Business Management

7 Highly Actionable Tips to Help Your Productivity Soar This Year

Expertise: Business Management, Commercial Real Estate, Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Personal Development, Real Estate Investing Basics
126 Articles Written

You’re probably familiar with Stephen Covey’s four quadrants of time management. We tend to spend way too much time with things that are urgent and NOT important (Quadrant 3) and not enough time with things that are important but urgent (Quadrant 4). This is a real problem because this behavior becomes a drag on our productivity.

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Have you ever come home from work after a day of putting out fire after fire? You’re completely exhausted but wonder what in the world you actually did all day. Days like that are draining and make you feel empty. They also never get you any closer to your actual goals.

On the other hand, when you accomplish an important goal that day and it energizes you, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. You feel more fulfilled.

Why Do We Get Sucked in by Quadrant 3?

I think there are a variety of reasons we spend most of our time doing urgent stuff that’s not really important:

  • The natural response to an urgent event is to address it immediately and drop anything else we’re doing. It’s the “easiest” thing to do. Doing anything else requires thought and discipline.
  • We don’t like to say “no.” It’s easier and more pleasant to just say “yes.” If we want to avoid spending time in Quadrant 3 and spend more time with what’s actually important, we have to say “no” to certain things that are frankly not that important.
  • It’s easier to do an urgent item than an important item. Urgent items are usually easier to do and don’t take that much time. On the other hand, important items tend to push us outside our comfort zone and take time to complete. We want things done NOW, and we don’t want to try too hard to get them.

This is why, like bugs to a fly zapper, we’re drawn to urgent tasks. Let’s see what we can do about it.

What I’m about to present to you is a combination of things I’ve gleaned from other people and adapted. I hope they will help you become more productive and achieve your goals.

7 Tips to Help You Boost Your Productivity

Here are 7 tips to help us spend as much as time as possible with things that are important but NOT urgent (Quadrant 2). Our productivity will soar if we can do this on a consistent basis.

Tip #1: Identify Your Top Goals in the Next 90 Days

Why 90 days? Because accomplishing important goals sometimes takes longer than a day, and 90 days is long enough to give you a chance to achieve them. Ninety days is also short enough for you to set goals that are attainable.

Some goals will take longer than 90 days to achieve. In that case, create sub-goals that you CAN achieve in 90 days.

Ninety-day goals are important because they dictate your daily goals, which we’ll discuss next.


Tip #2: Determine Your Next 3 Tasks

Let’s say an important 90-day goal is to purchase your first rental property. The sheer idea of it can be so overwhelming that we never even start.

To fight this kind of paralysis, identify the NEXT 3 THINGS that you should do. These should be things you can accomplish this week. Knock out those three then write down the next three and repeat.

After 90 days you will be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Related: The Productivity App That Will Change How You Run Your Real Estate Business

Tip #3: Properly Prioritize Your Tasks

If you’re not already, create a notebook where you write down and track all of your tasks.

Every morning, I look at my task list and put a star next to the important ones that I feel like I NEED to accomplish that day. Normally I don’t have more than 3 starred activities in a day because they might take longer to complete and might be outside of my comfort zone. It’s also possible that an item might NOT get done because it will take longer and you’ll have it on your list again tomorrow.

Then there’s the less important tasks on your list that don’t deserve a star but still need to be done as soon as possible. I’ll put a dash next to those items so that I make sure they get done today.

Then I go through all of the starred and dashed items and rank them from one to whatever. Then I go through the ranked list one by one. Unless there’s a true fire burning that I can’t take care of later or delegate, I’m going to complete those items in the order I ranked them.

Tip #4: Quickly Decide on What to Do With an Urgent Task

Invariably, some inbound, urgent, time-sucking and energy-draining task will show up in your email inbox or cell phone. Here are 3 ways to deal with these in the most efficient way possible.

  • Say no: We don’t like to say no to people, but can you push back on the request?
  • Delegate: Is there a way you can delegate the task back to the person who created it for you or to someone else?
  • Put it on your to-do list: If you absolutely can’t say no and you can’t delegate it for some reason, then put it on your to-do list for later.

Tip #5: Schedule Time for Your Important Tasks

Many important tasks take time to complete, sometimes even several hours. The problem is that we’re constantly distracted with urgent items that aren’t important (like the ding from your phone that you have a new email!) that we can’t seem to string together more than 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. As a result, it takes us FOREVER to really accomplish anything worthwhile.

The solution? Add the activity to your calendar like you would a lunch meeting. For some reason, when it’s in the calendar, it’s real, and we feel compelled to obey the calendar. So schedule the task into your calendar.

When the scheduled time comes, make sure you really focus that time on the task. It would be rude to take calls and check emails while you’re at lunch with someone, right? So don’t do it during this time, either.


Tip #6: Only Check Emails 3 Times Per Day

Tim Ferris suggests checking emails only once per day, but I just can’t seem to get there. In fact, I’m even struggling with checking it 3 times per day.

I’ve found it helps to turn notifications (of any kind) on your phone off. And when you’re NOT supposed to be checking email, you close your Gmail tab in the browser so you’re not tempted.

Try checking emails only 3 times per day. I suggest in the morning, around lunch, and at the end of your work day. In fact, you might want to schedule those times into your calendar to remind yourself until you get the routine down.

Tip #7: Do Your Most Important Task First Thing in the Morning

Many times our most important task is our least favorite. It might be to call new brokers or call potential investors or contact a seller. These are uncomfortable tasks, and we like to put them off as much as possible. Urgent items are the PERFECT excuse!

Instead, schedule an hour of two for this important task and do it first thing in the morning, even before you check emails or do any other task.

