How to Plan a Productive Week, Part Two: Managing Your Schedule

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at an office about how to become more productive, specifically how agents could better organize their day.  I wrote something up, and thought I’d share it here.  You can find Part One: Prioritizing Productive Work here. 

Part Two: Managing Your Schedule

Most real estate agents are not particularly productive.  Indeed, most professionals of all kinds struggle with maintaining high levels of productivity.  But it’s particularly challenging for real estate agents because we have so many disparate responsibilities.  We have to generate our own leads. We have to service sellers, who have a specific set of needs, and buyers, who have a completely different set of needs.  We have to stay on top of the market, go to meetings, keep transactions together – and you have to do all of that in what can be a stressful and difficult business.  Essentially, in any given week an agent is going to have to juggle a lot of balls in the air.

So how do you manage your time in a business that can be so demanding, stressful, and chaotic?  As always, it helps to have a system, and to be in control of that system.  You need to control your schedule, rather than letting your schedule control you.  The most productive agents in the business are constantly “busy” – after all, the top agents in our industry routinely do 50-60 deals a year, and have 30-40 listings at any one time.   But because they know how to manage their time they are able to get a tremendous amount of work done each week.

Think of it this way: we all have the same number of hours in a week.  So how is it that some agents can sell 40 houses a year, and others sell 5 houses a year?  It’s not like those productive agents have time warp machines that allow them to stretch out the day.  They have just as much or little time each week as unproductive agents do.  They just use that time better.

So what do we want you to do?  It’s very simple.  Plan your year, then your month, then your week, then your day.  Any plan is better than no plan, so set one up. If you have to revise it when things come up, then fine.  But you’re still better off if you have a starting point to work from, rather than live your life lurching from emergency to emergency without any structure or system.

Here are some suggestions for managing your time better:

First, spend five minutes each morning organizing your day.  When you get up in the morning, or even as you’re finishing your previous day, take five minutes to organize and schedule the next day.  You’ll find that it helps prioritize what you need to do, and makes you feel as if you are in control of your time.  Indeed, you should sit down at the beginning of each week, each month, each quarter, and even each year and plan out your schedule.  For example, sit down in January and look at your year, and decide in advance when you’re going to take some time off, go on vacation, go on a business trip, or whatever.  Set those times aside.  Do the same thing as you begin the new business quarter, as you start a month, and especially at the beginning of the week.

Second, give yourself a break when you don’t maintain your schedule.  Don’t feel you need to be perfect. Even the most tightly-scheduled professional is going to have a bad day, one where she has to break her appointments and handle an emergency.  If that happens, just move on and try to get back on schedule the next day.  Don’t let it throw off your week.  The key is this: days when you break schedule should be the exception, not the rule.  If you find that you have an “emergency” every day that forces you to break your scheduled appointments with yourself, then that’s a sign of a deeper problem in the way you’re managing your business.

Third, put important things on a schedule.  The really important parts of your job – generating new clients, and servicing your active clients – need to be on a schedule.  They can’t just be items on a “to do” list.  To do lists are great for cataloguing an array of tasks or errands, but they shouldn’t be used to itemize really important responsibilities like lead generation or client service time.  Rather, those important tasks should be set aside as committed appointments on your schedule, appointments that you will absolutely keep no matter what pops up during the week.  That’s the only way to ensure that you will actually do them, and doing them is crucial for maintaining and organizing your business.

So what goes on your schedule?  To some extent, it depends on your personal situation.  But generally speaking, you should set aside time each week for particular activities that will help you manage your business.  Below, we’ve set out the activities that should be on EVERY agent’s schedule, along with a suggested amount of time you should dedicate to those activities:

