Zen and the Art of Organizing Information

Real Estate Agent with William Raveis Real Estate RES.0772823

In real estate, we deal with an enormous amount of information each day and how we deal with it has a lot to do with our peace of mind and our business success.  Some of that information is crucial and given our fiduciary responsibilies is essential that we have a way of dealing with the flow of information that comes in to us from many sources: phone calls, texting, e-mails, snail mail, faxes, and face-to-face.  We need one central system to keep ourselves organized.  The system itself doesn't matter as long as it works for you.


I use Outlook to organize my life.  I know others use Google, but I don't trust anything that's free. I want a Customer Service number to call and someone to be accountable as this is the hub around which my life is organized.  I use Outlook folders to store important information and even send myself e-mails so that I don't have loose pieces of paper floating around.  When I need to look for something, the first place I look is in Outlook.

I love the Search function in Outlook to find information among my tens of thousands of e-mails, but I make sure my information is organized into folders and subfolders.  I organize my e-mails folders the same way I organize my paper files.  And, I organize my documents on my computer the same way as well.  Three filing systems: e-mail, computer, and paper all organized the same way.  Remember filing is about retrieval.  If you can't get the information you need easily and quickly, your filing system is worse than useless.  It's a bottomless pit of frustration and a waste of time.  It can also cost you business and may be a breach of your fiduciary responsiblities to your clients.


I use ScanSnap to convert my paper documents quickly to PDF format and then file the documents either directly on my laptop or on my external 2 TB Western Digital network-based hard drive (as my laptop is limited to 256K of storage).  I also use a cloud-based automatic backup system called CrashPlan Pro.  It's expensive and designed for small businesses, not personal use, but I'm in the information business.  Remember retrieval is everything when it comes to storage, and I've found Carbonite and other inexpensive cloud back up systems are not user-friendly for retrieval of your entire computer system if it crashes.  Been there, done that, and won't do it again!  After scanning a paper document, I throw it away unless there is a compelling reason to keep it.

Did you know that you can convert your Outlook e-mails into a PDF document.  I do this at the end of a transaction so that I can store the e-mails in the same folder on my computer with all the other documents.  It also allows me to delete a folder on Outlook.  I try to only keep active transactions in Outlook folders.

I also back up all my documents from my external hard drive on My Passport 1,000 GB portable drives.  I have several of them in different colors to organize my files.  One is dedicated for the Back Up of My Computer, another is dedicated to Personal & Real Estate documents, and a third is dedicated to my Ash Creek non-profit files.  This storage medium is important because unlike most computers it is Solid State, no moving parts.  


I mentioned that I used My Passport drives because they use Solid State technology.  As my computer technician always said, "It's not a matter of whether your hard drive will fail.  It's a matter of WHEN."  He recommended always keeping a back up computer handy so that when my hard drive failed the data could be downloaded from CrashPlan Pro and I could get back up to work in a day.  I think it's also important to consider buying a computer with Solid State technology instead of a hard drive.  I use the ASUS Zenbook and my back up computer is another newer ASUS Zenbook.  Both have Solid State drives.  I will not buy another laptop with a hard drive.  Solid state is much more reliable.


As I said my paper filing system is organized like my e-mail folders and my computer files.  However, my goal is to reduce my paperwork down to three lateral file cabinets (six drawers in all).  I'm starting with the oldest files first, because some of it can just be tossed or shredded.  It makes me feel like I'm making progress.  I keep a plastic file bin next to my desk and when I get an extra hour or two, I do some scanning.  


There are some documents that I like to take with me wherever I go.  I have Word templates for listings, buyers, etc. which I fill out with all the information I need for the transaction.  I store them on Dropbox and have a print out in a three-ring binder that I refer to as my Control Book, more about that later.  Basically everything in my Control Book is on Drop Box, so I have access to my key information via my iPhone at any time.


