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In 2014, Cliff Lewis sold 90 properties around the Allentown-Bethlehem area of eastern Pennsylvania. He was overstretched and never home. As a new father, he struggled to balance long work weeks and wanting to be with his twin infant sons. His phone and computer were always vying for his attention. The last time he’d taken a day off? He couldn’t remember. But he knew this lifestyle wasn’t going to work long-term.
The next year, Lewis sold 147 houses. He enjoyed his work and wasn’t suffering burnout. He took his family on vacation. He spent twice as much time at home and his overall quality of life went up.
What changed? How did Lewis grow his business by 63% while also freeing up his personal time?
He started time-blocking.
Developing a time-blocking template allowed Lewis to realize how much time he was wasting each day. With his system, “you’re either working or not working, and there is never that half-ass,” Lewis says, referring to periods of time when he was busy, but he wasn’t being productive. Without a time-blocking system in place, “You don’t realize how much time you can burn not being productive about things that actually make you money.”
If you like the idea of growing your business while also having more time for family and fun, read on for a look at the time-blocking template Lewis uses and his system for getting the most productivity out of himself and his team. Lastly, don’t miss his advice for how to apply it in your real estate career.
Cliff Lewis’s Time-Blocking Template
(Click the image above for a larger version.)
While you might think of time-blocking as little more than scheduling tasks into your daily calendar, Lewis takes it to another level by tracking the relationship of every task to its money-making potential. He tracks three types of agent tasks, plus a fourth for support staff:
- Spending money (colored red on the spreadsheet above)
- Making money (green)
- Working, no money (yellow)
- Tracking money (blue, for admins only)
Lewis color-codes each category so that he can see, at a glance, what takes up most of his schedule. He also includes a tally next to each category so that he can see how much time he’s devoting to each type of task, and make sure the ratio between categories is where it should be. (More on ratios below.) Here’s a look at each category.
Spending money (red)
This category is all about personal things — the activities that are important but don’t make money. You can see that some of Lewis’s activities include going to the movies, going to the gym, and even eating lunch. While these activities don’t necessarily have to cost money to participate in, such as spending time with family, they do take up time that could be used to make money. “You should have those [red activities], but you want to make sure you don’t have too many,” Lewis says.
Working, no money (yellow)
Tasks in this category are often related to your pending transactions — following up on mortgage issues, inspections, and appraisals. Lewis considers yellow activities as things that are protecting your money and deals, not earning new money or deals.
“You might be busy doing this stuff now, but it’s not working to generate you money for the future,” says Lewis. “So if you have a lot of pending [deals], congratulations! The negative is you need to see a lot more green those months than you do red, because your free time is eaten up by these activities which are holding the money you already have.”
Making money (green)
This is the most important category, Lewis says. These are money-making activities that generate new business. All of your prospecting and marketing activities go into this category — sending out marketing emails, getting coffee with an old client and asking if they have any referrals for him, being active on social media, cold-calling, and so forth.
Lewis says the amount of green on a time-blocking calendar tells him how productive his agents will be the next month. “I can grab somebody’s schedule and look at it and say, ‘Hey, you were busy this week. You have 36 yellow blocks, only eight red blocks, but you only have seven green blocks. So the reason that you’re not going to be busy next month is because everything you’re working on now is not going to generate you new business the following month.’”
Tracking money (blue)
Lewis uses this category only for his admin and support staff so they can make sure all of the team’s money-tracking tasks — reports, paperwork, etc. — get done on time.
How much red, yellow, and green should be on a time-blocked schedule?
Now that you’ve seen the system in print and know what tasks belong in each color-coded category, you’re probably wondering what’s the perfect ratio between red, yellow, and green tasks.
There isn’t one.
Every agent is different, and Lewis says a daily real estate schedule should reflect those individual priorities. “You need to work your business the way you want it to fit in to your life,” says Lewis. “I expect to see a lot more red on (a new parent’s schedule) than I do on a single agent that has no kids, no life, no responsibility, and says, ‘Cliff, I wanna make $200,000 a year.’ It changes for each person.”
