April 19, 2014

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 4 weeks 2 days ago

A Question of Time

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 10:34

Now that the dark days of winter are in the rear-view mirror and selling season is here, are you finding it tough to accomplish all your tasks in any given day? It’s funny, but with daylight savings time upon us, it seems that time is shorter!

We’ve certainly been talking a lot about managing our time better around the office. But it’s more than seasonal; REALTOR® Magazine is not alone in terms of companies that have had to “do more with less” over the past few years. And it’s no secret that piling more work on less people means that some items just don’t come in on time.

So, when the Time Management edition of the Brian Tracy Success Library showed up at the office, I was interested. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the slim volume clocks in at 99 pages. “I actually have time to read this!” I thought to myself.

Tracy starts out with an audacious idea that I had a hard time accepting. He says that even if you’re not good at managing your time, you should tell yourself that you are. I mean, I get the whole, “change your mindset” thing, but come on. If I walked into a meeting fifteen minutes late saying, “I am well organized and highly productive,” my colleagues would be right to laugh. Also, could this approach lead to a lack of accountability? After all, if I’m constantly telling myself that I am indeed a “highly organized and productive person” as Tracy would have me do, wouldn’t it be tempting to blame some other entity for the piles of undone work on my desk?

Still, the book does include some smarter tactics beyond the questionable psychology. Tracy first lays the case for spending your precious time properly planning out your day. He asserts that one minute of planning will save you ten minutes in execution time, which seems to ring true to me. I also likes how he helps readers learn to prioritize by emphasizing consequences. Instead of rushing to do the thing that some person says is the most important item, focus on what will happen if you don’t do something. Not only will this help you determine what to do first, but hopefully it will help you eliminate something useless from your to-do list.

There were other suggestions in this book that I had trouble with, but knew that Tracy was fundamentally right about, like the 70 percent rule. Indeed, I should be able to delegate a task to someone who can perform that task 70 percent as well as I can. But it’s so hard to let someone take something on that I can do 30 percent better! Regardless, it’s the job of books such as these to point out flaws in my conception of workplace efficiency, so I appreciate the wake-up call.

Other than that, the most useful things in this book are the questions Tracy forces readers to ask of themselves. A sampling:

  • If I were suddenly called out of town tomorrow, which tasks would I have to accomplish before leaving?
  • If I could only do one thing on my list of tasks, what would it be?
  • What is the most valuable use of my time right now?
  • Is this task urgent, important, or both?
  • What can only I do that, if done really well, will make a real difference to my organization?

What about you: Do you have any preconceived notions about time management that are holding you back?

Don’t Let Expired Social Media Advice Spoil Your Marketing

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 15:15

You know how a couple of tablespoons of spoiled milk can turn your whole fridge into a sour cavern? Well, the same thing can happen with your social media plan. If you don’t stay up to date, one annoying practice can undermine all the other good stuff you’re doing.

Credit: Billy V, 2006

The problem is knowing what’s spoiled and what isn’t. Now, it’s not every day that social media “gurus” are willing to admit they were wrong. That’s why I was pretty quick to download David Spark’s free new book, Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend (February 2014: Spark Media Solutions).

One of the first items to catch my attention was how right up front, before you even get into the good stuff, Spark sets out to help you avoid the all-too-common speed-reading phenomenon:

“Don’t just skim the section headlines and fool yourself and others into believing you read this e-book,” Spark demands. He jokes about adding in “facial recognition and eye-tracking technology” to make sure readers obey. Now, there are some books I read and others I skim. When an author asks me to take the time to read all 55 pages of a short book, I am generally willing to comply. After reading through it, I was actively working on this review when I got an e-mail from the author.

“Thanks so much for downloading a copy of ‘Hazardous to Your Social Media Health.’ Did you get a chance to read it two times? Just once? OK, that’s cool,” Spark wrote. “Do you agree with the ‘how not to do’ tips? Disagree? Thought I left something out? Am I brilliant? Am I full of it? A little of both?”

At this point, I looked over my shoulder to make sure Spark wasn’t watching me type my response.