Related: 9 Tips for Working More Productively in Real Estate While Holding Down a 9-5

It’s like going to the gym: You really don’t want to, but you force yourself to go anyway, and then you’re glad you did. It’s the same thing with important tasks: You’d prefer NOT to do them, but after you do, you feel great.


Urgent tasks that aren’t important are a reality of life. We can’t avoid them, they just happen to us. But we CAN influence how we react to them.

With anything in life, we have to be intentional. It’s the same thing with handling urgent tasks. We HAVE to make it a priority to handle them intentionally and consistently each and every day. Otherwise, they will bring us down, keep us from accomplishing our goals, and make us feel unfulfilled.

I hope that the combination of these 7 tips will help you focus more on your important tasks that will get you closer to your goals and dreams. While I have not yet perfected all of them, I can tell you that they have made a MAJOR difference in my life, and I hope they will do the same for you.

Please share any other productivity or time management tips that have worked well for you!

Leave your comments below.

Michael Blank is a leading authority on apartment building investing in the United States. He’s passionate about helping others become financially free in 3-5 years by investing in apartment buildi...
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    Murphy Rivenbark Investor from Gainesville, Florida
    Replied over 4 years ago
    What is the advantage of up grading and what does it cost. My goal is to invest in multi family properties and i am looking for investors to purchase or loan me the money.
    Douglas Skipworth Rental Property Investor from Memphis, TN
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great article, Michael. It is a perfect companion piece to Dave Van Horn’s post last Friday (1/8/16) about “How to Create Goals for the Year — Even if You’re Not the Goal-Setting Type.” Just like you and Dave, I have found that setting goals and working through the steps to achieve those goals definitely helps to keep the urgent but unimportant items from ruling the day.
    Michael Blank Rental Property Investor from Northern Virginia, VA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    So true …!
    Dave Van Horn Fund Manager from Berwyn, PA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    GREAT article Michael. I completely agree with Doug, these two topics go hand in hand! Time is our biggest asset, so it’s important to be aware of it because we can’t afford to spend major time on minor things or minor time on major things. I’ve always said, productive or unproductive, wealthy or not, there’s only 24 hours in a day. I think the most successful and productive people make the most out of that 24 hours by leveraging their time. On a personal level, looking through your list I think Tip #6 is big for me, and one of the most challenging. I would also group it with answering the phone and responding or participating in social media. This is why I like to delegate as much as possible and implement SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES. So to give some examples: – With email being a challenge, along with designated times to check, I also created a system to divert almost as much as 2/3 of my email to other members of my team when necessary (using info accounts, contact me pages, etc). – In regards to the phone, I’ve found having an assistant, virtual receptionist or an answering service to be life changing. With affordable part time or virtual assistants, nearly anyone can implement one of these. So now I personally avoid answering the phone during office hours, enabling our company to provide different levels of quality service for different types of clients. – It may sound like a given but avoiding social media (outside of marketing) is another one. So aside from work purposes, we chose to block it universally for the majority of our company. As much as it’s important to stay connected, it’s also pivotal to take a step back and see where the biggest distractions occur, leaving you capable of doing your best work as much as possible. Best, Dave
    Michael Blank Rental Property Investor from Northern Virginia, VA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Dave – thanks for sharing!
    Jerry W. Investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Michael, very good article. organization and actionable steps on your most important activities are so important to business development. Getting drawn off task is my biggest problem. I am working on this.
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Nice statement Michael. I however see many wasting considerable time and energy on goals. They just don’t have the smarts and ability to accomplish their goals. For example I could never reach a goal of playing in the NFL. Its best to analyze your self first then select a simple real estate task to accomplish. Then go on to a slightly bigger task. Its called a learning curve. Forget the idea of a big goal to accomplish . Do small things then keep moving the goalpost.
    Michael Blank Rental Property Investor from Northern Virginia, VA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Good point about your goals being realistic. Many people delude themselves. But having said that, there are many who have accomplished seemingly impossible things. Who am I to squelch someone else’s dream even if I think it’s crazy?
    Lesley Pearson
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Thanks, Michael. Your post lays is all out there very neatly. I wish it was as easy to implement these suggestions! I continue to struggle with both #6 (limiting e-mail check-ins) and #7 (important tasks first thing of the day), but I am noticeably more productive on the days that I am successful in following those two guidelines. Let’s all get after it for 2016!
    Eyan Lakhani Wholesaler from San Antonio, Texas
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great points Michael. Very well organized thoughts. What part of your day do you devote to blogging ?
    Michael Blank Rental Property Investor from Northern Virginia, VA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    It depends. This is one of those activities (writing articles, producing videos or podcasts) that are important but not urgent (or directly revenue-generating for that matter). They’re easy to get lost in the shuffle, so I need to schedule them each and every week. Another thing I do is that I “batch” things, i.e. I might record multiple videos or podcasts in one day. I find I’m more efficient that way.
    Don Alberts from Frankfort, Illinois
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Mike, goal setting, prioritizing and utilizing time efficiently. Everyday is what I need to do. Have a Powerful day. Don
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Although this might be hard to schedule, I find that it’s important to have a retrospective of some sort. This will help you to know either how focused you’ve been (so you can reward yourself) or how far you’ve deviated from your goals. Setting and keeping your goals can be very difficult.
    Cornelius Charles Investor from Oxnard, California
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great article Michael. One of the best that I have read in a while. I acknowledged a few weeks ago that I spend time doing “busy work” that needs to get accomplished at some point but isn’t necessarily super important. I didn’t know how to vocalize it, but your explanation of important and urgent tasks is spot on. For me at least, if it’s something that I feel like postponing, it’s usually something that I should be doing right away. I’m now making an effort to force myself to do the tasks that I feel like postponing.