Business Management

The Surprisingly Simple Reason Why You Feel Stressed

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Development, Real Estate News & Commentary, Business Management, Flipping Houses, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Wholesaling, Personal Finance, Real Estate Marketing, AskBP, Real Estate Investing Basics
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“The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.”

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-Douglas Malloch

Many years ago, researchers in Illinois planted a number of small trees inside a greenhouse, dividing the trees into three groups.

  • The first group was supported firmly by a wooden stake to help it grow tall and straight.
  • The second group was not staked at all, but left to grow free.
  • The third group, like the second, was unstaked, but the tree was manually shaken back and forth for several minutes every day.

After several months, the researchers looked at the three groups of trees and saw the inevitable: the trees in the first group that were staked were tall but weak. The trees in the second group were of medium height, but also fairly weak. The third group, which has been shaken daily, had developed strong roots and a thick trunk that would help it grow up tall and strong, though perhaps slower than the other two groups.

The analogy should not be lost on you: strength comes from adversity. No doubt you have seen this in other areas of your life. Problems will arise, and it’s how you deal with them that will define your future. But how do you handle problems without being frustrated, stressed, irritated and unhappy?

On a recent project, I think I discovered the surprisingly simple answer.

Where Does Stress Come From?

I'm a big believer in running your real estate business as a business, which means having processes, checklists and ways of doing things that are repeatable and explainable.

  • When a tenant pays rent late, because I have a system for that, I have a defined process for dealing with it.
  • When a tenant wants to move in a dog, I have a process for handling that request.
  • When I want to buy a new rental property, I have a process for finding and financing it.

Systems and processes make business easy and fun. A good system allows you to work less and enjoy life more.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Adding Systems & Outsourcing to Work Less in Real Estate

Now, of course, not everything you encounter can be planned for ahead of time. For example, I recently had a tenant call and tell me, “Hey Brandon, I just saw another tenant in the apartment complex sitting in his bedroom window, pointing a shotgun out the window.” Now, I don’t have a specific process or checklist for that, so it was a problem I had to deal with.

Problems cause stress, stress causes chaos, and chaos causes unhappiness.  

I don’t want to be unhappy, and I’m sure you don’t either. So I want to explain something that is going to revolutionize your life:

The Surprisingly Simple Way to Live (Mostly) Stress-Free

Here’s the point, summed up in eight simple words:

If you are stressed, your system is broken.

In other words, if something in your business is causing you stress, it’s likely you either don’t have a system for that or you are not following your system.

Either way, it’s broken.

I don’t get stressed out anymore when tenants pay rent late because I have a system. However, a system that I know has been broken for years recently caused me a lot of stress: dealing with contractors.

An Example of My Broken System

I was recently rehabbing a home that I plan to rent out, using the BRRR strategy (buy, rehab, rent, refinance, repeat).

Although I’ve been using several different contractors on the project, as the property neared completion, my contractors stopped showing up. The tenant has already paid the first month’s rent and was ready to move in and… the house was not done!

I called every contractor I could to get them over there, but no one would show up. I ended up picking up my tools, heading to the house, and my wife and I finished the job. The whole time I was stressed and irritated, thinking, "I should be working on my book right now," or "I should be finding other great rental property deals right now." Instead, I was doing hard physical labor that I didn't really want to do (some of it in my socks, after stepping on the wax-ring of an old toilet that destroyed my shoes).

That’s when the simple truth was made 100% clear to me: my system was broken. Instead of being mad, I changed my attitude to that of, “Ok, how do I fix this system so next time it doesn’t happen this way? How do I make this easier and more reliable next time?” I’ve had numerous conversations with successful house flippers who describe the entire house flipping process as fairly “boring” because they have such strong, repeatable systems. I clearly do not have that… yet.

Related: How to Use the “Getting Things Done” System as a Real Estate Investor

I brainstormed about a half-dozen solutions and began writing down my new system to ensure contractors finished the job, including making sure paydays were only given after certain benchmarks were achieved, thereby incentivizing the contractors to finish if they want to get their money. Next time I’ll also likely hire a project manager to handle the contractor relations, something I recognize is a weakness in me.

