There’s always something to howl about

In which I find more focus and dump the hocus pocus

Disclaimer: If your business is humming along, I doubt you will get much useful information from this post, however, please do feel free to share any productivity hints in the comment section. Thanks!

I made a public commitment, and so I thought I share where I was and where I’m going. To Jeff Brown: I have yet to do one single 6 hour prospecting day. Haven’t done one. I’ve gotten to the point where I can do 3 hours most days of the work week, but even that isn’t consistent, so that’s still a goal, and I’m still committed to hitting that goal, and I will, but it’s a tough one for me. Which brings me to my first point: Real estate is not an instant gratification business. And the church says, “Duh!” Right. Old-timers are laughing their arses off right about now and I am too. I really like instant gratification, but unfortunately, I can’t use it to pay bills, so if you are seduced by that, as I often am, be careful. Don’t lie to yourself about what is “working”.

Working requires thoughtful planning and focus. If you want to brainstorm an idea, give me a call, drop me an email. I am very very good at brainstorming. Making a goal, making a commitment to that goal, doing the basics, this focus comes less naturally to me, but that’s where the money is so that’s what I’m learning to do.Β  Know thyself: Hands down, best thing I’ve done to help me focus was to secure a private office. I had been “working” out of a desk in our family room. Oh, I know, my broker supplies a desk at the office, I could use that but my stuff is at home. Unfortunately, so are our dogs, our cats, our kids, the laundry, food, you get the point. Here’s my solution: My broker owns our office building and this being the Rust Belt circa 2010, we have a few empty suites in the building which he has been trying to lease. I’ve taken over an office on a month-by-month basis. If he finds a tenant, I get kicked out. I moved into this new office in September, and it took me about a month to weed out paper, organize for efficiency, and learn how to maximize time at the office- more about that in a bit.

Working from an office has done a few things for me. The drive to a separate building allows or forces me to make a mental shift in attitude: I’m driving to work, I’m there to work. I don’t have all day to spend there so I must stay focused on accomplishing what I’m there to do, and I am very proud to say that I’ve learned to do that. Took awhile, wasn’t easy, but I can do it. And an inexpensive office is probably easy for you to find as well. My Plan B for securing an office was to offer a nominal fee on a month-by-month basis to any number of vacant offices in town. Someone will prefer something to nothing and giving the owner the ability to continue to search for a more permanent tenant sweetens the deal.

The fact that there is an entire industry devoted to organizing calendars and To-Do lists shows how difficult it is for most people to get things done. My husband Jamie is an engineer and project manager, his boss is an off the charts D personality, they share a secretary who is amazingly organized. They all use spiral bound notebooks- you know, the kind you can buy for .10 cents during the back-to-school sales? They each use cheap spiral notebooks for their To-Do lists. As I mentioned before I’m an idea-generator which means I’m a note-maker. I write stuff down, doodle, etc, all day. Writing all this on a spiral notebook To-Do list makes for one big mess at the end of the day. If I write these bits and pieces on scraps of paper or sticky notes, they end up all over the place, which sometimes means lost. Now, I’ve taken an idea from Rands in Repose and use both a To-Do list and what he refers to as a Parking Lot. I use a steno pad for the To-Do list. Its smaller size is convenient and prevents me from writing notes all over it, keeping it clean and easy to read. The Parking Lot is a legal pad that I keep just to the right of my computer– I’m right-handed– with a pen on top. That’s the place I can make notes, doodle while on hold, write down phone numbers and names, dates, etc. Each page is dated so it’s easy to track down notes later, and at the end of the day anything useful or important gets transferred elsewhere- my To-Do list, a calendar, my files. I have yet find a calendar that is useful to me. Suggestions?

I’ve just this past week created a spreadsheet for tracking numbers. No more guess work for me, but also, there’s no way to lie to myself about what is really happening. Yes, I’ve lied to myself. I’ve got a whole bundle of bad habits to undo. Numbers can’t be improved if you don’t know them, but the added bonus of tracking numbers is that they are just numbers. I’ve removed the emotion- it’s just numbers. This is important- it’s crucial for me. So I’m tracking number of contacts and the sources, as well as work in and work out. What do you track that’s improved your productivity?

