Take Care of Yourself

Feel like you’re on 24/7/365? Gain better control over your time by delegating tasks and empowering associates to solve problems.

September 18, 2012

From the office fires that seem to ignite whenever you turn your back to the relentless flurry of “Got a minute?” requests, weary brokers are finding that their schedules often take control of them rather than the other way around. The result? Consistently late hours at the office, discord at home, and unremitting stress and other health problems.

“It’s such a big job,” says Keith Robinson, executive vice president at Better Homes and Gardens Mason-McDuffie Real Estate in Pleasanton, Calif. Robinson was a manager for 10 years; now he oversees managers in 28 offices. “Managers are never done. There’s always one more recruiting call you could make or one more handwritten note you could leave for a salesperson. They need to become wise stewards of their time.”

The managers who have the most difficulty handling their time are those who try to take everything on themselves, contends Mike James, senior vice president of Coldwell Banker Bay Area in San Ramon, Calif. He oversees managers in 49 offices. “I have managers who have 50 salespeople in their office, and they don’t feel they have time to go to lunch. Then I have others with 200 salespeople who take a day off once a month to go golfing. It’s all how they manage themselves.”

Robinson, James, and other management pros offer 10 smart ways to better manage yourself.

1. Create office systems.

Wherever possible, create systems that help your team work smarter and more efficiently. “Things like escrow demands have to go out on time, but it also gets down to administrative staff putting documents in files in the proper order so managers can review the files quickly and easily,” James says. “Even single-office brokers, who may review fewer transactions and oversee fewer salespeople, will be more efficient if they get their systems in place.”

2. Use time blocking.

Make appointments for things you need to get done. “Whether they’re personal or business, you have to put them in your calendar as though you’re scheduling a meeting with someone,” says Brad Whitehouse, broker-owner of ­­RE/MAX Professionals in Denver. Set aside time for family, too, and schedule two two-hour blocks each week during which you devise ways to become more efficient, he says.

Helen Pastorino, CEO and founder of the 40-salesperson Pertria brokerage in Los Gatos, Calif., adds color coding as she blocks time in her Microsoft Outlook calendar. The calendar syncs with her home computer, her iPad, and her iPhone. That way, she has a quick visual of how much time she’s spending on any particular activity. Green denotes revenue-­generating events (25 percent of her time). White is for strategic thinking (20 percent); blue for personal things such as shopping,    doctor appointments, and holidays (15 percent); and yellow for meetings on topics unrelated to revenue­—logistics, operations, and administration (20 percent). Pastorino leaves the remaining 20 percent open for surprises. “Color-coding allows me to see at a glance whether my life is in alignment with my strategic vision,” she explains.

3. Create resources that anticipate questions.

Another big time saver? Binders and checklists that address sales associates’ frequently asked questions. “When salespeople have a question about something like an inspection, it helps when they know the company has resources to get their answer,” explains Suzanne Dustin, broker-manager at Gloria Nilson, Realtors®, Real Living in Princeton Junction, N.J. Dustin’s company has an intranet with information sales associates can peruse, but compiling a FAQ binder achieves the same goal.

4. Put texting to work.

In her first six months on the job, Dustin trained her associates whenever possible to send their questions by text or e-mail before calling or showing up at her door. “Sometimes I can answer a question quickly that way,” she says. She’s also trained salespeople to listen carefully to her outgoing voicemail greeting. “I’ll change my voice mail to say, ‘On Friday, June 8, I’ll be on a conference call from noon to 2 p.m. and will return your call as soon as I can,’” she explains. “Agents have said they really appreciate that message because I’ve acknowledged them—and in the meantime, they sometimes figure the answers out on their own. That’s saved my life.”

5. When sales associates want you to jump, resist responding “How high?”

Sales associates’ problems don’t have to become your emergencies. “Real estate moves at the speed of paper rather than the speed of light,” contends Robinson. “But too many managers are trying to solve problems at the speed of light.” Robinson says there’s rarely a problem that explodes at 8:30 p.m. that can’t be resolved in the morning.

6. Allow sales associates to solve their own problems.

Part of the DNA of a good leader is wanting to help your team, says Robinson. That triggers trouble when you don’t train your salespeople to trust their intuition. “I have a broker-manager who loves putting on the superwoman cape and being the one with the answers,” he says. “But she’s answering the phone late at night and on weekends,” Now, when salespeople do the “got-a-minute?” routine, Robinson is training the manager to say, “I need to take this call. Can you come back in 15 minutes? And when you do, bring two ideas on what to do. But don’t worry, I’ll help you out.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, salespeople come back with an idea that’s not perfect, but it’ll solve the problem and not get anybody in legal or ethical trouble,” Robinson says. “The manager’s starting to discover that salespeople will do things right if she gives them the freedom to figure it out. And she’s starting to recapture her life.”

7. Enlist a deputy to aid in your absence.

No matter the size of your company, you can recruit a trusted associate to help operations run smoothly while you’re recharging your batteries. James says each of his offices has one, and it’s typically a senior mid-level producer who consequently isn’t too busy to help when needed. “Seek out people who like to be involved and are respected and trusted by others,” James advises. “You don’t have to compensate them a lot.” His suggestions? Give referrals or marketing credit, say $500 a month, to compensate for the time they’re not prospecting.

8. Schedule time to think—literally.

Did you catch that Pastorino sets aside 20 percent of her time for strategic thinking, and Whitehouse blocks time to ponder how to add efficiencies?

Robinson encourages his managers to do the same. “We have them schedule what we call white space, where it’s just them, a pen, a notepad, and a quiet room for an hour,” he explains. “We coach them to think, almost meditatively, about their business and professional lives. When they can slow down, they have a lot of insight. It becomes one of their most pleasurable hours of the week, and it’s where most of their great ideas come from.”

9. Commit to your personal time.

Don’t become so busy taking care of everybody else’s business that you don’t take care of yourself. “Sometimes, holding managers accountable means forcing them to take time off,” Robinson says. “I may say, ‘I’m going to call your cell phone at 5:01, and you’d better be on your way home.’ Or, ‘Book a vacation in the next 10 days, and leave your cell phone in my desk.’ ”

10. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

If you tend to be a micromanager or highly critical of your sales people, strive to be more Zen about your job, James says. Learn to keep things in perspective, and realize you’re working with humans. “Problems usually aren’t the end of the world,” James says. “Try not to get emotionally involved in each crisis. If another broker is being totally unreasonable, do what you can about it, but don’t let it ruin your day because you’ve got 10 problems behind that one. Learn to make judgment calls and move forward.”

freelance writer

G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine.