When hiring a real estate executive assistant, one particular skill that real estate agents are looking for is organization. Simply put, the agent wants their new hire to take all the chaos they’ve created and turn it into something systematic and organized.
To an extent, I believe being organized is a personality trait. The ability to think logically and in patterns is what leads a person to be able to organize with ease. It is nice though to see how other people organize their stuff and simply follow their model. That’s why there are tons of books and articles on the subject!
What I want to give you here is a comprehensive guide to how I organize my life which makes a lot of other things easier or unnecessary. What follows is the Ultimate Guide to Organizing Everything for the Real Estate Executive Assistant.
Organizing Your Time
When you start organizing your time in a systematic way, you will reach your personal peak productivity level.
I am a huge fan of the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The methods outlined in the book are simple, but not easy. Like anything worth mastering, it takes daily practice to organize your time.
Here’s my weekly practice for organizing my time.
On a Friday, just before you leave the office, or on a Sunday when everything is quiet at home, make a list of everything you are currently working on and everything your mega wants completed in the near future. Put all of your upcoming appointments for the next week in that list too as well as all the personal stuff you want to accomplish. Put on there all of the projects you wish you had time to work on. When it’s out of your head and onto paper, your brain can relax a little bit when it realizes everything is getting sorted.
Open up your calendar. I love and recommend Google calendar. My entire team uses it and I love that I can have several of my own calendars. I have calendars for my local sports teams, a coaching series that I listen to, and the Keller Williams market center activities. I can turn these calendars on and off so when I’m planning my week I can decide if I want to attend any of those other activities and copy them to my work calendar if I want to make them a priority.
Make sure your appointments are on your calendar first. If you recall the parable about the professor with the jar of large rocks, pebbles, and sand, the only way it all fits is if you put the big rocks in first. Those are your appointments.
Next, block time for your pebbles, which are projects that move the business forward. These are the things that as you get busy dealing with “sand” (such as email, phone calls, demands from your mega and team) get completely shoved aside. If you don’t prioritize these things, they will never get done because there’s no real sense of urgency around them.
Examples of pebbles: getting your social media marketing plan outlined, creating a list of events for the year and outlining each one, incorporating more phone calls into your contract to close plan. Pebbles are usually the things that start out as, “We should really…” and you think it’s a good idea, but you have no idea when you would ever have time to get that done.
If your week really is full of day-to-day activities such as processing listing and contracts, I highly recommend you start with just one pebble. What’s the vital priority or number one project that would help your team get more business if you got that project completed? That’s the one I want you to choose.
Estimate how long you think it’s going to take to complete that project and block that time in your week. Give yourself a 10% cushion. Then, and here’s the key, you have only that amount of time to finish the project. You can give yourself no more time to get it done. You must focus, block out all distractions, and get to work. Because when the time is up, you have to be finished.
I believe that we are inefficient with our time and it takes us too long to get things done because we don’t realize how we sabotage ourselves and how we let others interrupt and distract us. But when you practice and get really good at giving yourself a set amount of time to finish something and get it done inside that time block, you come to realize you can rely on yourself to get stuff done. If it’s on your calendar, it’s as good as done. Now that’s a brilliant source of your confidence!
So you’ve got your appointments on there and your project(s), and you should still be seeing plenty of white space. That’s where all the sand goes. That’s when you’ll be processing listings and closings, helping the teammate who comes to you with “Ya got a minute?,” checking email, and just generally dealing with the day-to-day stuff. You may want to go as far as dividing your day in half so that you processes listings before lunch and closings after lunch, but that’s not necessary.
Just remember this, whatever you’re working on, be present with that one task. It’s so easy to think that we can multi-task, but as The ONE Thing teaches, that’s a myth. Our attention is so divided these days, that we must focus ourselves intently until the current task is done if we ever expect to gain ground and help move the business forward.
Organizing Your To-Do List
In the exercise above, I had you write a list of everything you need to do for the upcoming week. Now, let’s put some meaning and intention behind the items on that list.
It’s very easy for most of us to fill an entire piece of paper with all our to-do’s when we really start thinking about it. Looking at that huge list is an easy way to bring up feelings of overwhelm and anxiety if you start to think there’s just too much for one person do to.
So the first thing I want you to do with your to-do list is begin thinking about it differently. When you see that enormous list, I want you to think “job security.” Right? Because without you, there’s no way your mega could ever accomplish even a quarter of the things on that list by themselves.
The next thing I want you to do is change the name of your list from To Do to Could Do. Because that’s all it is; a list of things you could do. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to get out of bed in the morning. You don’t have to come to work and hammer out as much as you possibly can off your to-do list. You don’t have to do any of it. You choose to though, don’t you? So if you have a choice in what you do, let’s think of our list as though it were a menu at a restaurant. What will you choose off that menu? What will give you the most satisfaction when you get it done? Which one will make your entire team happy, including you?
Therefore, you are no longer allowed to have a to-do list, ok? (Remember, now we’re calling it our Could Do list.) There is power in the words that we use because words influence how we think. The most successful people in the world (no matter their job) are those who think in order of priority. For most people, the priority is a feeling. People generally want to feel happy and when it comes to work, what makes them happiest is their accomplishments. What will you accomplish this week, no matter what? Write that one thing on a stick note and put it on your monitor. That way, when you forget what your priority for the week is, you’ll have something in front of you to remind you. Then, hide your Could Do list. Put it out of your mind and focus on the priority. You can’t get it all done, but you can get one thing done.
Lastly, we get to make one more list: the Ta Da list. At the end of the day, or as you move through your day, write down what you actually accomplished. So often we get to the end of the day and think, “Did I really accomplish anything today?” Usually we get a feeling of dissatisfaction because we’re sure we were busy, but we’re not sure we actually got anything done. That’s why we need the Ta Da list; to recognize ourselves for what we did accomplish.
Organizing Your Desk
I think some people are naturally neat and tidy and others are very good at ignoring messes! Unfortunately, I think I fall into the latter category. That’s why I have to watch myself when it comes to my desk at work. It drifts between chaos and organized chaos.
I do my best not to keep paper. I have an inbox that sits on the corner of my desk and essentially gets piled up until I decide to sort through everything and either scan it into cloud storage or throw it away.
Like most things in life, consistency is key. When I’m consistent with what I’m about to suggest, my desk is pretty tidy. When I forget to be consistent, that’s when all chaos breaks loose!
Keep a spiral notebook next to you and that’s where you capture everything. Start with a blank page and write the date at the top. Draw a box around the date. Keep all your notes for the day on that page. You can fill multiple pages if needed, but start the next day with a blank page.
This is a great place to keep your Could Do list, your Ta Da list, and any requests or questions you get throughout the day. It can also be a place where you write down what you were working on if you find you suddenly need to switch tasks. Keeping everything in one notebook eliminates sticky notes and scrap paper. I still keep those things around because I can write info on them and then hand the note to someone else.
I also love this advice: touch things once. If someone drops a contract onto your desk, don’t just pick it up and move it to see what’s underneath. Pick it up, scan it, electronically file it, throw the paper away, and write down your next activity in your spiral notebook. Touch that paper just once and be done with it.
Organizing your Computer Desktop
I highly recommend never storing anything on your desktop. Just like your physical desk, your computer desktop is a work space. You can drop files there temporarily, but you definitely don’t want to leave stuff there long term. After a while, it becomes impossible to find what you need. So keep it clean and store everything in your Google Drive.
Organizing Your Office
Everyone’s office is different, so I don’t have a lot of advice here other than this: decide where everything goes and stay consistent in putting everything in its place.
We have a storage closet in our office that’s getting out of control so that’s one of my pebbles. What has happened is that the shelves were not clearly marked as to what items go where and there are no boxes or bins to contain similar items. So now we’re experiencing what I call “office supply creep.”
One thing that I highly recommend is taping a list of things that need to be ordered near wherever you keep your supplies so that your team members can write down the supplies they are getting low on. That way you can make your monthly order off the list and not have to chase people down to find out what they need. Plus, by writing it on the list, they don’t have to interrupt you or clog up your email with supply requests.
Organizing Your Paper Files
Do whatever you can to avoid keeping paper files. The last thing you need is a huge file cabinet full of paper you only need occasionally. It’s just easier to store things online because then you can access the information from anywhere.
With that being said, I do still have one drawer for paper files. And it’s not even full. I keep examples of marketing materials that I like such as postcards and brochures. I also keep thank you cards and notes I’ve received over the years. I have our team’s continuing education certificates which I swap out at every renewal. And that’s about it. I challenge you to reduce your paper files down to the bare minimum.
Of course, some real estate commissions may still require that you keep paper files for x number of years, but I highly recommend you contact your local commission and find out the most current policy. Many real estate commissions have changed the rules with the new technology, so that may not even be an issue for you anymore.
Organizing Your Online Files
Technology is so cool. And cloud storage is the bomb.
We keep everything in the cloud. I never want to be caught without my files. With Google Drive, I have all my files at my work laptop, at my home desk computer, and on my phone. Plus, finding anything I need is a breeze with the search bar. I can find any document I want in less than a minute. Usually way less than a minute.
Here’s how I currently have our Drive set up. I created a folder named .RHA Resource and Training Library and shared that folder with everyone on my team. Now, no matter what I put in that folder, everyone has access. Then I created nine sub-folders which look like this:
From there, each sub-folder has sub-folders. I want you to use what I have as an example. You can start with this basic layout and decide for yourself what goes in each folder. (In fact, I have to give credit for this particular layout to Linzee Ciprani. These folders have served me well and I can easily sort every document I create into one of these nine categories.)
What I particularly like about Google Drive is that I can create a training video demonstrating how to use a particular online tool or website using Movavi, and upload the mp4 file right into Drive. The video will then play in Drive. There’s no need to upload to YouTube or to create a private WordPress site for your training. It can all be housed in Drive.
For all the benefits of online storage, there’s one huge red flag you need to be aware of: getting hacked.
I realize that we don’t store really sensitive client information, but you do need basic protection like a firewall and network security especially if you are operating from home at all or if your team has offices outside your company’s main office. Google “network security” if you want instructions on how to do this yourself, or Google “network security companies in [your town]” if you’d rather hire an expert.
Organizing Your Email
Oh boy. Email is often a sore subject for executive assistants because not only are they dealing with their own inbox, they are often handling their mega’s email as well. And that’s a lot of email!
So here are my best tips for organizing your email.
First, get a grip on your own inbox.
I like to process all my email at the same time. I recommend you do the same. Go through your email one by one and if there’s something you need to do, take care of it right then and there. If it’s a project, or part of a project, write it in your Could Do list or in your spiral notebook for today and treat it like sand. It fits into the white space on your calendar. If it’s more important than that, give it time on your calendar. Then archive the email.
The goal with your email is to get through it as quickly as possible. Do it, delegate it (even if it’s to your future self), or delete it. Those are your three options.
Notice that one of the options is not to let it sit in your inbox. (And I’m so guilty of this.) You think you need to leave it in your inbox because otherwise you’ll forget about it. And then suddenly there’s 20, 50, 80 items in your inbox that you need to remember. And every time you check your email, you go through all the new stuff, figure you handle most of that later, and then start looking through all your old email to see if there’s anything important in there you’ve forgotten to do today.
Please don’t do that to yourself. It’s exhausting!
Do it, delegate it, or delete it first, and if you didn’t delete it, simply archive it.
I use just one very powerful tool to help me organize my email and that’s MixMax.
My mega pays the annual subscription for the Starter package. There are lots of cool things MixMax does, and here are three I use most: email templates and reminders.
The templates are easy to create and use. Seriously. The easiest I’ve seen.
The reminders are invaluable for when you send an email asking someone to get back to you with something. If you don’t have a response by a day and time of your choosing, that sent email pops back up in your inbox to remind you to reach out to that person again. How cool is that?!
You can also open an email and decide you want that email to go away and pop back into your inbox at a later day and time. The Remind Me button takes care of that.
Next, your mega’s inbox.
I love Gmail because it allows you to delegate your inbox to another person. Here’s how you do that:
- Log into your mega’s Gmail account.
- Go to settings > Accounts > Add a mail account
- Type in your email address and click Next
- Log into your own Gmail account and look for the email asking you to confirm. Google says it may take up to 24 hours for you to have delegated access.
You’ll know you have access when you click on your image in the upper right corner of Gmail and see your mega’s account there.
You are now literally inside your mega’s inbox. You can open their email, reply, delete, and forward as if it were you own account. Your mega’s email signature will remain at the bottom of any emails you send, but the recipient will see this when they open any email you send from your delegated account:
See how it says “sent by email@example.com”? That’s the only indicator to the recipient that your mega didn’t actually send the email. It’s easily overlooked too.
With a delegated account, you can your own inbox open in the tab right next to your mega’s inbox. Sometimes, if I want the recipient to know that I was the one sending the email, I will delete my mega’s email signature and put my own in. If that person replies, it obviously goes to my mega’s inbox, but sometimes I want that person to know it was me replying in case they decide to call about the issue. That way they know it was me responding and they have my number in my signature.
Other times, I want them to think it was my mega who sent the email, so I’ll leave his signature on there. There have been times where my mega has asked me to compose an email for him and just send it out of his account. A delegated account just makes it so much easier!
So that’s how you can handle your mega’s email. If there are certain emails that your mega needs to see, you can do what I did which is to create a folder with my mega’s name on it. I mark the email as unread and drop it into his folder. He’s only allowed to respond to those messages. He does take back his own email on the weekends, but he leaves the ones I need to see in the inbox rather than moving them to the folder with his name on it.
Organizing Your Team
With your team, you’ll want to be sure everyone is clear on their job duties. The rule is, everyone does their own job unless they ask for help or have delegated their job to someone while they are on vacation or otherwise out of the office for an extended period.
I like popplet.com for creating organization charts. Here’s our team’s current chart with plans for additional admin in 2018:
And here’s what our team has planned for 2020:
What’s crucial for all the roles on your team is creating job descriptions and making sure each person knows what their job is. An example of this is our listing agent. He doesn’t show houses, and he doesn’t work with buyers. His role is very focused on sellers. At this point, we’ve even taken a lot of 80% tasks off his plate. He doesn’t have to write listing agreements, process incoming offers, get seller signatures, or even negotiate inspections. Essentially he has two tasks as part of his job: find new business and get them to agree to sign a listing contract.
When my mega first started building our team, he and I sat down and thoroughly discussed with strategy and intention what we wanted the team to look like and how we wanted it to function. At that meeting, we decided we wanted a team of specialists. We wanted each person on the team to love their job so that they would not want to leave. And we felt like if we had a team of specialists who narrowed their focus to just a vital few activities, then those specialists would be very successful and very happy.
Of course, it’s not necessary for your team to be highly specialized. There are many teams selling lots of real estate whose team members have several roles. What I’m suggesting to you is that you write down what those roles are for each team member and what tasks each person is responsible for. That’s how you’re going to prevent miscommunication and things falling through the cracks. When everyone know what they’re supposed to be doing, things run a lot more smoothly!
Organizing Your Meetings
No matter how many people are on your team, I think a weekly team meeting meeting is mandatory. It’s on the same day at the same time every week and all team members are required to attend.
What’s the point of this meeting? First and foremost, I believe it’s culture. Some of us have team members who don’t come into the office very often because they work remotely or they are just so busy with clients that they don’t spend much time at the office. Second, is to communicate company-wide information such as changes to the CRM, or a new policy you are implementing.
To organize this meeting, you’ll want to have an agenda. You can post it on a white board, make a paper copy for everyone, or even just email it to everyone. But the agenda is the key to making sure all your topics get covered and that you stay on track. People aren’t particularly happy when a one-hour meeting takes ninety minutes.
As an example, here’s what our meeting agenda looks like currently:
- Gratitude – everyone tells the group one thing they are grateful for.
- Housekeeping – we meet on Thursday morning, so in this section we discuss who is not going to be unavailable next week and who is covering for that person. We may also talk about things related to our building (we office outside our Keller Williams market center), and we may discuss any changes to paperwork or systems that everyone needs to know about.
- Events – we discuss what needs to happen in the next week with whatever event we’re currently working on.
- Book discussion – we read a chapter or two of a book every week and discuss how the contents are relevant to our lives or to our business. We decide if there’s anything we need to implement or incorporate into our business and set up a plan to do so.
Keep your meetings as short as possible and do your best to end early. As the Executive Assistant, it’s your job to keep the meeting on track. When side discussions start, bring everyone back to the current topic.
If someone gets assigned a task, or volunteers to do something, ask them when they’ll have it done, and decide who is responsible for holding that person accountable. I’m sure you’ve been to meetings where someone says something like, “We should see about [sponsoring that event], or [adding that to our website], or [sending out an email blast about that]” and then that thing never gets done. The collective “we” is not a person. (Just like nothing happens at my house when I say, “Someone should take the trash out.”)
- Who will complete the task?
- What’s the deadline for completion?
- Who is responsible for holding that person accountable?
I promise, your meetings will be much more productive when you follow this practice!
Organizing Your Mind
Did you even know that you could organize your mind? Neither did I until started the practice of the thought download.
I learned this technique from life coach Brooke Castillo, and if you want the full-length version of organizing your mind, you can listen to her podcast episode about it.
Here’s the technique in a nutshell:
On a lined piece of paper, start writing down your thoughts. One thought per line. If you’re not sure what to write about, think about a circumstance or about something that happened recently. Your topic could be anything: your weight, your job, your mega, your mom, the guy that said that thing and how you reacted. You get the idea.
Exhaust the topic and get all your thoughts onto paper. It’s ok too to start with one topic and find yourself moving on to another. The idea is just to get all your thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
For me, this is one of the most cathartic things I do for myself. It’s equal to working out, getting a massage, or sitting by the fire with a cup of hot coffee. It’s such a release.
If it helps, set a time for ten minutes and write until time is up. Or write until you’ve filled the page. When you first begin, it’s helpful to have a benchmark like one of these.
After time is up, or you’ve filled the page, go back and look at each thought individually and really examine them. Is this a thought you want to think? Of all thoughts to think in the world, why are you choosing this one? Is this the truth, or is this a story you’re telling yourself?
To take it one step further, you can write a list of thoughts you actually want to think. This is a list of thoughts that will benefit and serve you. This is a list of thoughts that make you feel good, inspired, motivated, and unstoppable. This is a list of thoughts that make you feel love, open, friendly, and harmonious.
The point of this exercise is to empty out the junk drawer. We all have one in our house. It’s where we put things when we don’t know where to put things. Then it starts overflowing and we can’t put anything new in. So we dump the drawer out, get rid of the things we don’t need, and put back the ones we do.
That’s what we’re doing with our mind. Because who wants a bunch of junk floating around in there?
Some Final Thoughts About Getting and Staying Organized
When organizing these things, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Am I being consistent in how I handle this? Am I using the same naming method across all my files?
- Is there a place for everything, and is everything in its place?
- What’s most important here and is this organized in order of priority?
- Is this as clean, simple, and easy to use as it can be, and if I have to teach this organization system to someone else, will they understand it easily?
My number one tip for staying organized is to delete and discard with prejudice. I am of the belief that we let way too much stuff into our minds, our email, our to-do lists, and our inboxes. If you approach everything with the attitude of “I may need this later,” you are going to overwhelm yourself with all the things you need to organize and store. It’s too much. You’ve got to decide what’s most important and let the rest go. Everything you keep has to earn the right to have a place in your system. That’s how you get organized.
And of course for every rule, there is an exception, and that’s your client files. For everything relevant to the file, save it in your system. Just make sure you batch your filing so that you are doing similar activities at the same time and not dividing your attention throughout the day. I’ve often heard that when going to court over a dispute, the side with the most paperwork wins simply because they’re the ones with the most documentation and proof as to what actually happened. That’s why I’m not opposed to keeping everything related to a listing or a closing “just in case.” Once you have your system in place for keeping your listings and closings organized, all you have to do is follow the system which makes it super simple to keep everything.
And if you need a good laugh and don’t mind some cuss words, there’s this clip from some TV show I don’t watch:
As always, feel free to reach out to me if I can help you in any way: firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, you can always work with me directly!