“Wow, are you psychic?” I responded. “Did you really install that ‘facial recognition and eye-tracking technology’ you warned about in the intro? Because I was just setting out to write up my review.” I then proceeded to get tied up with a million other little things, but here finally I am with my review. And without further ado…

The e-book itself is broken into these 50 distinct tips that I found to be pretty insightful overall. Spark talks to social media experts and actually gets them to identify the advice they’ve given before that has since expired. Still, I felt like some of the tips could have been easier to implement if they were organized into higher-level mini-chapters. Here are a few of the overall trends I saw:

There’s been a sea change particular to how large corporations should and should not use social media. This trend relates to the following tips: 3, 4, 6, 7, 11, and 19. Basically the idea is that it was once perfectly acceptable to use social media as a listening platform, rather than an interactive one. But today, just listening has turned into lurking. You can’t just occupy space in social anymore, you have to own it. In practical terms, this means you may want to toss your bots, social media interns, and dashboards, and dive right in yourself.

Stop using social media the way that one girl used pool party invitations back in the fifth grade. This notion applies to tips 1, 2, 8, 13, 14, 15, 23, and 24. Auto-following, asking people to share your content, tagging people without reason, excessive hashtagging, blindly pitching your content to anyone with a pulse, running toward the latest shiny object, endorsing people on LinkedIn with the hopes that they’ll return the favor… all these things are making you look desperate. Stop it. Especially that whole “blindly pitching your content thing. Spark actually has some great follow-up info on how to pitch content more productively, and as a person who gets a lot of useless pitches, I endorse this wholeheartedly.

Did you know that posting controversial questions is bad form? This applies particularly to tips 9, 10, and 12. Sure, you’ll get some temporary payoff in terms of traffic by making people angry or posting questions that everyone feels the need to chime in on. But if it’s not tied to something real, it’s just cheap thrills when you could have had a meaningful conversation with people who already like you. Just don’t refer to them as your community. After all, it’s not like they’re not on your softball team or something. They’re people who like your business page.

There are a bunch more tips in this e-book that I’m not referencing here, because I think you should probably just take Spark’s advice and read the thing. I will say that the most helpful thing for me, as a person who spends far more time working on social media than selling homes, was the insider baseball info on how social media sites are changing the way they treat your content. This helps explain exactly why the old tricks that social experts used to recommend don’t work anymore. For example, Spark explains how Facebook’s “traffic throttling” makes it pointless to create an app on the social network. Similarly, he shows how EdgeRank has changed in such a way to penalize sharing Facebook posts directly from other pages.

Of course, he then notes that “It’s possible Facebook will revise the algorithm again and all of this advice will change after this e-book publishes.” Truly, the one downfall of this sort of publication is its own rapidly-approaching expiration date. Good thing it’s an e-book at least. Still, I’ll download the next one when it comes out. And I’ll probably actually read the whole thing, if only the one time.

To Buy a House in the Jungle

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 15:12

Every once in a while, when I’m reading something wholly unrelated to work, I come across the most interesting insights into property ownership.

A scene from Chicago in 1906, the same year Sinclair's seminal book was published, showing hustle and bustle on the Wells Street Bridge. (Chicago Daily News/Library of Congress)

This week I’ve been wading through the terrifying, foul-smelling world of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. The book is a muckraking (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) look at the meatpacking industry of Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century. Not even a third of the way into the book, I find the immigrant family I’ve been following through the harrowing process of settling in Chicago’s Packingtown neighborhood are screwing up the guts to buy a home. They’ve only been in America for something like a week, they can’t speak English, and they’re already counting up the downpayment. The process is fascinating; I recommend reading the whole thing (you can access it for free online at the Gutenberg Project; the whole home-buying storyline begins in chapter four). But I wanted to share with you a portion that occurs after they buy the place and begin “feathering their nest” in chapter five. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve bolded the parts I loved:

They had bought their home. It was hard for them to realize that the wonderful house was theirs to move into whenever they chose. They spent all their time thinking about it, and what they were going to put into it. As their week with Aniele was up in three days, they lost no time in getting ready. They had to make some shift to furnish it, and every instant of their leisure was given to discussing this.

