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How to increase productivity without spending any money!

Increasing productivity is a big topic in appraising today. Most think it means buying computers, cell phones, etc. But your productivity can be dramatically increased by using well-known, widely-used time management techniques that can be done by anyone and don’t require purchasing any equipment. How to increase appraisal productivity without spending any money can really help.

Appraisers sell their time. In today’s climate of reduced fees, making the most of your time is extremely important. One of the most difficult parts of managing an appraisal business is the often unpredictable volatility of the workload: too much work one month, not enough work in another month.

Although we’re all tempted to “let the work fill up the available time” when we’re slow, that often results in bad habits that eat up valuable time we desperately need when we’re really busy.

Time is a precious resource. After a minute (or an hour) has passed you can’t get it back. “Time management” is not really correct. Technically, we don’t manage the clock, but we manage ourselves with respect to the clock.

The better you manage your time, the more profitable the business, and the less stress you’ll feel when the workload is demanding.

You will have more time for the part of your life that is much more important than making money: your family and friends.

Common appraiser time wasters

For most appraisers, the biggest time wasters are procrastination, failure to delegate, inability to say “no”, and phone calls. All of these are caused by bad habits that can be changed.

These are the same problems listed by surveys in other industries. They are common problems that all business owners face.

The key to time management is managing yourself. It’s not other people who control how you use your time, it’s you! This might require changing habits you’ve established over a long period of time. You also do it because you want to have more time for important things, such as family, friends, hobbies, education, or just relaxing. You want to work smarter, not harder.

The critical key: “Just Say No”

One of the greatest time-savers is using the word “NO”. The inability to use this word leads to taking on too much work, procrastinating on more difficult assignments, and failure to do more important tasks such as developing new business, or attend your daughter’s soccer game (even more important).

In order to make more efficient and effective use of your time, you must be able to plan for the future and prioritize the present. You must be able to control your workload as much as possible.

No appraiser can do every appraisal assignment. If you’re a commercial appraiser, do you accept an appraisal on a home? If you’re a residential lender-oriented appraiser, do you accept an assignment in a city 200 miles away?

How to change your behavior

Let’s say, for example, you decide you’re spending too much time on the phone (i.e., 3 hours per day). You’re having to work late into the evening to get your appraisal reports done.

Your biggest bad habit is picking up the phone whenever it rings, even when you’re feverishly working on a report that is due today. You decide to train yourself to let it ring into voice mail (or an answering machine, or let your secretary answer the phone), using behavior modification techniques.

The reason you pick up the phone is that you’re afraid to lose an assignment (even though you’re already too busy), afraid a client is trying to contact you (even though they couldn’t get you right now if you were in the field). A pretty simple, basic, motivational factor: fear.

When you’ve decided which behavior you want to modify, do it as soon as possible, don’t delay. Don’t try to do too much. Take it one step at a time. Make a commitment to the new habit for a period of time, such as 2 weeks, and don’t let yourself backslide. Reward yourself for using your new habit. Tell others about your new way of working, so you’ll be more likely to keep doing it. You are trying to modify your behavior, and rewards and consistency are both very important to your success.

For example, immediately stop picking up the phone when it rings. Let it go to voice mail, for one hour a day, say between 2 PM and 3 PM. Yes, it will be very difficult. Yes, you will be very afraid of losing a client or assignment. Do this every day for two weeks.

Tell your spouse, friends, staff, or other appraisers about your new way of increasing productivity. You’ll be less likely to backslide. You’ll be afraid of looking foolish if you backslide on the second day. (That old, familiar motivator of fear!).

After letting the phone ring for an hour a day becomes a habit, try increasing the time, say, four hours, when you’re really pushing a deadline. What emotion will you feel then? Fear will be replaced by satisfaction in getting more done and reducing stress, a positive motivator. Most of us would prefer that to the old fear of not being able to complete a report on time.

Prioritizing tasks

An extremely valuable time management tool is a “to-do” list. Without one, you drift through the day, “putting out fires” and not really accomplishing what you wanted to. You cannot do everything. Some tasks will not be done.

Start your day with a to-do list (or do it as the last thing you do at the end of the day before.).

Prioritize your list. When prioritizing, both important and urgent tasks must be listed. If you only list and do the urgent tasks, you’ll probably won’t get around to any important tasks.

A vital concept in time management is the difference between important and urgent tasks. Important tasks have long-term results, like marketing, catching up on periodicals reading, or learning a new software program.

Urgent tasks such as making a phone call, completing an appraisal due in a few days, or repairing a broken copier can always take up all your time. It is very satisfying to put out fires. They bring immediate results. But, we all know there are probably more important tasks we should be working on.

