Too many laptops, tablets and smartphones suffer from the same virus – the Clutter Bug. With so much information being uploaded, downloaded and sent every day, it’s often difficult to keep track of and organize that information. Although the concepts of “Inbox Zero” and Minimalism have been preached time and again, the average workday (and life) doesn’t often offer real estate agents the luxury of keeping on top of our technology as much as the experts suggest. To combat this problem, I present the “Izes of June” – How to Organize, Prioritize and Systemize Your Technology.
Step One: Organize Your Technology
Take a look at your smartphone and tablet screens. Do you have pages and pages of apps that you can’t even remember downloading? Now take a look at your computer’s desktop. Can you even see what picture you’re using as background through all the files, folders and images you’ve downloaded there? Maybe those are obscured by a layer of electronic (or paper!) sticky notes to help you recall all those important things from 2010.
Clutter is one of the ways to feel most discombobulated in business. Being able to easily access and retrieve important information will help you instantly feel more confident in your day-to-day transactions, whether it be returning an email in a timely fashion or providing necessary paperwork for a settlement before the expiration of a contingency.
Where do you start? By removing the current clutter. Sit down with your smartphone and tablet. Take a look through all those apps. If you haven’t used them in the past month, get rid of them. Make sure the apps you use every day – calendar, email, task list/reminders – are front and center on the home screen. Create a folder for your Real Estate business. Add in there everything you use on a daily or weekly basis, and get rid of those you don’t. Keep that folder on your home screen as well. Just as we don’t flip past the first page of Google, we rarely access those apps on the second or third pages of our devices.
Now that you’ve removed useless apps from your phones and tablets, it’s time to concentrate on that mess of a desktop home screen. First, create a folder on your desktop labeled “All.” Now, select everything that isn’t that folder on your desktop and move everything to that folder. What this does is visually clear the way to start to sort through everything without actually deleting something that may seem important. Once this is done, if you’re not able to do it immediately, look at your calendar and schedule in a 2-hour time block to sort through everything in that “All” folder. (This technique can also be used for clearing out your email inbox.)
Step Two: Prioritize
The clutter is gone! Congratulations! However, you can’t kick back and celebrate yet. There are two more steps to accomplish the “Izes of June.” It’s important to establish some rules going forward so you don’t fall back into your clutter habits again. The first way to combat clutter is to prioritize. Some of the ways you can do this is to create electronic folders for your apps on your smartphone and tablet; create folders in your email to keep email sorted for easy retrieval; create electronic folders on your laptop and desktop computers for images, documents and other folders; and creating folders in the “cloud” so you can access the information in a quick and easy manner. Cloud storage ranges from Dropbox to Box.net to Google Drive. For instant syncing between desktop and cloud storage systems, consider using programs like Dropbox Folder Sync for Windows devices and MacDropAny for Macs. Appropriately labeled folders make search simple, and feed into the last step of the Izes.
Step Three: Systemize
Look at your schedule. Block out 15 minutes. You’re about to learn how to systemize your workflow to become more efficient and reclaim some of that lost time. Take the first 5-10 minutes to sit and think about your “average” day – and yes, I realize that there is no such thing in the real estate world! However, there are certain habits you engage in on a daily basis, whether it be reaching for your phone first thing in the morning to look at email or checking Facebook at stoplights or calling clients in the morning or afternoons. These habits make up the foundation of your workflow, around which you can arrange everything else that ebbs and flows in the real estate world. Once you’ve identified your typical habits, you can work on where you can incorporate systems.
For example, every morning I check my email. I have four main inboxes. I don’t let myself have more than 10 emails in my inbox at any time. So, the first thing I do is scan my inboxes and immediately delete anything that isn’t of value. If I have extra time, I hit “unsubscribe” on email I don’t want any more. Next, I open all email that looks important. If it doesn’t require a response or further action, I immediately file it into the appropriate folder or delete it. For email that requires further thought or action, I star it so I know it’s a priority to deal with, and leave it in my inbox. This leaves any other unopened and quasi-important email. I leave that kind of email, unread and unopened, in the inbox until I have time to deal with it appropriately. If it’s still there the next day, it immediately gets deleted. This kind of system has enabled me to keep a clean inbox, as well as close track of important messages (unless they fall into spam). This also enables me to construct accurate to-do lists for the day/week/month based on the contents of my email – another part of my workflow.
Being able to identify your habits and create systems around those habits is the most important step toward a future without clutter. Although it requires some discipline, it really is worth the sigh of relief you get from being able to find everything you need, every time.
How do you like to stay organized? Where do you still need work?