Fitting it All in – and Finding Time for You

Heidi Walkinshaw discusses how to get your time management and productivity under control, even taking into account the odd inevitable emergency.

Time! That elusive beast that makes minutes turn into hours and days into weeks all in the blink of an eye, sometimes leaving us wondering ‘how on earth do I fit everything in?’

The demands on property management teams are growing fast as clients’ expectations increase in the ‘now generation’. We are now faced with consumers who have everything available in an instant and, with companies now choosing to save money and outsource to overseas locations, they also can receive information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

With a change in expectations, businesses have essentially to re-evaluate their position when it comes to customer service and how to manage the demands placed on them in order to survive. Someone wise once said to me, ‘Property management would be a walk in the park if it weren’t for the people. But then, isn’t this business about the people?’

The actual tasks involved in property management essentially haven’t changed. We still collect rent, albeit in a much easier fashion than going door to door with a carpet bag collecting cash from tenants and maintaining a ledger on a yellow card! Routine inspections are still carried out and you will still conduct an ingoing and outgoing inspection with the tenant. Granted, when it comes to eviction, it’s no longer as simple as just throwing habitual late-payers out on the street and changing the locks.

End of month is perhaps a much easier process, with software automation and the elimination of the old Oki dot matrix which would run for over three hours straight until you left the office with the constant drone ringing in your ears. Filing has also evolved from those hours spent tugging open ancient filing cabinet drawers to add carbon copy documents to already-bulging manila folders, torn in many places and barely sticking together.

So how is it that property managers are constantly screaming that ‘they are too busy’ and ‘there just aren’t enough hours in the day’ or ‘I just don’t have the time!’ Anxiety levels in departments are high and teams seem to be constantly running on the hamster wheel without any end in sight.

Today’s property managers have a myriad of technology and training options right at their fingertips just begging to be used, but in many cases they are not taking advantage of what is so readily available. Often the excuse is that they do not have the time to implement the change or learn how to use it.

So how do teams and individuals find more time? It’s not about managing time so much as learning new tips and tricks to self-manage, because each day is just as long as it’s always been. It’s just about learning, or unlearning in some cases, how to manage the hours you are given each day.

Step one in self-management is figuring out where all your activities are spent each week. Spend at least one week recording all your activities and be brutally honest. If you take half an hour to stroll to the coffee shop, record it. If you are spending up to five hours with an owner on the phone going backwards and forwards, note it down. The idea is to pinpoint exactly where your time is being utilised and figure out if it can be better spent elsewhere.

Take a moment to block out the rest of the world. Your sanity will thank you. No matter what happens throughout the day, one thing is certain: in business, and even in your personal life, the phone won’t stop and neither will the emails. Scheduling time each week for block-out time will assist you in getting on top of your workload and in control again.

When we talk about block-out time this means no phone calls, no emails and no office distractions. Easier said than done, right? Turn the phone to silent, close the inbox if necessary and pop a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the back of your chair or on your office door. Communicate to the rest of the team that you are retreating into your bubble for an hour, just to catch up and calm the nerves before the next onslaught.

When you are planning your weekly schedule, it is imperative that you leave enough white space in the calendar for unplanned events. You know the ones: the exploding hot water system, the emergency dryer repair that just has to be done right now and the owner or tenant who is screaming down the phone in complete crisis mode. Property management, no matter what generation we are in, will never be a completely stress-free zone. We need to have contingency plans in place for when the bottom falls out of people’s sanity.

Identify the routine tasks that can be performed at the same time each day; once planned, try to stick to it. Tasks like arrears, routines, rent reviews and prospecting calls can all be carried out at a scheduled time during the week.

Planning time each day is also an essential item in your week. Take at least half an hour at the beginning of the day to go through your appointments, tasks and outstanding work so that you can prepare yourself mentally and physically for the daily tasks. You may need a coffee for this exercise. Equally important is scheduling time at the end of the day to review the day that was. This will help ease any anxiety, tie up any loose ends and help you avoid those 3am panicky wake-ups.

Don’t forget either that your clients will establish their expectations from the boundaries you set, so if you are answering calls or emails after 7pm at night or on a Sunday they will expect you to be available at that time. Set your ground rules from the outset and it will assist you in maintaining a healthier relationship with that client. Remember, there is software available to automate many of the processes you are doing.

Keep in mind that for your own productivity and mental health you also need a little bit of downtime. Most of all, be kind to yourself. Property management can be a thankless role, but also an incredibly rewarding one; and learning to manage yourself and the hours in your day can help you not just to survive, but thrive in this amazing industry.

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Heidi Walkinshaw

Heidi Walkinshaw has been immersed in property management for over 14 years, dealing in all aspects from leasing, property management, business development and team management. For more info visit realplus.com.au.