Work Smarter, Not Harder

By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine

Immediately after you’ve jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 feet, panic isn’t an option. To struggle, to panic, to waste effort equals catastrophe. The same principle applies in business and in life—keeping your cool and maintaining focus are the keys to success, says Rich Fettke, author of Extreme Success: The 7-Part Program that Shows You How to Succeed Without Struggle (Fireside, 2002; $13.00) The author, a professional coach, former competitive bodybuilder, and extreme sports enthusiast, advocates taking a step back to reassess your goals, clarify your plan, and determine how to achieve your objectives without unbalancing other areas of your life. He draws on his clients’ histories and his own extreme sporting adventures (such as mountain climbing, skydiving, and bungee jumping) to illustrate lessons about setting goals, forming partnerships, and balancing your personal and professional lives. The book outlines these and other basic problems, proposes solutions, and assigns several homework problems to help you apply what you’ve learned.

The book argues that struggling through longer hours not only doesn’t guarantee success, it can actually prevent it from happening. This may seem counterintuitive, particularly for real estate professionals, whose incomes are directly tied to their efforts. After all, you work harder, you earn more money and greater respect—how can that be a bad thing? This thinking represents what Fettke dubs the “Struggle Syndrome,” a counterproductive belief that the harder you work, the better a person that you’ll be. But unfocused effort is wasted effort, he says. He quotes Vince Lombardi, who once observed that “Just because you’re doing something wrong, doing it more intensely isn’t going to help.” Success springs from the following principles: focusing on what’s important and eliminating or delegating the rest, using time effectively, and maintaining balance between the personal and the professional.

“Part 4: Watch Where You’re Going” offers advice on focusing your efforts by setting both long- and short-range goals. Some of this advice veers toward the “touchy-feely.” For instance, he suggests visualizing a meeting with your ideal future self, then writing down observations what this exercise reveals about your desired personal and professional direction. Other advice is more practical, such as “The Rule of Three.” This technique suggests that you focus on no more than three major projects at any given time to prevent information overload.

Going it alone when you could benefit from others’ help represents another source of wasted effort, says Fettke. “Part III: Don’t Climb Alone” stresses the importance of working with others to achieve your goals. Many real estate professionals are reluctant to delegate authority, but spending a large portion of your day on non-core tasks might not represent the most efficient use of your time.

The author also advocates forming a “success partnership” to keep you on track toward meeting your goals. Basically, you and your partner, perhaps another salesperson from your office, create a mutual support system, pushing each other not to fall behind and sharing in one another’s accomplishments. This relationship sets up a form of accountability—if you fail at meeting your stated personal or professional objectives, then you’re not just letting yourself down, you’re letting your partner down as well.

If you’re making big sales, but find yourself wishing that you could spend more time with your family, you might need to redefine success. The idea of balance is a reoccurring theme throughout the book. In “Part I: Stop Struggling,” the author advises drawing a “Life Balance Wheel” that maps out your satisfaction with the following areas: spiritual, career, finances, possessions, health, fun, professional development, friends, and romance. First, you draw a circle, then you slice it up into equal pieces, with each area representing a slice. Then, you assign each one a rating on a scale of one to ten and fill in the slice correspondingly, based on your level of satisfaction with this part of your life. A rating of ten would fill an entire triangle, while a rating of one would take up only a bit of it. From this simple exercise, you can see which areas of life need adjustment. He dismisses the idea that balance means compromising your professional effectiveness. Rather, he argues, when you improve your satisfaction with one area of your life, it spreads to all areas of your life. If you are unsatisfied with your life, then you aren’t a success, no matter how many sales you make, contends Fettke.

Ultimately, Extreme Success follows the same theme as many self-improvement titles, assuring readers that the power to change their lives is in their hands. However, it differs from many competitors in arguing that working harder alone is not enough. Every real estate office has at least one workaholic who wears his or her frantic schedules like badges of honor. Maybe it’s you. But the number of hours that you work is less important than whether you achieve your goals and enjoy what you’re doing. In the end, struggling through a workweek and struggling through freefall aren’t that different—either way you risk losing out on having a life if you can’t get your act together.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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