Over just the past few years, the growth in productivity, management & communication tools has been amazing. Sometimes (often) it seems a bit too much. Here’s a short collection of tools I use extensively that will help you do your job better & make your life easier while adding value to your clients. All the tools are either free or very, very low-cost for what they do.
Death and taxes were the only guarantees in life until Man invented meetings. So as long as we’re guaranteed to have meetings we might as well try to make the best of them. There’s plenty of info, tips & tricks to run more productive meetings but what happens after the meeting? How does all that stuff get done? If you’re like me you take a ton of meeting notes to keep track of everything. But after the meeting how do we process and execute on all the stuff within those notes & chicken scratch created during meetings?
A pretty typical scenario for me is to have several meetings over several days where each meeting generates pages of notes. Some time later when revisiting those notes I found that trying to interpret the action items and key points of the meeting was taking way too much brain power. I was trying to decipher page after page of chicken scratch to figure out what I had captured, what needed to be done and where I could delegate. Not good. I needed a better way.
I began trying different note taking methods then it hit me. Why not apply the same visualization techniques used in design to the note-taking process? Why not give some context to the notes by adding graphical elements to the information? To put it simply, I began adding home-grown contextual icons in the side margin of the pages to show specific aspects within the notes.
The productivity results have been huge.
I developed simple icon drawings to use during meetings. The productivity results have been huge. I can pick up week-old meetings notes and at a glance know just what I need to do. No more reading & interpreting chicken scratch. The icons are so simple anyone can draw them. The method is to add them to the side margin as you’re writing the notes. The basic codex looks like this:
Click to enlarge:
Here’s a before and after example:
Click to enlarge:
The example on the left has no context of the written text whereas the eye can easily focus on specific actions with the example on the right.
I can scan the notes and figure out what sort of action needs to take then cross off the icon as I complete the items.
This may not work for everyone but it’s helped me get better control of the information overload and my hope is that it might help you too.
Now that at& t is available in Steamboat I’m getting asked a lot about the iPhone. I’ve been using the iPhone for almost 2 years with no problems & great coverage. One aspect that makes the iPhone so powerful is the App Store. With over 15,000 add-on applications for the iPhone there’s a ton of resources to help you get things done, manage information, communicate and just have fun.
Here are 5.5 apps that I highly recommend for real estate professionals (only one is real estate specific).
1. Evernote – Free (with a paid option)
Evernote for the iPhone is part of a larger system of applications for managing all the digital information in your life. From research to notes to the great bottle of wine you want to remember, Evernote can handle it. You can set up different notebooks in Evernote to organize your stuff. So for example I have a notebook of iphone pics I’ve taken of wines I like and another notebook for some project research. Evernote even has OCR to recognize text in a picture. That means that photos are now searchable via a simple text search. Evernote has a desktop component for Mac or PC and a cloud component so your data is always available. The iPhone app is really well done and allows you to enter data into your account via text, voice notes (that you can listen to later) or by taking a snapshot with the iphone camera. The real benefit with this app is that your data/info is always with you, searchable and you have the ability to add to your stuff at anytime.
2. Easy wifi – Free
iPhone users get free wifi access at all at&t wifi hotspots which is great. But logging on at said hotspots is pretty difficult. You have to jump through several hoops and it can take a bit to connect. Easy wifi does all the logging in for you. Just set up your account once and launch the app when you want to get online. In a matter of seconds, you’re in. This isn’t a huge deal but it’s one of those small things that makes your life a little easier.
3. Twitterific – Free
4. Camerabag – $1.99
Camerabag is an iPhoto photo enhancer. Snap a photo with the iPhone and you can choose from 9 different filters to jazz up your iPhone photos. You’re iPhone snaps will look better and more unique than just the standard pic.
5. Trulia Real Estate Search – Free
Wanna see the future of real estate search? Get the Trulia app. The online real estate portal Trulia has created a great app for the iPhone that allows you to search in a numberof ways including by using the phone’s GPS location. In another city and curious what’s for sale around you? Fire up the app and you’ll get all the listings within a radius you specify. Plus you can save searches and save favorite properties. It has integrated google maps to see your favorites on a map.
5.5 Google Earth for the iPhone - Free
You’ll hold the world in the palm of your hand with this app. It is surprisingly powerful and the resolution is incredible. It even has the ability to tilt just like it’s desktop counterpart. The app takes advantage of the GPS function so you can zoom inn on your exact location.
Have any apps you can’t live without? Post em in the comments!
Over the weekend I read a blog post from Brad Feld regarding the difference between panic and urgency. It’s written by the head of an unnamed start-up company and I think it has relevance to many real estate entities today.
In recent weeks, many of my business contacts have discussed the economy and the pressure we are all feeling on a daily basis. They all have a sense of pressure. I am sure many of you can relate. If you are not feeling the pressure these days, then you may want to step outside or turn on the TV, or read a newspaper. It has brought up a topic to me that has always been a challenge for me. The difference between panic and urgency. Panic is a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons. We have all seen what panic looks like. Panic has no sense of purpose. Panic makes us run away from the problem. Panic gives a sense of hopelessness. Panic says there is no way out. For example, I am claustrophobic. When I feel trapped, I panic.
continuously purging irrelevant activities to provide time for the important and to prevent burn-out.
On the other hand a sense of urgency is different. John Kotter, Harvard professor, stated that true urgency may sometimes involve moving fast. But the most important aspects of true urgency are relentlessness, steadiness and the purposeful pursuit of a goal while “continuously purging irrelevant activities to provide time for the important and to prevent burn-out.” Go back and read that again and let it sink in. Kotter gives a few suggestions to organizations and leaders:
1. Create a sense of urgency: he believes that organizations need a sense of urgency if they are going to change and be successful. I believe we need a culture of urgency. NOT PANIC. But urgency. We need a relentless, steady, purposeful culture that is pursuing our goals, purging irrelevant activities, and spending time on the important things.
2. Team Members must behave with urgency every day. Anxiety, panic, or anger are bad responses – team members should transmit their urgency in meetings, emails and in everything else they do each day
3. Look for the opportunities that are obscured by emerging crises. Fear can paralyze a business and prevent us from taking necessary action. A sense of urgency can carry us successfully through to success.
4. Deal with the NoNos – those “relentless urgency-killers” who would rather that their complacent existence was left undisturbed. Basically, Kotter is saying that complacency is a feeling that a person has about his or her own behavior, about what he or she needs to do or not do. “This point is also extremely important, because it is possible to see problems and yet be astonishingly complacent because you do not feel that the problems require changes in your own actions. So, we become complacent and lose the sense of urgency.”
Panic makes things worse. Urgency should make things better. I hope you can see that our leadership team is communicating a sense of urgency. Let me be clear, we are not in panic mode. I refuse to panic at work or at home. I hope you see us focused on pursuing our goals. I hope you see us purging irrelevant activities which include expenses, etc. I hope you see our relentlessness and steadiness. I hope you see our sense of determination to achieve our goals.
My challenge to each of you is that you wake up each day and have a sense of urgency both at work and in your personal life. I challenge you to evaluate your surroundings and look for opportunities to drive revenue and to make a difference in your clients. Look for ways to be productive for yourself and for our company. One key ingredient I know without a doubt you all have is talent unlike some of the singers in the last few weeks on American Idol. I know each of you have the talent for this business. So… Don’t panic…but be urgent!
Ok it’s the second half of January – how are all the New Year’s resolutions coming along?
If your desk still looks the same, your inbox is still full and your still trying to get it together here is a lifesaver. This guy changed my life a few years ago and his GTD (Getting Things Done) system is sweeping across the globe. This is a fantastic overview video featuring David Allen himself (the creator of GTD) giving a talk at Google.
The video is 45 minutes. If you’ve got a ton on your plate and really want to move the ball forward this year this approach will certainly help.
The one aspect I really like about GTD is you can implement most of the system immediately and receive immediate benefit.
For more info check out these GTD resources:
Buy the Getting Things Done book.
I used Outlook back in the day and always felt like the email aspect of the program was a bit incomplete. Microsoft addressed some of Outlook’s shortcomings in Office 2007 but there’s still a lot to be desired in terms of information management, searching and a fast workflow. Then I tried an application called Nelson Email Organizer (NEO – $1/2 off for a limited time $34.97!).
The skies cleared, the grass turned green and my email became an obedient servant giving me the right information when I needed it. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook to manage email take a look at these applications. They’re designed to help make your email workflow easier and help manage the incredible volume of email we accumulate.
NEO has a number of features that real estate professionals will love.
For example NEO tracks all correspondence to and from all your contacts. Click a contact and you’ll see all the correspondence you’ve ever had to and from that contact. Add them to a Hot List and the info is even easier to find. NEO runs on top of Outlook and simply reads & interprets your Outlook file. If you don’t like it, your Outlook data is as it always was.
Clear Context ($89.95) is another application. I have not used this application but I’ve heard good things about it. Clear Context integrates with Outlook. In other words, it adds buttons and additional functionality to the Outlook interface.Here’s a video overview of the application:[FLASH]http://www.clearcontext.com/ims_demo/ims_demo_425px.swf,425,350[/FLASH].They both have free trials so try one of these apps & you’ll love your email again.
I recently had the difficult task of hiring a new employee for Altera. In the end what made it so difficult was trying to choose between several well qualified candidates. Karen Goedert owner of Resort Recruiters, offered her company’s screening service. What a relief. Each candidate was interviewed by her and I received a concise report of each candidate along with a follow up call from Karen. She uncovered things that I missed and helped confirm other issues I had.
