When you read the mountains of literature available on time management, one thing becomes crystal clear — time management for Realtors isn’t really about time at all.
It may sound counterintuitive, but time management experts don’t talk about working faster. They don’t discuss cutting hours (though they will almost always tell you to take time off). And they don’t propose shortcuts.
Instead, they talk about how you spend your time, how you choose your priorities, and where you place your focus.
That’s why focusing on the time you’re spending at work doesn’t...well, work. If you’re going to nail time management as a real estate agent or team leader, you’re going to have to stop working a 60-hour week and start spending more time with your family, or skiing, or doing whatever it is you like to do.
So if you’re ready to stop the burnout cycle and reclaim your focus, read on. This article will give you the tips and insights you need to finally take control of your time.
Time management systems that focus on what you’re doing, rather than how long you do it for, have been around since the turn of the 19th century when an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto coined an idea that’s come to be known as the 80/20 rule.
Put simply, the 80/20 rule says that 80% of your results come from just 20% of the effort you put in.
Today, time management experts use a lot of different buzzwords to describe it, but no matter what you call it, the basic underlying principles are the same.
These time management systems all tell you to do one thing:
Reduce your tasks down to just those things that will have a direct impact on your goals, and delegate, delay or just plain drop the rest.
One widely used method of putting the 80/20 rule into practice is called the Eisenhower Method. You may remember it from Steven Covey’s epic business manifesto, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
In short, the Eisenhower Method is a way of organizing a to-do list into four core categories:
This widely used grid helps categorize your to-do list so you can determine whether you need to attend to a task personally, do it now vs. later, if it can be delegated to someone else, or if it even needs to be done at all. Content source: Corporate Finance Institute (CFI)
Putting your to-do list into a grid like this allows you to take the things that don’t have to be done immediately, those that can be done by someone else, and those that don’t actually have to be done at all, right off your plate.
Now you can focus on the 20% of your workload that will yield 80% of your results.
But how do you determine where the tasks in your to-do list belong on the grid? After all, as a real estate agent, your typical work week is filled with clients, phone calls, and fires that need putting out — all of which can feel pretty darn important and urgent.
That is, unless you begin by setting the right goals.
Sure, everyone wants to be the best real estate agent they can be. But when you try to manage your time based on a vague goal like ‘being the best’, you won’t have a blueprint to get you there.
Effective time management practices start with specific, actionable goals.
Of course, real estate agents are accustomed to thinking about their work in terms of the commissions they want to earn. But what if you turn that around?
Suppose your goal is to earn $50,000 in commissions in one month. You could start by asking yourself:
The answers to those questions will tell you which items on your to-do list are both important and urgent.
Internationally renowned time management expert and best-selling author Julie Morgenstern calls this the ‘Inside Out Approach’. She suggests starting by analyzing your current situation, figuring out how it fits with your game plan (i.e., where you want to be and by when), and then asking yourself why it’s important to you to get there.
“Time Management from the Inside Out is about designing a life that is a custom fit for you, based on your unique personality and goals. It’s about identifying what’s important to you and giving those activities a place in your schedule, and helping you feel deeply satisfied at the end of each day.” — Julie Morgenstern
Even with the most actionable goal possible, time management experts concede that it’s not realistic to expect to complete all the tasks on your plate each day. There’s just too much going on, and that’s especially true for real estate agents.
To be sure you’ll complete the most important and urgent tasks, do those first.
But take extra care not to confuse what’s most important with what’s most urgent. According to a Harvard Business Review article by professor of management and entrepreneurship at DePaul University Erich Dierdorff, what’s urgent might require immediate attention — but what’s important can have significant consequences over the long term.
Make sure the tasks that are both important and urgent are always your first priority.
“I NEVER get everything done, but I always get the most important items done.”
