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Op/Ed

Confessions of a productive person: keeping a clean desk

(EDITORIAL) Being a productive, clean person is nowhere near as difficult as it sounds – start with these simple steps focused on reduction in your life.

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productive desk

We keep a clean office, there’s no secret about that, and the desks are usually clear of papers and clutter. Some call it minimalism, others call it clean, but most people just call it “wow” and ask how we keep such clean lives.

Studies show that your brain is hardwired to have cluttered thought patterns when you are surrounded by clutter, yes, even those of you that live in a pile of papers (which of course you have “a system” for). It can be intimidating to even get started when you have a messy office, but there are a few things that anyone can do to regain control and help your brain function at its optimal rate, improve productivity, and prove to clients and coworkers that you mind the details like no one else.

Friends and coworkers ask me constantly how I get so much done in the average day, and it isn’t because of my smartphone, no, it’s because I am a focused workhorse. A huge part of that is keeping a very clean environment. Let’s talk about why that’s important (and why you should ignore the “but geniuses have messy desks” bullcrap editorials).

Perhaps you put to-do items on post-it notes or pieces of paper, or you pile up files that need to be dealt with – one of the most common reasons desks are messy. This method of task management is ineffective and tells your brain to panic because what you’re doing right now may or may not be as important as those 35 stickies, so you either pause frequently to reflect on the dozens of other unprioritized tasks, or your brain constantly churns in the background having been distracted with this mess that represents tasks, or you simply learn to tune the noise out, which defeats the purpose of your reminder system.

To change this, either implement tech tools to manage your tasks (search this site for “task management” and see dozens of tools) or keep one pad of paper or journal on your desktop.

Picking up trash to make it clean.

Another common item on desks is what? Envelopes. One of the tricks I’ve found is that no matter the envelope, it gets torn open and processed while I’m on hold or on a conference call I don’t have to speak on. Before you leave for the day, every bill should be torn open and either dealt with, filed, or if you must keep it on your desk, have a beautiful inbox or even a clipboard to keep them all in the same spot.

There are much more sophisticated methods, but let’s face it, you have to start small to ensure good habits. The same goes for files – be smart about processing paper in your downtime.

My core confession that you may have picked up on so far is that I love to trash stuff.

I didn’t use to be this way, I used to hoard paper, but it is how I began my journey toward being more productive – trashing. Remember that every time you throw just one envelope away, you’re making progress that is tangible, and you should learn to enjoy that progress and associate positive feelings with keeping things clean.

What else holds you back from keeping a clean work area and focusing on your tasks for the day? Often, books pile up or files start stacking themselves up magically. I’ve found that having aesthetically appealing storage systems (boxes, filing cabinets, files, pen holders, etc.) makes you feel rewarded for using them. It’s a subtle trick, but if you invest in your desk accouterments, you feel compelled to use them, which inadvertently keeps you organized.

Look, these are simple things to do – ditch sticky notes, deal with mail and files before you leave for the day, and surround yourself with beautiful tools that keep you organized. This is where it begins – instead of being addicted to hoarding crap on your desk, work on rewiring your brain to enjoy reduction.

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Op/Ed

The negative impacts that have stemmed from severe social isolation

(EDITORIAL) Having social connections online is not enough to prevent true isolation. Meeting face-to-face is vital to living a fulfilling life.

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woman sitting on a bench alone representing that we need face-to-face interaction, not isolation.

Can isolation kill you?

Starling birds are often considered a pest because these birds are abundant and usually come in mobs.

Researchers studied the effect of isolation on common starlings and found that when the birds were separated from the flock, it caused increases of the stress hormone, corticosterone. These gregarious birds did not handle isolation very well.

“We live in a society bloated with data yet starved for wisdom. We’re connected 24/7, yet anxiety, fear, depression and loneliness is at an all-time high. We must course-correct,“ said Dr. Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey.

We need other people.

Loneliness and isolation have the same effect on humans. Researchers from Brigham Young University found that loneliness increases the risk of mortality by about 26 percent. Social isolation has a little higher risk, 29 to 32 percent.