  • Lead Development and Follow Up (Six Hours).  If you want to keep a steady stream of new lead opportunities flowing into your business, you need to dedicate part of your week to lead development.  We suggest that you set aside three two-hour blocks of time for lead generation and follow-up.  That could be a four-hour session one day and a two-hour session another day, or could be spread out more during the week.  This does NOT include time you spend at open houses.  Rather, this is the time that you set aside to call your sphere, follow up with internet leads, put together mailings, contact FSBOs or expired listings, and the like.  Most of the time should be spent on lead generation, with the rest going toward following up with existing leads that have not yet ripened into active sellers and buyers.
  • Weekly Active Seller Followup (Two Hours). You need to allocate time each week for regular follow-up calls with your active sellers (i.e., your listings).  Our suggestion is that you set aside at least two hours every Monday afternoon to contact all your current sellers to give them an update on what’s happening with their listing. Monday is a good time for that, because you’ll have some weekend activity to report and also because the email reports on market activity and property traffic come out on Mondays – giving you something to discuss.  The amount of time you need depends on the number of listings.  Figure you’ll need an average of five minutes per seller.  Note that if you spend other time during the week working on a listing, that doesn’t count toward this time.  This is specifically time set aside for updating your sellers on the status of their listing.
  • Weekly Active Buyer Followup (Two Hours). You also need to allocate time to follow up on all your active buyers.  These are the people that you’ve actually taken out to look at homes, not “leads”.  What you should do is set aside a two-hour block every week, maybe on Monday when you’re already doing seller updates, and call each of your buyers to give them an update on the market, any new listings they might want to see, and ping them about what they’re thinking.  Again, this is NOT time that you spend taking them out, or time that you spend during the week answering their calls or whatever else might come out.  This is just dedicated, reserved time for taking out your list of existing buyers and following up with them.
  • Weekly Office Meeting and Tour (Three Hours).  As part of your professional development time, you should be going to your weekly office meeting and going on tour to see the inventory.  That is when you find out about new office policies, programs, tools, and systems that can help you in your business. And with so many agents working outside the office for their everyday needs, it’s the one time each week when you’ll see most of your colleagues and get a chance to share information and get updates on what’s happening in the market.  
  • Weekly Educational Opportunity (Two Hours).  Each week, you should do some kind of educational activity to help you broaden your understanding of the business. This could be an online webinar, a live class, or even just two hours each week dedicated to reading a business book.  Whatever it is, you need to spend some dedicated time each week – on your schedule – focused on your own professional growth.

These are activities that should be on a schedule.  Why? Because they’re important, and if you don’t schedule them you might not do them because you’ll be working on “urgent” matters.  But these activities are important for maintaining a steady flow of business and ensuring a smooth flow of communication with your existing clients.  You can’t skimp on this time and hope to be successful.  You have to schedule it, and do it.  

All told, if you add all that up, we’re talking about 15 hours out of a 40-hour week.  That’s roughly three hours a day.  Now, that might seem like a lot, or it might seem like a little, but think about how much you’re getting accomplished in those 15 hours:

  • You’re doing all your lead generation activity for the week, which helps keep a flow of new business coming in.
  • You’re dedicating time for specific follow up with your buyers and sellers, which helps keep your clients happy and connected to you.
  • You’re getting to office meetings that will keep you updated about what’s happening with the company.
  • You’re seeing the new office inventory on tour.
  • And you still have time for some weekly training to help educate you about something you need to know about the business.

If you think about it, doing all that is really the cornerstone of a successful week.  Just getting those scheduled 15 or so hours locked in, you’re guaranteeing yourself a productive week in which you generated new business, handled your clients, and helped foster productive growth.

So what’s the rest of your time spent doing?  Well, outside those 15 hours, you have about 25 hours in a 40-hour week.  That’s the “unstructured” time that you spend doing everything else: it’s when you have your buyer appointments, and do listing presentations, and attend inspections, and manage your transactions to closing.  All that is “work” to, but it’s work that tends to pop up during the week and can’t be assigned to a particular place on your schedule.  You wouldn’t, for example, set aside Wednesday at 6PM for your listing appointments – rather, you tend to take your appointments in conjunction with your clients’ schedules.

And that’s the difference. If you don’t, for example, schedule your lead generation and client followup each week, what will happen is that the transactional work will swallow up all your time and you’ll never get to it.  That’s why those things need to be on a schedule, so that you shorten the amount of time you otherwise would spend dealing, say, with inspection issues.  That helps ensure that you prioritize work that generates new business and ensures quality service to your existing clients, but also helps keep you focused and efficient in managing the daily grind of your business.  Your transactional work will otherwise just expand to fill the time you leave for it, crowding out everything else.


How to Plan a Productive Week, Part One: Prioritizing Productive Work

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at an office about how to become more productive, specifically how agents could better organize their day.  I wrote something up, and thought I’d share it here.  This is Part One: Prioritizing Productive Work. You can find Part Two: Managing Your Schedule here. 

Part One: Prioritizing Productive “Work”

First, let’s talk about what “work” is.  The problem most unproductive agents have is that they’ll spend the day at the office as if they are “working,” but they’re not actually doing real “work.”

So what is “real work?”  We define it as follows: (1) servicing active clients, (2) developing new clients, and (3) professional development.  That’s what work is.  That’s what your job is.  That’s what we mean by “productivity.”  If you’re not doing those three things, then you’re not really “working.”   You’re just frittering away your day.

Let’s break that down a little. Here are some examples of what constitutes “work” under this system:

1.  Servicing Active Clients

The main bulk of your daily and weekly routine is all the work you do to service your existing clients.  This includes everything you do for your listings, all the showings you do with your buyers, and all the transactional work you do to put deals together.  It also includes, of course, the time you spend in your initial conversion meetings with sellers and buyer: the consultative presentations you do to turn them into active clients.  This is the heart of your business.