For the past year and a half I’ve been referring business out, so in one sense, I’m starting over. I’m starting from a stronger place, but it’s a very new beginning. On the other hand, I don’t think I’m any different from any one else in the business. I’ve been listening to Floyd Wickman, and he said something that really struck a chord with me: “Every day in this business, we wake up unemployed.” Once that sunk into the gray matter, it put things into perspective. I wake up every morning thinking to myself: I’ve got to find a job today. And to be honest with you, instead of a frightening thought, it’s kinda where I get my kicks. How many other jobs hold so much opportunity?

I have a favorite quote from Ohio president William Howard Taft,

β€œNext to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.”

Combine that with the thrill of the job hunt? I got it bad. No other career is going to do it for me. I’m going to make this work.


27 Comments so far

  1. janeAnne "Greenolina" in Asheville, NC November 7th, 2010 6:40 am

    Hi Teri~

    As usual, generous, savvy and worthy words. Point made…and taken! THX.

  2. John November 7th, 2010 6:53 am

    Teri, great article – I think we all feel this way at some time or another. I have tried to be paper free but still cling to my paper to do list and doodling as well. One thing I learned; I think from Mike Ferry while back that when I do it, it always surprises me. Write down all the money making activities I do during the day versus the non-money making activities and how long spent doing them. Guess where most people spend their time….

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Hunter, My REALTY. My REALTY said: In which I find more focus and dump the hocus pocus: Disclaimer: If your business is humming along, I doubt you … […]

  4. Greg Swann November 7th, 2010 7:41 am

    That was great. An excellent complement to Jeff’s post.

  5. Teri Lussier November 7th, 2010 9:17 am

    Hi John-

    I can see how that would be an eye-opening experience. Dieters are encouraged to do the same thing. It’s the lies we tell ourselves that trip up us, well, perhaps I can only speak for myself on that, but complete honesty is much more productive. <-- Ha! Captain Obvious. πŸ˜€

  6. Jeff Brown November 7th, 2010 9:53 am

    The office thing works. I’ve often found myself shifting mental gears on the way to the office. It’s almost involuntary. Prospecting three hours often? Would love to hear what you think are the results so far. That’s some serious time spent plowin’.

    I sense a move into a more serious gear. Increased prospecting coupled with a separate place in which to work. You’re inspiring folks by example, Teri.

  7. Abraham Walker November 7th, 2010 10:11 am

    Great Post!

    I have a suggestion about the To Do List. Instead of calling it a To Do List or even preparing a To DO List just schedule every 15 minutes of your day. This way, you won’t feel bad when you don’t get around to it because it is on the schedule for tomorrow. This will also help with keeping you on track for the day. I am suppose to call expired listing every day between the hours of 8 – 10. If I make it to 11 with no phone calls I have to make up that time or just complete this event tomorrow. I stole this idea from “Time out : time management strategies for the real estate professional” by John M. Ravage. I checked it out from the local library. Hope this helps.

  8. Mike Mullin November 7th, 2010 10:15 am

    Teri, I constantly end up with 50% of my “must do today” list rolling over to the next day. Obvious answer is I’m not prioritizing properly – I get it. Last week I noticed that I was accidentally “sprinting” and like the results – it was 2:30 in the afternoon and I was hankering to get home to get a workout in before dinner. What kept me in my seat at the office was identifying 3 prospect leads that I really wanted to deal with before leaving for the day. Identifying those 3 leads was kind of like a “to do list” within a “to do list,” and I’ve labeled it “sprinting.” During this time I don’t check emails, answer phone calls, etc.

    For tracking ideas (similar to your “parking lot” spiral notebook) I created a folder on my computer desktop labeled “blogging topics.” I keep Notepad running and minimized and then anytime I have a random thought I just open the Notepad and jot down the ideas. Not quite, but almost, as fast as leaning to the right and using the spiral notebook.

    The best thing I ever tracked was my gross commission per transaction. I had convinced myself that watching commissions conflicted with doing what was best for the client – until I realized that I couldn’t help the client if I ran out of money. πŸ™‚ Within 6 months of tracking, I had increased gross commissions by 40%.

    Thanks for sharing Teri.

  9. Teri Lussier November 7th, 2010 10:27 am


    Three hours is not consistent, but yes, I am seeing results. 2010 left me digging coins out of my sofa cushions so give me until the end of the year to discuss results, if you don’t mind.

    >You’re inspiring folks by example, Teri.