Most people tend to feel lonely or become more socially isolated as they age.

Some experts believe that middle-aged men are most susceptible to loneliness and isolation.

Loneliness is a subjective feeling, and it’s just as damaging as being socially isolated.

The researchers pointed out that someone who is happy to be alone still suffers from social isolation and thus, the increased risk of death.

On the other end of the spectrum is a person with a lot of social connections, but who does not actually connect with another person face-to-face. This loneliness is not good for people.

When you’re feeling lonely, it’s not enough simply to interact with others. You have to make an emotional connection. People cannot read your mind.

When you’re lonely, you have to let others know.

If you have a support group, reach out. If you don’t have a network of friends and family, you are going to have to create one. For me, it’s my church and community organizations.

You might find friends at the gym, in a theater group, or through volunteering at your local animal shelter.

Go and play cards with a person in a nursing home or just talk. You might be saving their life through your connection by keeping them from feeling alone while also helping yourself.

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Op/Ed

Working from home has changed what perks we value

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Sure, the little perks of a snazzy workplace with snacks and neon chairs are, but if we’re all working from home, who cares?

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Empty startup office with open floor plan, abandoned while working from home.

So at this point, people are starting to adjust to a new reality (nothing normal about it, so maybe standard is the better word here, and leaves it room to grow and encompass a type of normal) of working from home, learning the ins and outs of Zoom, being hired without ever meeting your future team face to face, and all the other changes and challenges that have been revealed, reviewed, and revised in a connected and digital world.

Which is all a fancy way of saying that certain things that were – at one time – considered incredibly important are sliding down the priority scale at a scary and fast rate. It makes sense that a parking spot and transportation stipends might make less sense if everyone is stuck at home. That could kill an entire bullet point on a company’s list of perks. I wonder how many beer taps have cobwebs on them right now?

You know what is trending? A lack of interest in trendy offices. Which should only make sense, I suppose – who really cares how high up the windows are downtown if we’re all stuck working from home anyway? After all, if no one is in the office to enjoy them, why does it matter who has rock climbing walls and ping pong tables?

As Josh Wand – founder and CEO of recruiting agency ForceBrands – states, “When the pandemic hit and everyone decentralized, what I heard from hundreds of my clients is that people don’t care about those perks. People want to feel connected. They want to feel valued. The little things become the big things. It’s not about the free lunch or the extra perks — it’s about growth opportunities, visibility and transparency.”

Instead of focusing on things like a well designed physical space as a draw for talent, it’s all about a company fostering a sense of belonging while working from home. This has always been a concern when it comes to retaining talent, but now there’s an added degree of difficulty in resolving this issue given the distance and virtual nature of teams scattered across towns, cities, states, and nations.

One way to look at this is to see how a company’s culture can be adopted and applied, as now – more than ever before while working from home – this is falling directly on every employee to build, apply, and celebrate. Instead of the physical constructs and perks that could have been seen as a way to define and measure the vibe, it’s entirely on the shoulders of the C-suite, executive teams, and employees themselves. I.e., work with cool people, then it’s still cool even when you can’t be around them. And that is huge.

Manuel Bordé is the global chief creative officer at Geometry, and offers this insight: “What makes an agency culture amazing is the talent the agency has. If you lose that talent, or fail to replace the outgoing talent with equally amazing ones, then the agency culture is gone.” In short: everyone has to pull together more than ever before.

Maybe there’s a way to preserve such relationships virtually, or maybe tried-and-true options such as one-on-one meetings can help mitigate and preserve the feeling of a cohesive team. Andrea Diquez, CEO of Saatchi NY, relies on nearly thirty of these a week to keep close with employees and “feel the pulse of the agency.” Certainly, there will be a push to take this kind of interaction and communication much more seriously in order to bolster connections while working from home.

This could be me sounding selfish, but I am definitely on board with companies that have realized at-home stipends are a huge draw, and I absolutely champion that route. Helping to cover costs for employees in their home offices is definitely helpful, if not outright necessary.

