When Real Estate Investing Feels Like Juggling Elephants!

by | BiggerPockets.com

Have you ever felt like your attempts at real estate investing might resemble a traveling carnival?  Add in your family and personal life and you have a full-blown three-ring circus!  Only, from your point of view, none of the acts are very good.  Ever have that feeling?

I read a book recently called “Juggling Elephants” by Jones Loftin and Todd Musig.  Imagine that!  I am writing a blog about a book I read and how it relates to business and real estate investing!  The book was a short, easy-to-read, eye-opening parable that told an important story for those of us who have more projects in the air than two hands can juggle.  Pretty soon the weight of trying to keep everything going can feel like juggling elephants and you know what happens then, right?  You get squashed!   For real estate investors, or at least for this real estate investor, too many projects in the air at one time can be disastrous not only for my business, but also to my health, my personal life and my family life.

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Separating Your Acts For A Three-Ring Circus

If you learn nothing more from reading my articles, hopefully you learn that I have been an entrepreneur for a long time and I have lived the ups, downs and in-betweens of real estate investing.  I have also tested my family, missed important events, justified long work schedules, quit social functions and sports teams, missed out on any number of social functions and worst of all, just about bunt-out once or twice.  It is so important to allow each ring in your life to function on its own and to receive the spotlight of your full attention.  There is a reason that the circus does not have acts going in all three rings at the same time.  There is a reason they put the spotlight on one big act at a time.  They want to showcase their best at that very moment…where all of the concentration under the big top is going.

Separate your life into the individual categories and make a sincere effort to concentrate on one major act at a time.  A major act to me is my personal life, my family and my business.  I also have other acts like my personal rental portfolio and my philanthropy life.  Both are important, but neither takes precedent over one of my major acts.

From there, I concentrate on one thing at a time trying to be the most productive in that ring at that time.  For those of you who want to talk about multi-tasking, I heard a great definition recently:

Multi-Tasking – Learning to fail at multiple things at the same time.

There are plenty of good reasons to put your full energy behind one ring at a time.  I will stick with the real estate since most of us can figure out why it is a good idea to concentrate on our family when we are with them or on our health when we are trying to exercise.  Those are easy to figure out.  Here are some points on real estate.

Buying An Investment Property

If you are not concentrating fully on what you are doing and instead trying to do your research on a property while trying to accomplish other tasks, you could miss very important details such as the lot size being half of what other houses in the neighborhood are.  You could miss that the house has a carport while most houses in the neighborhood have garages.  You could miss that the listing shows the property as a 4-bedroom, but county records only record a 3-bedroom property.  There are details that can get missed easily when we are not giving our full attention.

Renting An Investment Property

This one is easy to mess up because many landlords and even some management companies are so busy being landlords and management companies, that they miss details on renters and end up renting properties to unqualified tenants.  Over-looking a renters’ current job is easy to do, especially when you see that they have one.  But how long have they had it?  Is it seasonal work?  Are we out of the season where they will have full employment?  Are they listing multiple people to live in the house and pay rent, but not providing identification and signatures of every adult living in the property?  Can we get too busy that we fail to call previous landlords and employers for verification?

How about the rent itself?  If you are the landlord or even if you pay someone to rent the property for you, how often are questions being asked about the rental rate?  Is the rental rate appropriate for the area or too high or too low?  Is the property being marketed for a multi-year renter?  There are so many small things that go into making a good decision on a renter.  They are the details that can often prevent a landlord from looking up in six months trying to collect back rent, file an eviction, get a bankruptcy lifted and fix a property that is getting damaged all at the same time!

Renovating An Investment Property

When was the last time you asked a contractor for a copy of their workman’s compensation insurance?  What about the contractors’ license and bond?  When was the last time you called your insurance company to make sure you were covered in the scenario where a contractor is not?  What about the paint you are using in a property?  If you are not paying attention to your renovation, what happens when you are not looking?  Is the right grout color being used in the tile?  What about the paint?  Is that the eggshell finish that cleans nicely and save dollars later or is it the flat finish that is cheaper?