    I’ve wasted so much time… Sigh. I’m hoping that people will look at this as a “Thank God Teri made those mistakes, now I don’t have to” kind of post. Geez… πŸ˜‰

  10. Teri Lussier November 7th, 2010 10:31 am


    Sean Purcell has discussed time blocking, and personally, that is a concept that is out of my grasp right now. It’s a goal, I can see the benefits, but that would drive me nuts. I don’t say it’s not useful, so good for you that you are that disciplined, but I’m simply not there yet.

  11. Teri Lussier November 7th, 2010 10:35 am


    There’s so much I left off this post because it was getting long in the tooth, but my office time is limited. We have a puppy that will chew if left alone for more than two hours at a time. I’ve learned to get up at 5:45a.m. and get into the office b/t 7:30 and 8. I typically have about 3 hours and I’ve found the same thing you have- that I can cram a ton of work into that last .5 hour because I know that once I’m back home it’s distractions or appts. Sprinting is a great word for it. Love it!

  12. Sean Purcell November 7th, 2010 11:19 am

    Teri: six hours? Really? That sounds like a Jeff Brown-ism if ever I heard one. πŸ™‚ When I was a stock broker we prospected well over six hours a day: all phone calls. We would never leave the office unless we had made at least 100 calls (not dials, actual, live-person, calls) and it was usually closer to twice that. Impressive, yes? But then, making calls was the only thing I did all day. I wasn’t a Realtor, showing properties, writing contracts, negotiating deals, arguing with lenders, etc, etc. I really don’t believe one can prospect six hours/day AND run a real estate business. No offense to the Bawldguy…

    I, like you, am a paper and pen guy. When I was running my own office with 8 loan officers and multiple support staff, the first thing I told someone upon hiring them was this: “If you’re telling me something you think is important, and I don’t have a pad in my hands… it’s as if it didn’t happen. And it will by your fault because you’ve been forewarned.” Got to love delegating authority. πŸ™‚

    My problem is I never have less than 3 pads operating at any one time. Not by design; just works out that way. I tried the “end of the day, I’m going to enter my notes into various online files” trick – if I could do that I would have saved the middle-man and done like Mike Mullin (and I wish I could… I really wish I could!) Here’s a trick I use for the old fashioned like us: buy a dozen 1″ binders at the local office supply. Label them helpful things like: “Blog Ideas” & “List Marketing Ideas” & “Web Site Ideas” and so on. At the end of every day, three-hole punch the papers from your pad (or… if you’re really efficient, buy pads that are already three-hole punched! I know, I know, wisdom for the ages…) and put them in the appropriate binder. I don’t mind having a dozen, nice and neat binders on my shelf and I have a world of ideas in each one of them. Of course, you’d never put ideas or notes on current contacts and clients in a binder on the shelf – out of sight, out of mind. No, they go in my “Current Clients and Contacts” binder, which is always open on my desk. πŸ˜‰

    BTW, one other fun piece of self-help when you have your own office? Place one of those name plates on your desk with your name on the business side of it (Duh…) and on your side of the little thing put a sign that says “$150/hour” or whatever the breakdown is for your desired income. It’s a constant reminder and self-corrective tool; next time you fire up Facebook, you’ll look at the sign and be forced to ask yourself: is this next activity valued at $150/hour? Ouch. Got a sadistic itch? Put a little mirrow near that name plate: Now you’ve got to look yourself in the eyes and lie before Tweeting some bit of dribbling brilliance. Double ouch.

    Love your show Teri!

  13. Jeff Brown November 7th, 2010 11:46 am

    Hey Sean — assistants. That’s what allowed you to make 100+ calls daily. You’re on the money though, in saying agents can’t do six hours daily, ONCE THEY HAVE, YOU KNOW, ONGOING BUSINESS. πŸ™‚ ‘Till then? Crickets.

    A guy I loved to watch at the La Mesa Pru office, now with ReMax, had one part time assistant who was dynamite. He averaged a daily minimum of fours hours prospecting, Mon-Fri. He was never less than #5 of 150+ agents, and was #1 three times in my seven years there, for house guys. He routinely crushed every ‘team’ in the office.

    A guy like you, with your experience in cold calling, could literally spend one year in SD, calling like a wild man, and have enough to buy a median priced home for cash with his after tax money. You wanna do that for me? I’ll get you the assistant. πŸ™‚

  14. Dan Connolly November 7th, 2010 12:22 pm

    I went to a REBARCAMP this year mostly because I wanted to see if they sucked as bad as everyone makes them out to be….and low and behold I got a great tip out of it. Not from the programs and meetings but from a guy sitting next to me at lunch. He had a pen and notebook system that is unfreakinbelievable.