Taking this a step further – could money that was previously allocated to certain perks be redirected to workers? Instead of paying for soda delivery, take those funds and use them for different benefits – added healthcare options (mental health would be amazing), additional days off, or the occasional happy hour with delivered treats? You can keep the swag – I’ve used my company issued hoodie a LOT recently.

Years ago, I went to a coding bootcamp here in Austin called Makersquare (which became Hack Reactor, and ultimately part of Galvanize). We talked about startup culture a lot, and several of us had experience from prior jobs. I remember that one person gave a presentation about one of their previous ventures, and his slide show included a picture of a ping pong table, “so that you could tell we were a startup.”

Everyone laughed. It’s funny because it was true at the time. Who knows if it’ll stay true now? I guess we’ll find out once offices open back up (if they do, let’s all hope we can stay working from home).

Speaking personally, I’d already seen a decline of interest in office perks at some jobs I’ve worked at – surveys that specifically pointed out that there was lower emphasis on endless snacks and more on lower commutes. This makes me think that the pandemic is just accelerating a shift toward incentives that return time and energy to employees while also decreasing daily stress.

I’m all for that. I know that I definitely love that my commute is twenty feet of walking, and I’m usually in comfy house slippers when I do that. I’d take that over the once-every-three-months game of ping pong any day. I do miss my coworkers, and I look forward to seeing them, of course, but seeing the big picture makes me reevaluate.

In the end, this could represent another movement and evolution of the American workplace, especially in the tech world. It still remains to be seen if this will be a sea change, a transformation away from the hip cultures that Google and Facebook gave us to fuel our dreams of endless donuts and caffeine, and instead settling into something cozier and dependent on creating truly national (global?) teams that get by on the strength of their cooperation and desire to work separately yet together.

It’s like how I’ve got my best friend living in Japan – the few times we chat each year, it’s like no time has passed. That’s what we’re going to strive for in the new age.

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Op/Ed

Technology gurus are marketing you bullshit, here’s what really works

(OP/ED) Technology gurus have fun tools to sell you and tricks to teach you, but I can tell you firsthand that it’s mostly bullshit.

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woman holding phone representing technology

I am known as a technologist. An avowed geek. An unapologetic adopter of shiny new objects. My passion is finding out how technology – specifically the internet, can make my job better, faster, and more profitable. It is also figuring out how the consumer intersects with the internet and how I can leverage this to create more business.

In years past, I bet heavily on internet lead generation, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and video email marketing. I researched the best platforms and practices, sought the counsel of the foremost experts and hired the best talent.

I had some great wins and surprising losses this year. I’ll get into that in a bit… but I realized that the real estate industry often markets tech on the internet as a replacement for human connection, as a convenience for the agent, and as a crutch for a basic lack of knowledge and expertise. In the real estate industry, technology is marketed as a shortcut to profits and that is complete bullshit.

Fair warning- this post is likely to get you riled up and deny that any of it applies to you. That’s cool. It probably doesn’t, so move along. I am not trying to derail your successful train. But this category of business tools creates stress for a lot of agents who feel left behind or “less than.”

About those gurus on stage at your favorite conferences

Listen to the gurus on stage and the vendors hawking their wares. According to them, the internet can provide a never-ending source of people who want to buy and sell (leads). It can eliminate the need to chase signatures or show homes. It can sell homes without the need to open it to strangers or tell you a home’s value instantly and automatically.

Wow. Get clients without dealing with real-time rejection. Show and sell homes with no physical effort. Find values with no expertise or local knowledge. Makes you wonder what human Realtors are going to do. Flip burgers, maybe?

Internet-based tools are an amazing enhancement to traditional skills and techniques, but it is often promoted as the miracle cure and wholesale replacement of skills and knowledge. I call this bullshit – but our industry is buying it.

The enticement of internet lead generation

Let’s start with internet lead generation. The surface promise is very enticing. Write a check and get a never-ending stream of people interested in real estate who have given up their contact information. No physical effort. No skill is required. No face-to-face rejection. Who wouldn’t sign up for that program?

