“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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