Will this work for me? I don’t know, but next time I have a large rehab of a rental property, I’m going to try it out and test the new system. And I’ll continue to tweak it and test it until the rehab process of a large property is as smooth and easy as a tenant paying their rent late.

It’s All Mindset

Of course, as I said earlier, not every problem can be predicted and prepared for. However, stress can be managed when you change the way you look at problems. Are they irritations or opportunities? Remember, the stronger your system is, the greater your ability is to scale. Work becomes easier, life becomes more fun, and stress disappears.

Remember in the story I discussed, the strongest trees grew from being shaken. Stop being unhappy, stressed, and living in chaos. Systematize everything and start shaking your trees.


Be sure to leave your comment below and if you think this post could help others, feel free to share it on your Facebook wall. Your family and friends will think you are the coolest!

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He is a nationally recognized leader in the real estate education space and has tau...
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    David Roberts from Brownstown, Michigan
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Or you stress because its in your nature to stress! Ive been writing rehab checks left and right fir 2 weeks, and im a saver by nature, so the sheer fact im writing planned checks for planned rehab doesn’t change that! But i get your point. The more times you go thru something the less it should affect you, because you will have dealt with it before and know how to deal with it from now on. Kinda like your immune system huh?
    Brandon Turner Investor from Maui, HI
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Lol, that too 🙂 I’ve been writing so many checks the past 2 weeks it sure makes everything else seem so inexpensive! But tomorrow is going to officially be the last day of this project. 🙂 Good luck on yours! And don’t worry, be happy!
    Frank Romine from Visalia-Fresno, California
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Good article…. Cool head prevail! When emotions go up, your decision making process goes down. Frank
    Brandon Turner Investor from Maui, HI
    Replied about 5 years ago
    So true Frank! Systems help keep people on track, non-emotional, and smart. Rock on!
    Ronnie Sparrow
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Brandon you are so right on many levels. I have used the same guy for the last three rehabs. All though he is good at some things and not so good at other things I still use him because a like him. He is not the cheapest and not the most expensive he is right in the middle. What stresses me out about him is that he sometimes does not show up because he is trying to finish another job, or sometimes his helpers do not show up. I just cannot find the perfect contractor its always a give and take for me. I believe the best way is contract the different trades my self this seems to be the less stressful approach for me. It also depends on location of the property, it the house is within 5 miles of my personal home then I can hire the different trades myself.
    Brandon Turner Investor from Maui, HI
    Replied about 5 years ago
    I’ve been dealing with the same thing Ronnie! I’m right there with you. So the question is: what can you do to fix this system so it improves? That’s working ON your business, not IN it! 🙂
    CL Tumlin
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Brandon, great article. Very dense with HEAVY truth in a simple, tidy point. Well done!
    Brandon Turner Investor from Maui, HI
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Thanks CL! Now, if only I can put it to full use! 🙂
    Cory Binsfield Financial Advisor from Duluth, MN
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Great metaphor and post! I’ve got all my systems in my head and this made me think about what I have to do next in order to get my from working in the business to on the business. So many times the weakest link in the business is the owner/operator. Gee…guess who that might be?
    Brandon Turner Investor from Maui, HI
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Lol, I know exactly what you mean. This current project totally reminded me that I am the weakest link right now 😉
    John Drumm from West Sacramento, California
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Thx Brandon – exactly what I needed pointed out to me today
    Brandon Turner Investor from Maui, HI
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Thanks John! Go out and fix/build your systems 🙂
    Michael Woodward Real Estate Investor from Greenback, Tennessee
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Very insightful Brandon! I agree completely that systems, preparation, and knowledge are critical to keeping stress away. I read a book recently that was talking about the phenomenon that fear (and stress) don’t really exist and are ONLY a product of your thoughts. They used the analogy that if a lion was sneaking up on you from behind and you didn’t know it was there, you would not experience any fear. On the other hand, if you just THOUGHT it was there (even if it wasn’t), you would be terrified. The preparation and systems you explain in your article would be like adding a lion-proof cage to the earlier example. If you’re prepared for anything, you can move about daily life with confidence. Thanks for the article and all the hard work you do for BP. Much appreciated!!