In order to complete your important tasks, you must set aside the time. Urgent tasks will always be able to take up all your time if you let them.

One way is to select a certain time period per week or per day, with no interruptions allowed. If there are too many distractions in your office, work at home during certain time periods, or come in early. The key is setting aside the time, and not backsliding. You are trying to establish a new habit. Distractions are also a problem if you work at home.

Certain tasks will stay on your to-do list for some time, without being done. No one can do everything. Some tasks will just not get done. Take them off your to-do list. It’s very hard not to try to do everything, but it is critical to time management.

Overcoming procrastination

As you use your to-do list over a few weeks, you will see certain tasks seem to take much too long to get done.

We all procrastinate. Unfortunately, procrastination often results in taking more time, at lower quality performance, when a task is left until the last minute.

Procrastination is a corollary to a lack of planning. Ways to avoid procrastination are:
– setting your own deadlines
– Starting and completing a difficult or unpleasant task or breaking it down into manageable segments
– Setting priorities, and focusing on one problem at a time and not letting yourself get distracted.

One way to get started conquering procrastination is to start your day by prioritizing and doing the most unpleasant task on your to-do list. You will feel relieved you don’t have to worry about the task any longer, and confident that you’re conquering procrastination.

Doing this every day will make it a habit, replacing fear and guilt for not getting the job done with a positive feeling of accomplishment. You’ll start your day with a good feeling and will look forward to getting tasks done. Procrastination will be conquered.

Phone tips

Telephones are both the greatest time savers and time wasters. There are many ways to cut down on phone interruptions, too-long calls, and telephone tag.

To avoid becoming a slave to your phone, you must control your calls, rather than being controlled by your callers.

For incoming calls, screening is required. If you have a secretary, inform him or her that you will only be taking certain calls or no calls. Answering services and machines do block all calls and can be checked frequently for any important calls. The reason for call screening is to allow you to concentrate on a task. It takes much less time to complete an appraisal if you’re not interrupted.

We’re all afraid an important call will be missed if we don’t pick up the phone. You may miss an important call, but you will be able to complete the job at hand. After all, if you are out in the field, you couldn’t pick up the phone!

Telephone tag is a problem. You give your callers a specific time that you will be calling back. If they are out when you call them, ask your callers to let you know what is the best time for you to call them.

Keeping calls short, when possible, is also important. The opening line can set the tone for the conversation. You can say, ‘Hi, Susan, I’m calling to ask you just a few questions’, rather than ‘I haven’t talked with you for a while, how are things going?’

Managing your staff’s time

Are you causing problems with your staff’s time management? Some of the main faults of principal/owners are changing priorities in mid-stream, poor communication, and interruptions. This applies to both appraisal and support staff.

Communication problems are: failing to inform your staff about deadlines or what exactly is expected, not being available to answer questions, and not keeping all the staff members informed about relevant facts, such as a new copier being installed next week, who’s on vacation, or training sessions for a new computer program.

For your appraisers, a typical problem is the principal being too busy to answer questions about an appraisal, causing the associate to delay completing it, or do it incorrectly. For support staff, often the principal gives hurried, brief instructions, and is not available for questions later.

Many firms have solved communication problems by having weekly staff meetings, having principals set aside certain times of the day for staff questions, or posting notices on bulletin boards, or distributing a brief memo.

Changing priorities is a significant problem for many support staff personnel. For example, a secretary is in the middle of putting together an appraisal report and is told by the principal to start working on another report. As a result of the change in priorities, the first report takes longer than it should have.

If you’re lucky enough to have had a secretary train you, you’ll know that you need to start your support staff’s day with a prioritized list of what they need to accomplish that day. Or, you can let the support staff do the list. Don’t change the priorities except for very occasional emergencies. You’ll also need to provide a prioritized list of tasks that don’t have do be done right now but need to be completed at some future date.

When you were an employee, and your boss walked up and started talking, what did you do? If you wanted to stay happily employed, you stopped what you were doing to talk with her or him. Your staff probably acts the same towards you. Every time you interrupt them, they lose time. Don’t interrupt unless it’s really necessary.

Encourage your staff to “manage the boss”, and let you know when deadlines are unrealistic, you keep changing priorities, or interrupt them. Encourage them to question and seek agreement on priorities and respect your “closed-door” times. Respect their time and they will respect yours.

Where to get more information

There are many books on time management. Check your local book store or library. Most of the issues and techniques are fairly well known and are used in almost all books.

Taking a time management workshop or seminar can be very helpful. Ann O’Rourke took one many years ago, and she is still using the techniques she learned there. Time is money – don’t waste it!

Previously published in Appraisal Today. Written by Ann O’Rourke.

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