    1st off I am not a vendor I am only a user.

    Enter LiveScribe. Its a pen that has a small camera next to the tip and when you write in one of their notebooks ($5 each for 100 pages), it records everything you write and when you synch the pen with your computer it sucks the handwriting onto your screen. Wait, it gets better! It has a handwriting recognition software that really works well and you can type a word in the search box and it will find every time you wrote it. You don’t have to have perfect penmanship, it is pretty good with normal writing.

    Now for the good part. It is also a recording device. At the bottom of each page are buttons that you can tap to start the recorder. As you take notes the pen records the audio. It was designed for students to take notes in lectures and record the lecture at the same time. Later you can go back in the book and tap the pen on the word you wrote and the pen will play the audio from the point you wrote the word.

    The ramifications are extensive. I record my voice mail messages, (playing them on speakerphone) This way I don’t have to write down every word. When it is on the screen you can point the mouse at a word and the audio plays on your computer.

    Or lets say you are in a meeting where people are saying things that you may need to remember in court later. TAP!

    It comes in 2GB 4GB and 8GB. I got the 4GB because when it’s full (approx 400 hours of audio) you can download it to a DVD (4.7 gb) to save it, and not clog your computer’s hard drive.

  15. Jeff Brown November 7th, 2010 12:31 pm

    Hey Dan — Mac friendly?

  16. Mark Madsen November 7th, 2010 12:48 pm

    “I use a steno pad for the To-Do ”

    Funny, with all of the iphones and Google spreadsheets available to me at any given moment, I still organize my life on a few 3×5 notecards that I keep in my top pocket.

    To-Do lists, thoughts and goals can easily be referred to for clarity and direction when my OCD kicks in… which is frequent.

  17. Dan Connolly November 7th, 2010 1:08 pm

    Jeff, Mac or PC!

  18. Jeff Brown November 7th, 2010 1:19 pm

    Thanks Dan — went to their site. Gonna be gettin’ the 8GB for sure. At least in a minor way, this could be a game changer. I used to record client office sessions. This will allow me to do that again, with their consent, of course. Also, the ideas that flow during/after emails, phone calls, posts, etc., won’t be lost, as so many can be.

    Great find, Dan. Much thanks.

  19. Teri Lussier November 7th, 2010 4:51 pm

    Howdy Sean!

    >I really don’t believe one can prospect six hours/day AND run a real estate business.

    I don’t believe it either, shhh- don’t tell Bawld Guy, but I KNOW for a fact that you can’t twitter for half that and HAVE a real estate business.

    Thanks for all the great ideas, support, and encouragement. Love the name plate/dollar/mirror idea. Oh lawz, that would keep me honest with myself.

  20. Teri Lussier November 7th, 2010 4:57 pm


    >I went to a REBARCAMP this year mostly because I wanted to see if they sucked as bad as everyone makes them out to be….

    Okay, that’s just funny.

    Livescribe looks like a cool tool, very useful. Based on the seriously solid advice you’ve given to me in the past, I’m going to have to look into it.

  21. Teri Lussier November 7th, 2010 5:04 pm


    >I still organize my life on a few 3Γ—5 notecards that I keep in my top pocket.

    Each of us has to use whatever works best. Your idea reminds me of an Air Force General’s secretary that I once knew. She worked for this General for years and had developed a very specific (anal?) system for keeping him organized using 3×5’s of different colors: Blue for appts, white for phone calls, etc. Every morning the General would have a stack of 3×5’s waiting for him. He kept them in his shirt pocket…. And obviously I need to prospect for 6 hrs a day so I can afford a secretary! That’s my problem. πŸ˜‰

  22. Teri Lussier November 7th, 2010 5:26 pm

    Hey Dan-

    Just checked the Livescribe website- wow. That’s a very useful tool. What a great way to get written or audio information into an organized space on the computer, and in an easily searchable format. Thanks very much for that.