Brandon Grass, The OKGN Life
Another classic time management system, the 4Ds of Time Management, also broadly follows the idea behind the 80/20 rule by breaking tasks down into these four categories:
The creators of the 4Ds approach also point out that accomplishing smaller tasks first (provided they’re worth doing in the first place) can help motivate you for the larger, important-and-urgent tasks on your to-do list.
Most Realtors are familiar with the time blocking technique that organizes similar tasks together — e.g., answering all your emails from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. or scheduling appointments from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The rationale behind this idea is that every time you switch gears, you waste time reorienting to the new task. By batching the tasks, you harness your focus and achieve greater momentum in each block of time.
But the other, less familiar aspect of time blocking is the need to avoid interruptions during your time blocks. For example, experts suggest you move your cell phone to another room while making prospecting calls so you can make optimal use of your time during that block.
Bonus Tip! Leading real estate coach Dr. Lee Davenport recommends using ‘Time-Block Bouncers’ to set boundaries around your time. When you’re working on the routine part of your day, do the opposite of Ted Danson on Cheers and get yourself to a place where NO ONE knows your name. Lee recommends finding a cyber-safe workspace (never put your client’s sensitive data at risk!). If you don’t have access to an office, try Coworking.com to find a secure setting.
“Time block 1-3 hours for your actual goals, and let the rest of your day consist of dealing with the whirlwind.“
Eric Bramlett, co-owner, Bramlett Residential
Okay, we know what you’re thinking, “Aha! Deadlines are all about time, aren’t they?”
Well, yes and no.
When you set a deadline, you’re giving yourself a finite amount of time to complete a task. But deadlines can also be a way to monitor your time management and teach yourself how to better organize and manage tasks and projects.
According to Dr. Dierdorff, one of the three underlying skills essential for mastering time management is awareness — the ability to realistically assess how much time a task takes. Dierdorff, a noted expert who recently spoke at the Time Management and Time Blocking Seminar 2021, notes that awareness is also one of the more difficult skills to acquire.
Monitoring how long it takes to complete tasks — and setting realistic deadlines and time limits based on that data — is one of the best ways you can build awareness.
If the #1 rule of real estate time management is to always start with the tasks that are both important and urgent, the #2 rule is to make sure you schedule time for those tasks that are important, but don’t have to be done urgently.
Because here’s the thing. When you’re faced with a dozen urgent tasks, it can be super tempting to put off important work that will build long-term success and help you grow your business. Make sure that if you move important tasks out of your calendar or daily planner, you always slot them into your work schedule at a later, more convenient date. And whatever you do, don’t let your important tasks slip the net!
Scary as it sounds, managing time can mean turning down requests, or at least limiting meetings, phone calls, and other interactions that make poor use of your time.
Tim Ferriss, noted tech entrepreneur, popular podcaster, and best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, advises you to get out of meetings that don’t have a clear agenda, and manage the ramblers who interrupt your day by telling them how much time you have available. And if they keep going on anyway, go ahead and let them know how much time is left.
Taking time to recharge is key to effective time management.
One system, the Pomodoro Technique, suggests you take 5-minute breaks every 25 minutes and longer breaks when you’re working on longer projects. Breaking down tasks into 25-minute intervals can help ward off overwhelm, a big cause of procrastination.
It’s also important to reward yourself with time away from work when you complete a project in order to help avoid burnout.
“Leverage, which includes a great system, allows an agent to essentially ‘buy’ their time back, which is priceless.”
Lori Ballen, CEO, Ballen Brands
You might not be able to stop time, but you can definitely manage it.
By starting with a clear set of priorities for what you want to accomplish, breaking down your goals into actionable tasks, and using the right systems to leverage your time — you can stop racing against the clock and put time back on your side.
Experts agree that not having an organized, structured system is the #1 mistake real estate agents make when it comes to managing their tasks and time.
Whether you use Follow Up Boss or another system, having an organized lead management platform can be an invaluable time management asset, helping you identify and execute the tasks that matter most so you can finish each day feeling proud of what you’ve accomplished.