    Jerry W. Investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied about 5 years ago
    I have known a few tree huggers, but no tree shakers. Interesting read. I will have to think on this one awhile.
    Cameron Berens Real Estate Agent from Florence, KY
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Thanks for the article Brandon! This was a great read for me because my main goal for the week is to start actually having typed up procedures/systems to refer to. Whether it’s late rent, tenant requesting modifications to a unit, filling a vacancy, etc.. I’ll have to make my business partner read this because he is always telling me I’m over doing it by wanting all these systems in place now since we’re still such a small operation. I figure it’s best to start them now so as we grow it will be a much smoother and less stressful process.
    Rolanda Eldridge Investor/Realtor from Hoover, Alabama
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Nice article.. I’m definitely revamping some systems.. I’m a problem solver, so I stand still and clarity comes!!! I can’t resolve anything frantic!!!!
    Natasha Keck Investor from Mountain View, California
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Thanks for the post, Brandon! You should check out the book: The Upside of Stress. The author would echo your sentiment that your mindset in viewing stress makes all the difference.
    Minh Le Investor from San Jose, CA
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Thanks for great analogy and wisdom Brandon. I was told that wisdom comes with age, or does it? You’re one smart man. Cheers.
    Sean Williams Real Estate Agent from Louisville, KY
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Great post and I think you hit the nail on the head. Goes back to the book e-Myth and more specifically the new serious e-Myth for Real Estate Investors by Michael Gerber. These discuss specifically how and why to buy systems around your business.
    Jacob Vincent Investor from Sunnyvale, California
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Damn Brandon, this was an uber-timely posting. Much appreciated!
    Colin Smith Realtor from Colorado Springs, CO
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Great article! Stress management is a huge thing in business. I find that when people become overly stressed to do the volume of work they have, the complete opposite that should be happening happens. They completely shut down and nothing happens. Stress management is crucial in a business.
    Andrew Herrig Rental Property Investor from Dallas, TX
    Replied about 5 years ago
    Thanks for summing this up so succinctly. My current source of stress is mainly communication (or lack thereof) from some of my “team”. My title company is terrible at returning phone calls and emails. Even though I haven’t had any major issues with getting to closing, the lack of communication is very stressful. May be time to find a new title company and set down my expectations from the beginning. While difficult to systematize, at least I can go back to my written expectations as a score card to see how my various teammates are doing.
    Ayodeji Kuponiyi Investor from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
    Replied about 5 years ago
    This was a gear read. Perspective is definitely a factor for changing one’s mindset and recognizing opportunities as oppose to problems. Staying cool, calm, and collected isn’t always easy but creating a system will help will help you achieve those 3.
    Dave Visaya Audio Engineer and Investor from Cebu City, Cebu
    Replied about 5 years ago
    I love it! What doesn’t kill me, makes me strong.
    Jacob Plocinski Real Estate Agent from Danville, PA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    I do this for my 9-5 job. It’s amazing how having simple repeatable systems frees up massive amounts of time for you to focus on other projects. The bonus is people think you’re some super genius because you always have free time to get extra tasks done, when in fact you’re just far more efficient than they realize. I am just building my real estate investing, but this is definitely something I want to keep in mind as I move forward. I want to lay the framework as system oriented and build from there. Thanks for the great article!
    Tyisha G. from Long Island, New York
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great read! Insightful and has prompted me to rethink and plan my systems for not only Real Estate but life. Thank you for sharing.
    Stephanie W. Rental Property Investor from Roanoke, VA
    Replied about 4 years ago
    That was a great read to get me motivated, but I am still quite frustrated regarding the nuts and bolts of a system to run the property management end of our real estate investments. I’m looking for a system, an established system, to adopt and just fill in the blanks. I’d buy a packet… a system for ALL of the processes involved in managing rental properties if I could find one somewhere. I’d like something that would tell me the details of what to do, when to do it, why to do it and with what tools to use to manage costs, income, taxes, receipts, move ins, move outs and maintenance. Yes, I’m handling these things now, but by the seat of my pants and through a process of reaction, not proaction. Why isn’t there anything like that out there? Do I need to knuckle down, create my own and market it? I own and operate a farm, have a part time job, and manage these seven properties, I just don’t have the time to reinvent the wheel. Surely someone out there has packaged this system. Show me where it is!