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Op/Ed

Why an “Enough List” is the answer to your never ending to-do list

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Struggling to keep up with your to do list? Having an ‘enough list’ might be the answer to help focus your productivity.

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It’s 12:17 a.m. I’m laying in the dark basking in the glow of my laptop, next to my sleeping sons, as I go back and forth between the clock and my to-do list, then back to the clock, then over to my children’s faces.

At this moment I imagine I feel similar to many other entrepreneurs, small business owners, and work from home parents. The day is done, it’s after midnight, but you’ve barely made a dent on all the things that need to get done.

In the morning the day seems wide open, the world your oyster, and the list of obligations not quite intimidating, yet. It all seems manageable, in the morning. But all it takes is a hiccup to consume a couple of unexpected hours of your morning to throw off your entire day. A technology failure, an unhappy customer, an unexpected task, all of these can wreck a well-made plan. And even without these mishaps, regular distraction, email, a headache, or simply, writer’s block can disrupt one’s business processes as a whole.

So, what’s the solution? I’m already working 100 hours a week, maybe another 10 or 15 will make it all fall into place? No, instead it’s the opposite. Know when to turn it off . Enough is…quite literally… enough.

When I read Melissa Camara Wilkins’ article about having an “enough list,” I dropped my laptop, slow clapped for about five minutes, then found a lighter and swayed back and forth until I realized I had a deadline I needed to meet. Wilkins talks about how she makes a short list – of three things exactly – that will be the focus of her day.

They are not specific tasks, she states, but may be as general as “make that phone call I’ve been avoiding” or “write an article” or “send that email”, but she only makes three, simple, goals a day.

Wow. What a fantastic idea. I began to plan my day around this philosophy and then I woke up. Because, let’s be honest, I’ve got some serious stuff to get done. This idea sounds great on the surface but come on.

Who can seriously only focus on the examples provided in the article? Especially for someone running a small business or acting in a leadership position, the number of phone calls or emails that need follow ups, issues that need resolution, meetings that need your attention, and articles that need to be written are ongoing.

That being said, the takeaway from the article is good – know when to turn it off. Since for me (like many of you) my to-do list never gets completed, instead it gets whittled down to “nearly manageable” but often escalates to “all hell breaking loose,” I was looking for a solution to keep my days as stress free as possible.

So I used Wilkins’ idea as inspiration and I started my “enough list”.

I realized there was no getting away from my to-do list because, honestly, I need it to stay sane and know what expectations and deadlines are the most pressing. But now I also have an “enough list” that allows me to turn it off for the day.

This list designates when it’s ok for me to shut the lid of my laptop and put away my phone. Different from Wilkins, though, instead of putting tasks on my enough list, I put milestones.

I make goals for each day. My to-do list may be a mile long but for Thursday, I’m going to be satisfied with attending my two morning meetings, writing three articles, and responding to four key emails that I put off the day before. And at 6:30 I’ll turn off my laptop, put away my phone, have dinner with my family, talk to my children when they are in the tub, enjoy an episode of Breaking Bad with my husband after the kids go to sleep…and if I feel like it, because who am I kidding, check my email after that.

An enough list isn’t about putting a cap on your day; it’s more about prioritizing your time to make sure your to-do list doesn’t eat you alive. At least not today.

Megan Noel, a veteran ex-educator with a PhD in Early Childhood Education, enjoys researching life through the eyes of her two young children, while writing about her family’s adventures on IndywithKids.com. With a nearly a decade in small business and marketing, this freelance writer spends most evenings pouring over new ideas and writing articles, while indulging in good food and better wine.

Op/Ed

Do you not like working from home? You aren’t alone, even if it feels like it

(EDITORIAL) The work-from-home life isn’t suitable for every worker – and that’s okay! There are pros and cons. Let’s acknowledge the differences.

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working from home vs office

Working from home has become the new normal for many of us. And while some of us have been doing it for years and love it – and some of our new work from home homies are loving it, as well – there are some that are aching to get back to the office.

Yes, you read that right, there are some people who would prefer working in an office over working from home. While I’m not one to take part in that water cooler chatter, there are some major benefits to working in an office. And, even if those benefits don’t float my boat, it doesn’t make them any less beneficial.

First of all, you get social interaction – something that can be lacking while working from home. Even if you have others living in your house, it’s not like you’re shooting the work breeze with them during the work day, nor do they have the ability to help you with your work-specific tasks.

I will say, some days when I’m working from home all day and happen to not have any phone calls, I sound kind of like Yoda when 5pm rolls around and I’m talking with friends or family. It’s like I get rusty and I’ve jumbled up the ability to properly interact. Just as social interaction is important in our personal lives, it’s important for some people to thrive in a professional setting.

Second, when you’re working on a team, communication can be much more difficult in a remote setting as certain elements get lost in the computer-mediated shuffle. It’s so much easier to pop over to someone’s desk and ask a quick question than to wait on an email or instant message that includes little explanation and zero non verbals.

Lastly, when the workday ends at the office – you get to go home. When the workday ends at home – you’re still at home. This diminishes the excitement of getting to sit on your couch (because it’s likely you’ve already been sitting there for a while).

It also makes it harder to stop working. Working from home has the ability to blur the lines between personal and professional life. Just as we may take a break to throw in a load of laundry during work hours, we may find ourselves working on spreadsheets and proposals during personal hours. Having that set, in-office schedule helps separate work and life.

Like anything else, working from home, like working in an office, comes with its pros and cons. Which style do you prefer?

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Op/Ed

The dos and don’ts of balancing your life with your real estate career

(EDITORIAL) Your real estate practice can be overly consuming if you let it. With discipline, you can have a good work/life balance.