The big value to me was she helped me get from A to B faster and with more confidence.
Sometimes we are so “in” what we are doing it’s hard to see things from other perspectives. As you look to bring on new brokers or employees I encourage you to try her services. You’ll save time and have additional perspective to make a better decision.
Resort Recruiters: 970-367-4416
Here’s part 2 of the productivity tools to get you out of the office:
6. Digital Audio Recorder – ~$29.00 @ Staples
A digital recorder can be an invaluable productivity tool. I use it to record meetings, notes, ideas and phone calls. It’s a great device for capturing info on the fly when you’re in a hurry or want to focus on what’s being said rather than taking notes in a meeting. I’ve even used it to record a segment of an audio book I’m listening to. If I’m in my car and hear something I need to remember, I just replay that segment and record it.
As a training tool, record the next phone conversation you have with a potential client, then replay, or better yet, have someone else listen to it and give feedback. Often you’ll find that what’s clear to you may not be to the other person.
Tip: Set a repeating reminder in your calendar to review your voice memos. They won’t do you much good unless you get them out of the device & into your system.
7. DIY Planner – Free @ www.diyplanner.com
Most commercial planners suck. They’re made for the masses and often don’t provide the right capture & planning environment. Everyone has different needs and priorities and for the most part commercial products are too general. diyplanner.com has hundreds of templates for you to make your own planner and they’re free! You might even get inspired to make your own with a program like Microsoft Publisher. Plus diyplanner.com has tons of productivity advice.
8. 43 Folders – <$20 @ Staples
There’s no tech involved in this at all and yet it’s my most trusted tool. The gist is that you have one letter or legal folder for each day of the month and one folder for each month of the year (43 folders). The stuff you need to keep track of goes into the folder for the day that you need to see it. Each day you empty the contents of that day’s folder into your in basket and move that folder to the back. It’s then part of the next month. For example if today were July 10th I’d empty the contents of the folder labeled 10 in to my in basket and move it to the back. It then becomes the 10th of August. Here is a PDF that gives all the details on how to get this set up and use it.
9. GTD – Book & info at www.davidco.com
These three letters stand for Getting Things Done, a methodology by David Allen. There’s too much to say about GTD so you’ll have to trust me on this and get the book and learn the methodology. I guarantee if you apply just half of what he preaches you’ll be 100% more productive. Here’s 21 links on GTD to get you started.
10. Apple MacbookPro – ~$2700 @ www.apple.com
I switched over a year ago and have never looked back. For a real estate professional, I can’t see any reason not to get a Mac. Notice I didn’t say abandon Windows. I understand you’ve got contract software and the MLS system still requires IE6 & Windows. Fortunately the Mac can run Windows and OS X (the Apple operating system) simultaneously. I still need Windows to run another business of mine and I’ve had no trouble running both. With a Mac you get, in my opinion, a superior platform for marketing, communicating, presenting & creating. I spend much less time fiddling with my mac than I ever did with Windows PCs. There’s tons of software (which was a big concern of mine) and the experience using most Mac apps is fantastic.
The other big plus with a Mac is tech support. Because Apple is smaller than other computer makers, tech support wait times are much shorter and you get to speak to an American who actually knows how to fix your computer. I’ve had a few occasions where I needed to contact tech support and it was the best support I’ve ever experienced.
Some might try to argue that a Mac costs more than a PC. Not true. When you configure a PC to similar specs as a Mac then factor in the fantastic marketing software that comes with a Mac, it turns out the Mac is cheaper. The misperception often comes from the fact that Apple doesn’t sell low end computers i.e. a $500 laptop.
10.5 Google 411 – Free @ 1-800-466-4411
Some 411 services for cell phones are topping $2.00 per call. This is a new FREE service from Google (yes, I know they’re taking over the world). I’ve been using it for awhile now and have had great results with Steamboat businesses. Using this service, you can:
- search for a local business by name or category.
You can say “Giovanni’s Pizzeria” or just “pizza.”
- get connected to the business, free of charge.
- get the details by SMS if you’re using a mobile phone.
Just say “text message.”
So program this into your speed dial and give it a shot.
See you on the trails!
Ahh, summer in Steamboat. Biking, golfing, camping, hiking, tubing, fishing… the list goes on & on. Most people I know came to Steamboat for the winters but stayed because of the awesome summers. But for Steamboat Springs real estate agents, this is the busiest time of the year! I’ve got 10 productivity tools I swear by to help get you out of the office & into the outdoors.