Here are some of the examples of activities that would constitute “work” because they involve servicing active clients:

  • Weekly followup calls with active listings.
  • Weekly followup calls with active buyers.
  • Preparing for listing and buyer presentations: preparing CMAs, for example.
  • Giving consultative listing presentations to seller clients.
  • Giving consultative buyer presentation to buyer clients.
  • Marketing your listings: taking pictures, video, writing up descriptions, putting the property in MLS, staging and detailing.
  • Showing your listings.
  • Holding open houses.
  • Setting up showing appointments for your buyers.
  • Taking buyers on showings.
  • Doing market analysis for your clients.
  • Presenting offers.
  • Negotiating deals.
  • Attending inspections.
  • Handling inspection issues.
  • Handling transactional issues with attorneys and mortgage professionals.
  • Attending walkthroughs and closings.

How much time should you spend servicing active clients?  Figure about 60% of your time.  Basically, a little more than half your week should be spent taking care of your existing clients.  And this INCLUDES the dedicated “Weekly Followup” calls that you’ll make every week to your sellers and active buyers.

2.  Developing New Clients

Obviously, one of the most important responsibilities you have is to work to generate a fresh set of lead opportunities for your business.  So part of your day, and your week, and your month, has to be dedicated to client development.  That could be any sort of lead generation activity, whatever you think will help you generate new business.

Here are examples of the activities you could do to develop new clients:

  • Contacting your Top 100 clients.
  • Contacting people in your Sphere of Support (outside the Top 100)
  • Preparing courtesy packages for FSBOs and Expireds.
  • Making courtesy calls to a neighborhood
  • Holding an open house.
  • Sending out direct mail.
  • Sending out promotional email.
  • Sending out R4L mailings
  • Posting information on social media for your client base.
  • Checking our your sphere’s activities on social media, and “liking” and commenting on them.
  • Professional networking.
  • Responding to internet inquiries (i.e., Leadrouter inquiries).
  • Following up with active leads.

How much time should you spend?  Figure about 25% of your week should be spent in lead development and cultivation.

3.  Professional Development

This is a broad category, but it basically refers to anything you do on a daily or weekly basis that helps you build your professional base of knowledge, but which is not dedicate to a particular client.  For example, you need to keep track of the inventory on the market, not for a specific buyer or seller but just because it’s your job to know what’s going on in your area.  And you need to work on developing and expanding your skills if you want to be a successful agent.

So here are some examples of productive “work” activities related to professional development:

  • Going to office meetings.
  • Going on tour.
  • Previewing active listings.
  • Reviewing new listing hot sheets.
  • Professional reading: news, blogs books, etc.
  • Attending training classes!
  • Reading market analysis.
  • Learning how to use technology.

How much time should you spend? Well, any time that you are not spending servicing active clients or generating new clients should obviously be dedicated to your own professional development.  We recommend 10-15% of your weekly time.  You should obviously be spending more time generating and servicing your clients, but you need to allocate a part of your week to building your own skills and knowledge.

So What’s NOT Productive Work?

Which obviously leads us to the question of what activities do not constitute “work” in our system.  It’s actually pretty easy.  Just ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I servicing an active client?  If “yes,” that’s work.  If “no,” then go on to question #2.
  2. Am I generating new business?  If “yes,” that’s work.  If “no,” then go on to question #3.
  3. Am I developing my skills or knowledge? If .“yes,” that’s work.  If “no,” then go on to the conclusion.

Conclusion: Why am I doing this activity if it’s not really “work?”

That’s what you need to ask yourself.  Why are you doing that activity if it doesn’t service your clients, build your business, or help you develop skills or knowledge?  The answer is that you’re likely just engaging in “work avoidance” because you have some generally difficult, complex, or even just unpleasant things to do, and you’d rather just take it easy.  Well, that’s fine.  Take the whole day off if you really want.  But don’t spend the day wasting your time and think that you’re actually “working.”  Because you’re not.

Here are some examples of things that do not constitute work, but which take up a lot of time in the average agent’s day:

  • Coffee klatch conversations with other agents.
  • Browsing facebook.
  • Personal emails.
  • Surfing the web.
  • Personal errands.
  • “Organizing your desk”
  • Complaining.

Now, some of those things are activities that you have to do (i.e., like your personal errands), and some of them are perfectly harmless (i.e., chatting with agents). And it might be that spending time in these types of activities helps you focus the rest of your day – after all, we all benefit from taking a break now and then.

But the key is this: they’re not “work.”  So don’t spend your day doing them and think that you got actual “work” done.  After all, your whole day should not be a “break.”  A break from what?

Go to Part Two Here.