How to Starve by Being Busy Without Being Productive

by Jonathan Dalton on December 7, 2010

Hands at Work

Image courtesy of Flickr user Symic

Allow me to share with you a lesson learned while writing for the Arizona Capitol Times and reinforced during my four years as a manager at Charles Schwab – there is nothing that takes more effort and is less productive than busy work.

When I was at the Capitol Times, I had this very nasty habit of writing as much or more copy than anyone else on the staff and doing it in a fraction of the time others needed. My writing style, developed as a sportswriter on deadline at the Mesa Tribune and honed as a freelance writer with the Associated Press, was and is a basic, top-down approach – start at the beginning, keep going to the end, don’t look back because the first attempt’s almost always the best.

It’s quick. It’s efficient. And when you’re working at a weekly newspaper where you have 40 hours to fill and need only a handful of hours to write, it’s useless. Protocol dictated you spend the rest of the time shuffling paper from one place to another.

Fast forward five years and a career change later when I became a manager at Schwab, responsible for managing a dozen or so brokers in a call-center environment. There were calls to monitor and higher-ups’ tuchases to kiss and pretty Excel spreadsheets to make in multiple colors, easy for the disciples of the Peter Principle to digest … and that took far less than 40 hours a week.

And so I started surfing the Internet. Within a week, I found myself asking a more experienced manager what to do when I had reached the end of the World Wide Web. “Turn around and start all over again,” he said. “It’s all you can do.”

One of the incredible advantages of working for one’s self is there are no set hours and, if you’re smart, no need for busy work. But it’s inevitable that when the pressure to remember the feel of a commission check builds, even the smartest agent will start to shuffle some paper in an attempt to feel busy.

How do you avoid the busy work? By being actually busy, of course. But here’s the catch – you can be busy and doing all that your broker tells you to do and still not be productive. In fact, you can be spending time on appointments and clients and still waste countless hours that could be spent doing something more productive, that ever-present concept of prospecting.

Let me take you back to November 2007, my penultimate month at Century 21 Arizona Foothills. I spent the better part of three weeks that month showing properties to Canadian clients, visiting homes in such number that I became fond of saying that our Canadian brethren love looking at homes and sometimes they’ll even buy one. And for all that work, I closed one escrow.

Nearly a half-dozen different clients, countless homes, endless gasoline … one closed escrow.

Looking back, it was a tremendous waste of time especially when you consider the time I spent showing homes to clients who were not prepared to buy could have been spent developing relationships with clients who really did want to buy.

Fast forward to this year and I can count on one hand the number of buyers to whom I’ve shown homes who have not purchased, or at least written a viable contract. I can count on one finger the number of escrows opened that failed to close (scratch the main stay, spit three times and spin in a circle.) It’s not that I’ve gotten better as an agent, though I’d like to think I have, but rather that I have become more focused on focusing appropriately on client needs.

In a recent survey of my clients, the phrase “soft sell” came up over and over again. One reason my clients have this impression? Because I will work with them for months (and in some case years) waiting for them to purchase. But, truth be told, I’m not really spending hours on end with clients who aren’t buying in the near term. I need only do what needs be done to make sure their needs are met, if not exceeded.

Of late, Facebook and Twitter have come under fire as the bastion of failing agents. I’m not here to discuss the wonder of Facebook as a prospecting tool, not when I can charge $39.95 to explain in detail complicated concepts such as “Liking” and “Poking” like all the other experts. Truth be told, if you’re spending your time writing a half-dozen or more contracts trying to secure one home for a client or spending days out of your week showing homes and never writing a content, the agent fiddling about talking to folks on Facebook is a step ahead in that at least they didn’t use up any gasoline.

Appointments equal work but don’t always equal productivity. The same goes for writing contracts. You can’t succeed without either appointments or contract writing, but you can fail doing both if you’re not on the right appointments and writing the right contracts. Perhaps you’ll feel better doing it, but you’re going to be just as broke at year’s end.

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