1. Jott.com – Free @ www.jott.com
Jott.com is a relatively new service that transcribes a voice phone message into an email to someone you specify or to yourself. Need to tell someone to fax you a document? Jott ‘em. Need to remind yourself to call someone when you get back in the office? Jott yourself. When you use Jott, your voice message is transcribed to text and via voice recognition, an email is sent to a person you specify in your contact list. So no more waiting for voicemail to pick up on the other end, or endless chit-chat. Just Jott the message and move on. Be sure to program the 800# into your cell phone’s speed dial. Try it – you’ll like it.
TIP: The clearer and more slowly you speak, the better the transcription results are on the other end.
2. Del.icio.us – Free @ del.icio.us
del.icio.us allows you to tag & organize bookmarks to an online account that’s accessible from any computer. The value of this may not be very apparent at first but it’s become one of my most trusted tools. Being able to associate multiple contexts with a bookmark is a powerful way of organizing information you want to refer to later. Instead of a long list of bookmarks (possibly grouped in folders) del.icio.us provides a powerful tool to store all your bookmarks. With each bookmark, you can assign one or more “tags” of your choosing. So say you wanted to bookmark a page you found on the New York Times website regarding FSBO home pricing and the article had a video. You might “tag” it with 3 separate tags -”Realestate” “FSBO” “Video.” Now 3 months later when you’re doing FSBO research for a Steamboat real estate report from your hotel room in Belize, you can access your account, click on a few tags to filter and voila, there’s the link.
I use the account to remind me of web pages I need to review. If I run across an article or a page that I don’t have time to read, I’ll add it to my del.icio.us account with my “Review” tag. Then when I have some free time I just look at my Review tag to see the stuff I need to read. Even better, all accounts and tags are RSS feeds so you can set up a feed for any of your tags in your newsreader or browser to have those links just a click away.
TIP: del.icio.us has browser buttons to add to your browser toolbar. This makes adding a bookmark to your account a snap.
3. MindJet MindManager – $99 – $349 @ www.mindjet.com
Got a new idea? Planning a marketing campaign? Brainstorming a business issue? Take a serious look at MindManager. Use this tool to create serious brainstorming and planning threads in an appealing visual way. MindManager creates mindmaps of the issue at hand that can contain documents, links, notes, photos and more. In productivity terms, MindManager helps all team members focus on the issue at hand with all relevant information and you’ll get to the end result faster. It’s a great tool to get info out of your head and into a container that’s easy to manipulate.
4. mozy.com – Free – $4.95/month @ www.mozy.com
Backing up your files is a pain. What’s worse is when you loose your data and don’t have a backup. Mozy to the rescue! This is an online backup service that’s very inexpensive and works great. You simply set up an account, install the software and either let it decide what to back up or tell it what to back up. Mozy quietly works in the background and keeps your data backed up to their servers. All the data is encrypted so no one can see your stuff. Plus Mozy will back up multiple versions of files so in case you suddenly realize you’ve been working on the wrong file for the past 2 days, you can go back in time to get the correct one. This feature really saved me recently when Wells Fargo screwed up my Quickbooks file and I needed to replace the bad file with a backup from a month ago. I restored a previous version in 10 minutes and was back in business. In terms of data loss, it’s really a question of when not if. I’d much rather see you on the golf course instead of recreating a contract from scratch on a Saturday afternoon. Yeah, I know, your stuff gets backed up onto the company’s server every night. So what, you’re in business for yourself, it’s your responsibility to safeguard your data. And what happens if you’re traveling? Who are you gonna call at 10:30pm to get your data off the server? With mozy.com just download your backed up file!
5 . Pandora.com – Free @ www.pandora.com
If you work better listening to music be sure to check out pandora.com. You can create personalized commercial free music stations based on a genre or an artist. Like Willie Nelson? Just enter his name in a new station and you’ll hear Willie plus similar artists that you might like. You have the opportunity to give each song a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” rating and the channel learns what to play by how you rate songs. So over time you spend more time listening to music you like.
You can also share stations. Here’s one of my stations I’ll share with you: pandora.com
Just because things are going great doesn’t mean you win. Just ask Marco Andretti who lost by 6/100 of a second at last years Indy 500 after leading the final lap.
In fact, 11 times in the past 15 years drivers who were leading late in the Indy 500 race failed to win. Also in 11 of the last 15 years the fastest lap of the race was recorded in the latter part of the race.
As the market heats up, so does the competition and so does the pace. Keeping your focus on current deals, projects & contracts all the way to the end is crucial even though you’re being pulled in many directions and the days are flying by (are we really in the last half of May already?).
When things seem to be falling from the sky it’s easy to turn your attention to the “next thing” opening up the chance for “this thing” to fall through. Having a great personal management system you TRUST is key element in keeping all the balls in the air while maintaining focus on what’s important. Do you have one? It doesn’t need to be complicated and you can make your own which is what I did. You can download my planner templates here.
There’s tons of free planner templates at http://www.diyplanner.com/