’re driving so that you’re not tempted to text and drive. Make phone-free space in your workday to improve your focus.

Create space in your life for undivided attention

Similarly, you need times when you’re truly present in the space you occupy. Schedule a date night with your significant other or uninterrupted playtime with your kids. Commit to a yoga class or meditation time and make that time sacrosanct.

Set aside an hour in your day to write notes to people or make your lead-gen calls on an old-fashioned landline with zero notifications.

Don’t buy into the hustle hype

I’ve talked before about hustle culture and how it undermines health and productivity. Although the past two years have provided a global time-out, the toxicity of hustle culture still permeates many agent mindsets. Instead, focus on creating a business that emphasizes service and sustainability, both for you and your clients.

Outsource low return on investment (ROI) activities

Should you be creating your own flyers or writing your own property descriptions? Do you need to be the one updating QuickBooks and preparing your own taxes? Look at your to-do list, and offload those items that someone else can do more quickly or more expertly, then fill that time with the things only you can do: client communication and follow-up, listing presentations, negotiations and networking.

Productivity tips for procrastinators

For some, the problem is not doing too much. It’s getting started in the first place. If procrastination is your drug of choice, you may need a little push in the right direction. 

Procrastination is about more than low-level thrill-seeking or laziness. Chronic procrastination can lead to a host of health problems and stress-induced illnesses. What’s more, despite your belief that you “work better under pressure,” it can lead to more errors and add unnecessary unhappiness to your professional life.

If you’ve always struggled with procrastination, there are ways to bring it under control. Here are some strategies to try as you work to improve your everyday productivity.

Find an accountability partner

Whether it’s a colleague, friend or life coach, finding someone who’ll hold your feet to the fire can be a big motivator when you feel like tuning out. If you have an engaged and active social media following, you may find that goal-setting in a post prompts follow-up and helps to keep you on track.

Make to-do lists work for you

You may be putting off things because you can’t get a handle on what needs to be done. Sitting down and creating a to-do list or calendar tasks can help you get all of those thoughts in your head out onto paper or a screen.

As you check off items, you’ll be motivated to keep moving forward with the next and the next. (Just make sure that you don’t make list-making another form of procrastination.)

Prioritize your tasks

Once you’ve got a list put together, prioritize the individual items so that the most important ones are accomplished first. Be sure to prioritize according to time sensitivity as well as the impact the item will have on your business’s bottom line. 

Make sure your expectations are realistic

Sometimes we procrastinate because we have overwhelmed ourselves with too many tasks or with tasks we are not equipped to handle. Make sure that the things you set out to do are realistic for you, and ask for help if needed. In addition, make sure you have given yourself enough time to check off every item on your to-do list.

Break up large tasks into smaller steps

Scientists say that one of the reasons we procrastinate is because we don’t identify with our future self — you know, the one who has to pick up the pieces when you slack off.

Bring that future self closer by breaking up large tasks into smaller, more immediate steps so that your goals and deadlines are only a day or two out. That way you can create incremental progress that keeps you on track.

Workspace tips

Do you like to sit down and work at a desk, or do you balance your laptop on your knee at the kids’ soccer game? Is your office filled with precarious towers of files, or is it pristine and minimalist? Do you climb into bed with a lap desk or hideaway in a backyard accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for work from home?

Your workspace can make a big difference in the way you work and what you get done each day.

Here are some ways to ensure your space works as hard as you do:

  • Make sure that there is a way for the folks in your household to know when you’re doing focused work. If you’re working from everywhere all the time, they may not be able to differentiate online shopping from in-depth concentration. That can mean more interruptions and more noise.
  • Dedicate your workspace, even if you don’t have room for a whole office. Add shelves and a work surface in a closet, or create a small workspace in a little-used niche or bump-out. Don’t let the kids do their homework there. Don’t let your spouse sit there to pay bills. Make it your space, and keep it just for you.
  • Set aside 5-10 minutes at the end of each work session to straighten up the space. The more you can keep it organized and attractive, the more likely you are to return there and use it tomorrow.

Work-style tips

The way you work — time of day, equipment and more — can have a big impact on your productivity. Look for ways to bring your work style into alignment with the demands of your business to ensure a more efficient and productive use of your time.

  • Optimize your devices and the platforms you use, including your phone, computer, contact relationship management (CRM) and transaction management software. Take advantage of online learning classes and webinars so that you operate with maximum efficiency and get the most out of their built-in functionality.
  • Know your optimal times of day for in-depth work, shallow work, rest and play.
    • When is your concentration at its best?
    • When are you better able to check off a number of fast and easy items from your list?
    • When do you need downtime or a nap?
    • When do you like to blow off steam and move around?

Although you can’t make everyone conform to your preferred times, you can aim for a schedule that prioritizes your personal preferences. 

Self-care tips

Although people used to pooh-pooh self-care as a product of vapidity, vanity or privilege, more and more professionals are realizing that the way they take care of themselves has a lot to do with the way they take care of their businesses. (Perhaps the pandemic helped convince a few naysayers.) 

Here are some self-care tips for busy real estate agents:

  • The way you eat can have a huge impact on how you feel. Although you may not be allergic to any foods, you may find that you feel better when you leave certain foods out of your diet. Gluten and dairy products are common sources of sensitivity, so consider an elimination diet to see if they affect your well-being.
  • Find a way to move, even if you’re not much of an athlete. You don’t have to jog your neighborhood or hit the gym. Cleaning, gardening or an active hobby like ballroom dancing can get you moving without feeling like you’re back in physical education class.
  • Make time in your day for mindfulness, whether it’s a guided meditation or simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. It’s one of the best ways to make you less reactive and less stressed, and you can do it virtually anywhere.
  • Take an honest assessment of your mental and emotional health and of any factors that might be affecting it. Do you need to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol or prescription medications? Are you experiencing panic attacks or other indicators of stress or PTSD? Do you need to deal with conflict in your personal relationships? Find someone who can help you talk through your struggles and develop a plan to get help if needed.

You don’t have to reach “inbox zero” or renovate your home office to become more productive and efficient. It all starts with learning about yourself and making small changes to enhance your workday so that it’s more in line with what works best for you.

Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on TwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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