As an investor, these are questions we have to ask not only ourselves but also of the people who work with and for us.  For the most part, many of the readers of this article will say they are busy people with lots of different rings under the circus tent.  Our own personal circus tent!  Each of those rings has an act that needs to perform at its best and brightest.  When we try to have too many acts going in different rings all at the same time, things are not going to go well.

Make The Current Act The Best Act of The Show!

The same person who told me the new definition for multi-tasking said something else that really made me think.  It is the Pareto Principle…the old 80/20 rules.  She pointed out to me that 20% of an 8-hour word day (what is that again?) is 96 minutes.  One hour and 36 minutes is the amount of time that we can use to accomplish a majority of things we need to get done.  If we spent one hour and 36 minutes only – and not fractured time – concentrating on our real estate investing and asking the right questions, focusing on the right facts and data and planning for what comes next, we could have that ring up and going with the best act of the circus.

Looking back I can tell you that each of these things are important in your life and while real estate investing is a chosen profession, it can and should be balanced with the rest of your life.  Each area of our life is like an elephant in that it can be over-whelming on its’ own.  When you separate into three rings and spend your time focused in one ring at a time, you will find yourself juggling elephants fairly well.

Photo: hbp_pix

About Author

Chris Clothier

In 2005, Chris Clothier (G+) began working with passive real estate investors and has since helped more than 1,100 investors purchase over 3,400 investment properties in Memphis, Dallas and Houston through the Memphis Invest family of companies.


  1. Wow.. this is EXACTLY how i feel right now. I have spent the past year so concentrated on findind funding that my projects, my family and my job has lost lots of attention they should be getting.

    I have been thinking a lot about needing to step back and take a breath. I got off track because I want to grow so fast that finding cash has been my driving motivation and taken all my concentration. I’ve become obsessed with it and the rest of my circus rings have been in the dark.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who is or has experienced this. Thank you for this post.

    • Chris Clothier

      Hey Aaron – I would suggest you pick up a copy of the book Juggling Elephants. It is quick and easy and will by no means change your life…but, it can help you think about and consider the way you order your days and where you put your priorities.

      All of the things you said are important including raising money for your business. We just need to be reminded to work on one thing at a time and be the best at it that we can be. And….I need to remind myself daily!

      All the best to you and thanks for the comments.

  2. I, too, have been growing my real estate investing business by leaps and bounds … far faster than I ever thought I would or could. So in order to rein things in before they get too out of control, I’ve set some limits on myself for the near term. Give myself an opportunity to sit back and take a breath.

    • Chris Clothier

      Hey Dawn – I have enjoyed reading your posts on the forums and know you are super focused on your business and getting into the middle of all things real estate. Speaking from experience, take that time to better yourself and your company and be focused on each separately as you need to be.

      You will find continued success!

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and best of luck with your growing real estate business.

  3. You hit the nail on the head as usual, Chris. Great reminder. I don’t know whoever sold us all on the multi-tasking mindset….but I bought into it for far too long! I love the idea of maintaining solid focus for the first 20% of your workday…and the strides we can make if we just take on that one principle!

    • Chris Clothier

      Hey Jonna –

      I agree so much with your comments. I too walked away from my conversation last week with a determination to concentrate on the one principle…focus 20% of my day – A Mere 96 Minutes! – on THE most important thing we have going in our workday. I know that if I am able to do that I will make an incredible living, run and grow a great company and have the focus and energy for my time with my family, my friends and for the things I like to do away from work.

      All the best to you!

  4. What a great metaphor! I love to work hard, but I have a tendency to sacrifice my health and family when I load up on too many real estate projects. I’ve come to realize that when I do this I also end up so punished by taxes that it’s not worth it. It’s better to spend my time working in moderation and spending the rest of the time taking care of my family and community. Also, although I’ve never been crushed by an elephant, keeping too many in the air is pretty stressful!

  5. Great article. The multitasking stuff definitely is true and hit home. Unfortunately I do must things in my business so I have to work on way to many things concurrently. I know it erodes my effectiveness but don’t have much choice until I can effectively systematize some aspects of the business to outsource them.

    I can’t remember where I read it but I saw something once about a study that saw that people could generally have 2 big projects without much change in the effectiveness on each and usually you could add a 3rd without a big effect on them. Once you got past that there was a precipitous drop in the quality and effectiveness on all the work and it just got worse if more things were added.

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