  23. Sean Purcell November 7th, 2010 5:52 pm

    I just checked out the site for that Smartpen too. Wow! This could not only save a busy agent who prefers taking notes the old fashioned way lots of time better spent finding new clients, but it comes with apps to play poker and other games too. (You know, in case you’re a regular agent who can’t connect to Facebook… πŸ™‚ )

  24. Jolenta @ Madison homes November 7th, 2010 7:57 pm

    Great post, Teri! Ever since I got into this business I realized I was waking up unemployed and yet, being self-employed gives you the wonderful surety that you can never be fired (which begs the question, why the heck exactly do I have to pay unemployment insurance??). Anyway, i love that quote so thanks for sharing! Also, I just read a couple of days ago that 5,000 Realtors have dropped out of the business in the last 3 years (not sure what geographic area that comprises but the raw number is pretty mind-boggling regardless). Hey, don’t be too self-critical for examining and re-examening the way you organize yourself. The way i see it we are all in the midst of a monumental shift in the amount of information being made available to us every minute of every day and it’s going to take some huge adjustments before we develop the ability to filter that information more quickly and more effectively. I recently adopted a practice called Pomodoro in which you work in increments of 25 minutes and I have found that the sense of urgency created (however artificial) does work to help me get things done. In addition, there is an exercise whereby you reduce your workday to 3-4 hours for one week (I know, sounds suicidal) but the point is that it forces you to prioritize the things that you absolutely must, without fail, get done each day. I’m starting that tomorrow (wish me luck!). As for how to organize oneself, you gotta go with the system that works best for you. I try to resist taking a lot of notes anymore, I feel it can be a distraction and what’s more, if I can’t remember it then it probably wasn’t that important to begin. (Note-taking in school is different but I still think I probably overdid that as well.) I’m big on making lots and lots of lists and then consolidating them. I have two lists on my iPhone, one on my iPad (Notes & TakeNotes are both good, the latter for handwritten notes, like when touring a house during a listing appointment), and loads of lists on my computer and legal pads. The legal pads are mostly for stuff that happens whenbi’m on the phone so their shelf life is usually only 1-2 days, then stuff gets transferred into my contact database, calendar, or email, etc. Thanks again and enjoy that chewing puppy – they don’t stay little for very long! πŸ˜€

  25. Teri Lussier November 8th, 2010 6:28 am

    Wow, Jolenta- there’s a wealth of great advice in your comment, thank you for all of it.

    I don’t know what it says about how I process information, but I do know that I’ve not yet gained mastery of using my computer for organization. Perhaps it’s simply lack of practice. And I do like writing. The act of hand-writing commits more to memory- I don’t know. I do agree that 90% of what ends up on my Parking Lot is useless- and I rarely fill a page, some days there might be only one thing on it- however, it continues to earn it’s place on my desk because it’s kept the little scraps of paper/sticky note trail to a minimum, and it’s priceless when it comes to retrieving information. The added bonus is that it also keeps my To-Do list clean and legible.

    I’ve stopped thinking of time in terms of “management”. I always get a mental image of Pro Wrestlers grappling with a clock, or a calendar. And losing! πŸ˜€ Now I think of time in terms of quality of use. What is the highest and best use of my time right now? I look at my To-Do list and check the clock (A big analog, which I’ve hung directly across from my desk), ask myself that question, and get to work. Strangely enough, facebook and twitter never ever show up on my To-Do list, neither are they ever the answer I come up with when I give myself the highest and best use test. Who knew? πŸ˜‰

  26. Wade November 9th, 2010 5:28 am

    @Teri – I love the quote “Every day in this business, we wake up unemployed.”

    I may have to give an office a try. Too many distractions working out of the house (kids, dogs, chores, errands, etc.)

    I’m curious if anyone has found the iPad to be good productivity tool?

    I saw a presentation at a REIA meeting last night where an investor uses his iPad for a day planner/organizer, note taker, voice recorder, GPS, sign contracts, rehab estimator, track mileage, expense management, etc….

  27. Mike Mullin November 9th, 2010 10:48 am

    @Jolenta – your comment about compressing the workday to 3-4 hours reminded me of a temporary productivity tool I employed this summer. The family (wife, 2 teenagers) took a 43 day road trip in our 5th wheel trailer. Had the trailer rigged with wireless printer and a couple of laptops. My wife is our “processor.” We had our best closing month while we were gone, originated new business, and worked maybe 2-3 hours a day.

    There’s something about forcing the short work day that creates the urgency for staying focused on what’s really important. Still tying to figure out how to create the same urgency now we’re home. πŸ™‚