What happens in an emergency?
Life happens. Children get sick. Parents get sick. No agent is immune from the unexpected. But Lewis’s system is flexible enough to account for the inevitable emergencies that come up.
“We always say that your goal is not that your day matches, it’s that your week matches,” Lewis says. “So if life happened on a Tuesday and you got all red because you had to deal with family stuff, I totally get that. That just means that Wednesday when you wanted to cut out early, maybe you can’t cut out early now and you have to make up the times that you missed the day before.”
When a day doesn’t go as planned, look at the big picture of what your block ratios are. Instead of focusing on how your day was mostly filled with red or yellow blocks, spend the rest of the week working to get more green blocks. If you can’t make up for the emergency in the same week, make it a bi-weekly or monthly goal. The system is specific, but it doesn’t have to be rigid.
4 tips to implement Lewis’s time-blocking template
Lewis shared these four tips for agents who want to try his time-blocking template.
1. Figure out the schedule that works best for you
Your red, yellow, and green time blocks don’t have to be exactly the same as the template above. Create a schedule that maximizes your natural strengths. If you know that you’re more social and easygoing after you’ve had your morning coffee and newspaper, don’t schedule your calls until after that morning routine. If your most creative times are at night, plan your marketing brainstorms for later in the evening.
If you need consistency, keep your schedule the same day-by-day. If you get restless with the same routines, mix things up every few days!
2. Stick to your schedule
Time-blocking only works if you have discipline and stick to your schedule. For Lewis, it’s a piece of advice that applies particularly to email. Earlier in his career, he’d spend hours first thing in the morning checking his email, which sidetracked the rest of his day.
“Email is the death of a Realtor,” he says. “You can spend all day replying to inspections and talking to other agents and doing that kind of stuff, and none of it is making you new money!”
Now, Lewis blocks one hour in the morning for email, and additional blocks later in the day. Other than that, he doesn’t look at email.
3. Put specific tasks in every block
Lewis says prospecting is one of the easiest things to put into a time block, but the term is too vague. Scrolling on social media can be justified as “prospecting,” but without intention, it leads nowhere.
In Lewis’s spreadsheet, instead of putting in the generic task of prospecting, he creates specific and measurable tasks that he can track, like “cold calls,” “Facebook,” and “drop offs.”
“Whatever activity you’re doing, make it so specific that you can look at it and say, ‘that’s a productive hour,’” Lewis says.
4. Keep your time blocks short
Along with vague prospecting to-do’s, Lewis says carving out long periods of time is also ineffective. He uses short blocks to devote his energy fully to one task before moving to the next. Most of the tasks on his template are scheduled for 30-60 minutes.
This is especially helpful, he says, when it comes to green tasks like prospecting. “There’s no one in the world that I know that can put in a solid, hard three hours of prospecting and be like, ‘Yep, I didn’t goof off one minute. I didn’t go on Facebook. I didn’t go on social media. I just prospected for three and a half hours,’” Lewis says. “That’s way too hard.”
Five years after time-blocking: 520 sides
Taking control of his time through time-blocking transformed Lewis’s personal and professional life. Because of his success, Lewis was able to form his own team a year after he began time-blocking.
Today, Lewis’s team consists of 22 agents and five admins. In 2019, they closed 520 sides. He doesn’t require his agents to use time-blocking, but if an agent is going through a dry spell, his first question is always about their daily schedule.
As Lewis’s father told him once, “Eventually you realize that the only thing you’re really selling is blocks of your time, and when you figure out how much each block is worth, then you’ll know what you should be doing.”
Time-Blocking Podcast with Cliff Lewis
In early 2021, Cliff Lewis shared his time-blocking system again on our weekly podcast, The Walkthrough. You can listen to that below.
Header Source Image: (Mockaroon / Unsplash)