…The next day they went to the house; and when the men came from work they ate a few hurried mouthfuls at Aniele’s, and then set to work at the task of carrying their belongings to their new home. The distance was in reality over two miles, but Jurgis made two trips that night, each time with a huge pile of mattresses and bedding on his head, with bundles of clothing and bags and things tied up inside. Anywhere else in Chicago he would have stood a good chance of being arrested; but the policemen in Packingtown were apparently used to these informal movings, and contented themselves with a cursory examination now and then. It was quite wonderful to see how fine the house looked, with all the things in it, even by the dim light of a lamp: it was really home, and almost as exciting as the placard had described it. Ona was fairly dancing, and she and Cousin Marija took Jurgis by the arm and escorted him from room to room, sitting in each chair by turns, and then insisting that he should do the same. One chair squeaked with his great weight, and they screamed with fright, and woke the baby and brought everybody running. Altogether it was a great day; and tired as they were, Jurgis and Ona sat up late, contented simply to hold each other and gaze in rapture about the room. They were going to be married as soon as they could get everything settled, and a little spare money put by; and this was to be their home—that little room yonder would be theirs!

It was in truth a never-ending delight, the fixing up of this house. They had no money to spend for the pleasure of spending, but there were a few absolutely necessary things, and the buying of these was a perpetual adventure for Ona. It must always be done at night, so that Jurgis could go along; and even if it were only a pepper cruet, or half a dozen glasses for ten cents, that was enough for an expedition. On Saturday night they came home with a great basketful of things, and spread them out on the table, while every one stood round, and the children climbed up on the chairs, or howled to be lifted up to see. There were sugar and salt and tea and crackers, and a can of lard and a milk pail, and a scrubbing brush, and a pair of shoes for the second oldest boy, and a can of oil, and a tack hammer, and a pound of nails. These last were to be driven into the walls of the kitchen and the bedrooms, to hang things on; and there was a family discussion as to the place where each one was to be driven. Then Jurgis would try to hammer, and hit his fingers because the hammer was too small, and get mad because Ona had refused to let him pay fifteen cents more and get a bigger hammer; and Ona would be invited to try it herself, and hurt her thumb, and cry out, which necessitated the thumb’s being kissed by Jurgis. Finally, after every one had had a try, the nails would be driven, and something hung up. Jurgis had come home with a big packing box on his head, and he sent Jonas to get another that he had bought. He meant to take one side out of these tomorrow, and put shelves in them, and make them into bureaus and places to keep things for the bedrooms. The nest which had been advertised had not included feathers for quite so many birds as there were in this family.

Let me know if you have any favorite fiction that addresses the real estate industry. I’m always looking for an excuse to read!

The Danger of Always Being On

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 17:48

OK, I’m going to be honest: I don’t read Huffington Post. There. I said it. It just felt like, because this blog is about what we’re reading, if would be weird if I didn’t say that. Anyway, I have my reasons, and let’s say most of them come from an aversion to the overuse of ALL CAPS and multiple exclamation marks.

Huffington speaking at Inman Connect, January 2014

Phew. That said, I truly enjoyed hearing HuffPo Chair/President/Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington speak at Inman Real Estate Connect this month. She talked about the topics she’ll address in her next book, which is broadly about unplugging from a constantly-on life.

As I’m reflecting back on what I heard in New York that day, I’m also reading through a sliver of the hundreds of 30 Under 30 applications we received for the 2014 competition. This year we asked applicants about their business challenges, and so many responded that time management and work-life balance have been real struggles. So now seems like a perfect time to share Huffington’s excellent observations and tips with you.

Now that the market is red-hot in many areas across the country, agents are still trying to do it all like they did when things were slow. Huffington’s message to real estate pros was this: It’s a different market, and we need to adjust.

“We have all focused so much on surviving,” Huffington said. “Its really exciting to be alive today.”

So, what’s changed? First, we all need to stop talking about sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. Huffington told an anecdote about meeting an unnamed gentleman for dinner who boasted of only getting four hours of sleep. She thought to herself that, if he had bothered to get five, the dinner conversation would have been a lot more interesting. Similarly, instead of praising the guy in our office who never takes lunch, she said, we need to start re-framing.

