Technology Free Fall
Can You Stay Focused in a Digital World?
Anxiety about unopened or unanswered email, too much time devoted to social media, and uncontrollable urges to check smartphones and tablets for email, posts, and texts 24/7 are among the multiple distractions of a digital world.
Never have so many ways to communicate been available, and never has so much discipline been needed to appropriately manage them. Day in and day out, CCIMs and other commercial real estate professionals face this conundrum: What's the best way to stay focused and free of digital distractions?
“Figure out what you need to spend your time on each day,” says Julie Morgenstern, productivity and time management expert and author of Never Check Email in the Morning. “What concentrated work do you need to accomplish today? Who do you need to talk to face to face? What are the non-email, non-text items in your day? Carve out time to allow those things to be done.”
Multitasking is a myth. You can't look at a text on your smartphone and give your client your undivided attention at the same time. But as communication methods and the tasks associated with them multiply, CCIM practitioners have learned to recognize which approach works best for them.
“I get something done in a shorter time if I stay the course with it,” says Warren Klutz, CCIM, MAI, president of Warren Klutz and Co., in Bristol, Tenn.
Andrew Cheney, CCIM, has created five steps to manage digital interruptions. His steps include knowing that he cannot be everywhere at once, setting up a home office identical to his work office, and turning off the automatic alert on his email.
“In commercial real estate, you need both the quiet focus time and the energizing bullpen exposure,” says Cheney, a principal at Lee & Associates in Phoenix. “I make development calls from home first thing in the morning where I can focus without the distraction of the open, collaborative office.”
Determining the best communication method for the task is another hallmark of staying focused. Howard Meier, CCIM, MRICS, believes commercial real estate is a relationship-based business and schedules regular meetings even with long-time clients.
“You need to get in front of the client or prospect as soon as you can to build the relationship and trust,” says Meier, a broker at Bexhill Real Estate Brokerage in Toronto. “Technology is a follow up to a face-to-face meeting. Email is not an opportunity to expand the relationship.”
Soozi Jones Walker, CCIM, president of Commercial Executives Real Estate Services in Las Vegas, concurs and adds, “Technology is a great way to disseminate information, but it's not a great way to communicate. If you want to communicate, talk to the person. The tonality of your voice and your body language say much more than the words typed on a screen ever could. We have forgotten the power gestures, facial expressions, and vocal inflections have on people.”
On the other hand, Aaron Barnard, CCIM, SIOR, adjusts his approach to the different circumstances of his clients and prospects. “You have to be very flexible in commercial real estate and adapt to your clients' preferences,” says Barnard, senior director at Cushman & Wakefield/Northmarq in Minneapolis. Since one of his best clients is always in flight, their conversations are conducted through email.
Cultivating the Best Habits
Effective habits build momentum in business. One of Jones Walker's habits is to capture her emails and text messages in reports, so she has a paper trail in case of any questions.
“Technology can be your friend or your enemy when it comes to contractual conflicts,” says Jones Walker. “When I write an email or text, I imagine how I would feel if a judge or jury saw what I wrote. If I'm upset, I don't hit send. I come back later and re-read it. Nine times out of 10, I never send it at all.”
Continuous learning is a mindset and a habit, according to 2015 CCIM President Mark Macek, CCIM. He seeks to leverage technology and integrate it into his business practice to create more value for his clients.
Jones Walker has literally unplugged online books from her iPad and reads actual books at night. “When I read books online, I found that I was waking up in the middle of night and answering emails,” she says.
Cheney turns off his smartphone at night and on Saturdays when it's time for his family and friends. “When I work out or hike, I don't bring the phone,” he says. “At some point, whoever you're with, you want to be present with that person, even if it's yourself. I have developed the will power to put technology away.”
While discipline is essential to using technology appropriately, technology continues to rapidly change professional and personal lives.
Since Macek Cos. covers a wide geographic area, the firm moved to a cloud-based customer relationship management system, file storage system, and Office 365. Now Macek and his employees can easily gain access to all information they need wherever they are - at home, on the road, or at a conference halfway around the globe.
“We push people to be powerful and knowledgeable users of our main programs,” says Macek, president at Macek Cos. in Great Falls, Mont. “We work at selecting the best technologies and become power users.”
Video conferencing has changed how quickly commercial real estate professionals and their clients can view and evaluate properties together. “I load video tours on my iPad to show clients real-time information in meetings,” Cheney says.
Through various software programs and online research, Barnard can gather demographics, aerial photos, video tours, and analyses together quickly to create investment packages for his clients.
Like many CCIMs, time management expert Morgenstern observes that society is moving toward the tipping point of realizing technology cannot be the only way people communicate.
“I cannot live on a screen; it feels like a diet of cotton candy, and I need vegetables,” Morgenstern says. “Almost all of us are craving the nutrition of undivided attention, and I see people of all ages - from college students to older people - balancing the need for technology and the need for human contact.”
CCIMs already have the tools and the skills to make their businesses successful. They need to follow the right balance of human touch and technology without one or the other tipping the scale into unproductive distractions.
Sara S. Patterson is senior editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.
Even if you avoid email for the first hour of the day, it still has a way of eating your time alive. Julie Morgenstern in her book, Never Check Email in the Morning, offers the following advice on loosening the grip of email.
- Keep your email alarm off. Check email at designated times such as 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. If an issue is critical or urgent, someone will call you.
- Process emails fully during your email sessions. Respond immediately to emails that can be answered in two minutes or less. For those requiring more thought or research, schedule a specific time to respond.
- Put the message in the subject line. In many cases, you can write everything you need to in the subject line: “Please schedule staff meeting for Friday 11 a.m.” “Lunch meeting set for 1:30 p.m.” Similarly, if you need an immediate response, say so in the subject line - “URGENT” - and ask others to do the same.
- Start longer emails by telling the reader what you need. A little note like “Please review and advise,” or “Can you double-check the numbers below?” will save the recipients time, focusing their thoughts as they read.
- Stick to one or two points per email. Long-winded emails that require scrolling don't match people's attention span. It's much more efficient to write a separate email for each issue than to catch someone up on 10 complicated matters in one email.