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Real estate agent shaking hands with couple over a For Sale sign marked sold from Zillow

In your real estate practice, you have a plate, and you can only put so much onto that plate before things begin to fall off into the cracks. These cracks are what I call “fires” – you know, those things that become emergencies because simply put, you let them.

What I am about to share with you at first glance may come off as cold, however, I believe that with a little thought, some practice, and your own tweaks, you can realize the income you want and afford time with your family – all while elevating the respect you deserve from your real estate clients.

Balancing work and life in real estate is no easy feat.

At no point in my real estate career have I ever allowed myself to appear too eager or desperate for a client, and my clients always felt special and cared for, even though I observed a strict daily schedule. The following is how this can be accomplished:

Lesson one: You know your threshold of how many clients you can handle at once. Your pipeline should be full, and the next client in line for your services should know you’re worth waiting for, and be assured that the same care and attention will be shown to them as soon as they are “next” (never answer a client call while with another client, or this will not work for you). A client became “next” when an offer was accepted on one of my existing transactions. My threshold was originally four clients. If my pipeline was expanding quickly, I brought on agent assistants. As they waited their turn, my assistant held their hand and kept them busy with pre-qualification, buyers agreements, and the like.

Lesson two: When I took on the next client, clear rules of the road were established. I do not leave the house (home office) until 10. I have better things to do with my time than to sit in rush hour needlessly. Some like this time for phone time, however, your undivided attention is not always given, and the possibility of missing vital details while driving and negotiating grows exponentially (as do safety risks). My phone calls were made from 8am to 10am before I left my office.

Lesson three: All of my appointments were set on the half-hour – I’m not sure why, but it worked and I was always on time, as were my clients. The same went for phone calls. Schedule them on the half-hour. You will find, for example, that if you grab lunch at noon, you’re ready for business again at 12:30.

Lesson four: Be home either before or after rush hour. I preferred before. The implied impression of my work hours with my clients worked in my favor nearly 100% of the time. Why? Because I skipped the salesman b.s. of showing them more expensive homes first – I actually took them to the home described in the range they wanted. I set the proper expectations in the first place. I listened to my clients, and they appreciated it. The day they may have waited for my undivided attention gave them immediate results, and they loved it.

Lesson five: If you cannot show your buyers their next home within five showings, either you’re deaf to their needs and wants, or they don’t intend to buy – if you’re experienced, you know it when you see it, and they’re wasting time for the next customer in your pipeline. Place them on a drip campaign with a buyer’s agreement in place, or refer them.

Lesson six: Decide when your workday ends. Mine was at 5:30. However, from 8:30pm to 10pm I would work on offers, faxes, enter listings, answer texts, and emails.

Lesson seven: Not every client was right for me. For example, I have a zone of travel. The markets I work in. Working outside of that zone takes up time from my clients in travel, and time from my family. Refer them, or if you’ve tapped into a further away zone, build your team. Teams can grow and shrink as needed.

Lesson eight: You are a business. Real estate is a business. You have business hours, and you have you time. My you time was with my family, but I love marketing, so I added a 6th half-day for my marketing, blogging, and the like.

As my business grew, my referral network grew. I utilized an assistant until an indie brokerage was established. We had a clear code of how we conducted business, encouraged our buyer’s agents to adapt their business model as I’ve described, and never allowed an unseasoned agent to handle more transactions than their limit. Inevitably my threshold grew to six, but it took time.

With the technologies we have today with instantaneous communication, it’s very easy to allow things to creep onto your plate. So my final lesson is to utilize an assistant frequently.

It is possible to work and live but it takes discipline and a set of business rules for yourself that you’re accountable to besides just the Code of Ethics. It’s about being honest with yourself, and never being so desperate that something can’t wait a minute.

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Op/Ed

Learning beyond the scope of your career has life-changing benefits

(EDITORIAL) While many may think education stops after graduation, there are ways to continue life-long learning that are endlessly rewarding.

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Man writing representing studying and learning.

I took a class titled “Communication in Aging.” For the most part, it was much like any other class where you learn the material from textbooks and PowerPoint slides. One particular day took a different approach. The professor organized a small panel of five individuals from the community that was in their 70’s and 80’s. While many different topics were discussed, the overarching theme was the importance of life-long learning. One woman spoke excitedly about trips she takes with different groups that have an educational component to them.

All of these individuals were active in the community and have a variety of interests. All of this was attributed to their dedication to life-long learning.

This wasn’t a new concept to me, however, it was not something I had ever taken into personal consideration. I was sitting there with the thought that I had one month left of school and that I would continue education at the School of Hard Knocks for the rest of my life.

But, why wouldn’t someone want to be a life-long learner?

Why be complacent with picking up bits of knowledge here and there when you can be active about it even after you’ve graduated?

This can be done in a couple of ways.

You can continue your education by taking classes at your local community college or park district, or you can take your own creative approach.

At the start of the New Year, my resolution was to learn about a new thing every week (or to simply expand my knowledge on something that I already knew a little bit about.) While my dedication tapered off due to graded research taking precedence, I have picked up this resolution since graduating and have had a blast learning about new things.

My list ranges from information about orca whales to Camino de Santiago, to mortuary science, to how to make a citizen’s arrest. Yes, I am aware that this list is strange (I didn’t even include the ones on the stranger side).

But, I’ve found that learning about these varied items has expanded my mind and has enhanced my small-talk skills. Getting to learn about something different each week keeps me educationally invigorated, and I hope that it helps as I go through my own process of communication in aging.

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