But here is the problem. It takes a lot of money to do internet lead generation effectively. It takes a lot of resources to follow up and it generally takes time to create a sale. When you factor in all of these resources, internet lead generation is far sexier on paper than in practice.

Now, this does not mean lead generation isn’t a viable way to run a business. But it is best done in a team setting with proper resources to handle these leads effectively. In a team setting, internet lead generation is less likely to divert attention away from relationship building. And, for a single agent, it is a very dangerous place to “bet the farm”.

So I can pay more but get the same results?

The number of portals and agents competing for attention increases every month, so the resources required to stay level will also increase. This means it continually takes more money to get the same result… and this is where I call bullshit. The average agent is only seeing the tiny fraction of people making a profit from internet lead generation and they have no clue how costly internet lead generation actually is.

And that is another problem. How many agents use internet lead generation as a replacement for the much less “sexier” work of face-to-face prospecting? My guess is quite a few. I’ll confess. I tried replacing my traditional prospecting with a lead generation site. It was bullshit.

Another bullshit problem: social media

Here’s another technology coming between the consumer and the agent. Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing- loosely categorized as social media. When used as an easy, thoughtless, broadcast machine (as most agents do) the agent is following the idea that being seen- frequently- is the way to make the phones ring.

Agents have been doing this sort of “look at me!” advertising with postcards and print advertising for years. However, print costs lots of money and most will give some thought and attention before doing each piece. Social media is essentially free and nearly effortless, allowing agents to completely alienate their audience with their avalanche of tone-deaf posts and emails.

Now, at least this stuff is nearly free and the agent has resources left over for traditional relationship building. But, how much damage is done to potential real-life relationships with poor and uninformed social media tactics? The bullshit part is that free and easy should not mean tacky, thoughtless, and loud.

E-sigs aren’t the next coming of Christ

Here’s another thing. I thought electronic contracts and e-signatures were the best technology tool since sliced bread. And, used properly, it still is. Contracts can be signed at the consumer’s convenience and that can be a huge benefit for busy lives. All too often, though, e-signatures serve the agent or brokerage more than the client. There are situations where the client is best served with an in-depth explanation of the documents, but they are given an e-signature package instead.

This was one of my hardest realizations – I was completely guilty of choosing convenience over great representation. I told myself it was for the convenience of the client, but it really made my job a lot easier. This is not cool, it is bullshit.

I love technology, but…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still the technology fan girl you know and love. But with each passing day, I am convinced that a lasting and enduring business is made with an authentic connection to the people in my community. Technology simply gives me the opportunity to make more of those connections.

I meet and interact with hundreds of people on local Facebook groups and these interactions have led to wonderful real-life meetings and lasting relationships. It is an amazing and efficient layer to my traditional community building and prospecting. But it is a layer. Nattering on Facebook all day long does NOT create enough engagement to create a business.

So, what were my wins?

I used technology to publish my internal checklists to my clients, bringing a new level of transparency and accountability to our transactions.

I went deep on an unreasonable number of CRM systems and I am getting close to having a system that enhances both the creation of business as well as the transaction.

I went even deeper into the concept of the paperless office. There are a lot of benefits to a paperless office, but for the consumer, it means anyone on my team can answer any question, anytime, anywhere.

And my losses?

What were my losses? The biggest loss was my investment in internet lead generation, and that was a real surprise. I invested heavily in the platform, in the tools, and in the human resources necessary to make a profit.

I learned what it takes to make this business strategy work, but I also learned that I would rather use my resources to build a local community.

Another “loss” was the lesson learned on e-signatures. I have retooled my process to make sure that certain critical points in the process- the purchase contract, escrow instructions, and going over disclosures, are no longer a simple e-signature packet.

Moving forward – join me?

As I enter the next year, I am focused on a few principles. Belly to belly rules. Technology done right is invisible. Build a community to build long-term trust. Make a difference.

Wanna join me?

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