“Ultimately, we all need to redefine success,” she said. “You should be really worried [about those people] because they can’t be possibly making good judgements… Leadership is about seeing the icebergs before they hit the Titanic, and you’re not going to be able to see the icebergs if you’re sleep deprived.”

And it’s not just sleep, either. Huffington said we’re all spending a little too much time on our devices. She talked about how liberating it was, during a week without social media, when she realized that she could eat something without taking a picture of it.

“They make [these devices] deliberately addictive. It’s not accidental,” she said. “There has to be an AA for devices. You know, ‘Hello, my name is Ariana and I am a tech addict.’”

According to Huffington, the real problem with devices isn’t what your mom told you when you were a kid about too much screen time ruining your eyesight. Mobile devices by their nature divide one’s attention, which creates more stress and only provides the feeling of being more productive.

“Multitasking is a complete illusion. You are doing neither [task] well,” she said. “As a result, we’re not giving anything 100 percent.”

Huffington does have science backing her up on that assertion, and she referenced plenty of recent studies and stats regarding how this always-on lifestyle is negatively impacting our health and bottom lines. For me though, the most compelling reasoning behind moderating our connectivity was psychological. For many, myself included, always being tuned in reflects a worry of the unknown. After all, how can I possibly anticipate what will malfunction in the future if I don’t have a live stream of the present constantly in front of my eyes?

“Things will go wrong in our lives,” Huffington assured the crowd. “It’s much harder to deal with them in advance, in your head, before they happen.”

Cue deep breath. Spread smile. Repeat.

So, the question to which you’re all dying to hear the answer: Will I read Huffington’s new book when it comes out?

Maybe. We’ll see what the font looks like.

Turning Ego Systems Into Ecosystems

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 16:46

There’s nothing like traveling for a conference to put you behind in your work. Sorting through all my notes from attending Inman Connect earlier this month, I realized I heard from a whole bunch of really smart authors in New York. It seems unfair to hog all this juicy knowledge to myself, so I’m starting the share-fest off with Dana Ardi, the author of The Fall of the Alphas: The New Beta Way to Connect, Collaborate, Influence—and Lead.

Credit: en-shahdi

Ardi is a corporate anthropologist, meaning she looks at corporations in a similar way to that which Margaret Mead approached the Samoan people or Franz Boas looked at Native Americans.

“I look at all the social mores,” she said during an interview at the general session. Ardi examines a company’s physical space, as well as their values, sense of humor, diversity, and more. She’s looked at everything from big multinational corporations to the military. When she examines large organizations, she often finds “layers of management that prevented people from spreading their wings.”

“People kept coming into my office for consultation and they were really unhappy,” she said. “They just didn’t like the politics… or they felt like they were silenced.”

Sound familiar? If so, you should tune in. Her new book sets out to show how these corporate environments can be changed. I haven’t read her book yet, but at Inman Ardi cited examples from Zappo’s holacracy, where they’ve gotten rid of job titles, to how West Point is trying to see itself as an orchestra, where everyone has a vital role to play. She also told the audience that the one question everyone always asks her is “That all sounds good, but can you teach old dogs new tricks?”

Well, things are changing, but of course, it’s easier said than done. Ardi remembered one head of a Fortune 100 company telling her that he was ready to act on her recommendations by putting out a memo and telling people that’s the direction the company was going to go. She said that story illustrated the problem with the classic top-down CEO approach to change.

“The CEO is a classic reactor,” she said. Instead, if managers and executives want to make changes, they should start with their own conception of the place from which company-wide change should emanate. “It has to do with a lot of retraining yourself to be a better listener…You have to replace ego systems with ecosystems.”

While this type of change can make for a more collaborative, productive, and creative environment for everyone, one main benefit that accrues to a business that embraces this philosophy is attracting younger people to the fold.

“The next generation knows no other way,” Ardi says. “They’re used to collaborating… that’s their social system.”

Anyway, I hope to check out Ardi’s book for myself soon, but I thought I should get this out there so you could pick it up for yourself if you’re so inclined. Also, you can read my technology coverage from Inman here and here, and read what I learned about global real estate while I was there. And stay tuned for more of my notes from Inman right here on the Book Scan Blog.