My Control Book is what ensures me that I'm staying on top of all the details of my business.  As much as I'd like to go completely electronic, I find that while I'm on the phone with a client, it is much easier to flip open this three-ring binder and go to their tab to look up information.  My Control Book has my To Do list in the front, my Commission Pipeline, my Keybox Inventory, my Calendar (printed out from Outlook), my BDA (names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mails), my Active listings & buyers (a separate tab for each one), my Pending Sales, & my Under Deposit sales. 


The result of all this organization is peace of mind.  It frees me up mentally to be in the moment with my clients or in my personal life.  I know that everything is under control.  I can tell based on whether my Control Book is filled with scribbled in notes or looks neatly printed.  When I see a lot of handwritten notes, I know that that information isn't in Dropbox and I'm getting behind.  That means I need to spend a morning getting organized.

I'm also able to handle more business.  I have checklists in my templates and I go through each of them methodically as I go through a transaction to make sure everything is done on time.  The next item on the check list gets moved into my To Do list for each transaction.

Finally, my clients are reassured by my handle on the details of their transaction.  Their satisfaction leads to referrals from them because I was able to keep them informed and make sure that the transaction was moving along smoothly and on time.




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Comments (10)

Belinda Spillman
Aspen Lane Real Estate Colorful Colorado - Aurora, CO
Colorado Living!

Gail,  I love organization as well.  I find Outlook to be very easy to set up folders and search for key words.  Otherwise, it can take forever to find an email.  I also set up rules in Outlook.  I have a rule that all my AR comments go into an AR folder so I'm not flooded with those emails on my phone each day.

Nov 05, 2013 12:08 AM
Kathleen Daniels, Probate & Trust Specialist
KD Realty - 408.972.1822 - San Jose, CA
Probate Real Estate

Gail, Organization and organizational skills are key to efficiency.  I use Outlook as well. File folders, sub-folders, with a naming convention that makes it easy for me to find what I need when I need it.  

Nov 05, 2013 12:13 AM
Pamela Seley
West Coast Realty Division - Murrieta, CA
Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA

Gail, wow! I learned something about solid state technology instead of a hard drive. I've heard the same that it's not a question of if, but when a hard drive will fail. You are one organized Realtor®! 

Nov 05, 2013 12:14 AM
Kerry L Klun, Broker/Owner
Palm Realty - Melbourne, FL

Gail, I use Evernote and love it.  I also use Outlook,  but it sounds from your blog that I have a lot to learn to utilize it properly.  Where did you get your extensive knowledge of Outlook?

Nov 05, 2013 12:59 AM
Jane Peters
Home Jane Realty - Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles real estate concierge services

You really have it all taken care of , Gail.  I am a delete freak.  I constantly delete files only to realize I need them. I recently deleted all my emails by accident.  I am taking notes here :)

Nov 05, 2013 04:43 AM
Gail Robinson
William Raveis Real Estate - Southport, CT
CRS, GRI, e-PRO Fairfield County, CT

Belinda - The Rules on Outlook are terrific for herding mail from certain sender into Junk Folders.  I like your idea about AR comments going into one folder.

Kathleen - Being organized adds hours to our days.

Pamela - Solid state is what is found in thumbnail drives as well.  It's expensive, but worth it.

Kerry - I've used Evernote, but never got into a routine with it like I have with Dropbox.  There is an Outlook group on AR where I picked up some valuable tips.

Jane - I lost all my e-mails in a hard drive crash about two years ago.  I thought it was the end of the world, but I survived.  It's a terrible feeling though!



Nov 07, 2013 10:54 PM
Andrew Payne Realtor® Richmond VA Homes For Sale~804-938-5257~
Piedmont Real Estate - Richmond, VA
Richmond, VA, Real Estate, SRES®, NAR Green
It's great you're so highly organized. Mentioning the various software systems you use is very helpful. Maybe more of us soon will become more organized, also!
Nov 08, 2013 01:18 AM
Jimmy Faulkner
Florida. Homes Realty & Mortgage - Wantagh, NY
The Best Of St. Augustine

We have al ot of new ways to file things that does help to oraganize all of our work. I need a school to get me to understand how to use this technology. It can be quite overwhelming.

Nov 08, 2013 04:45 AM
Julie A. Black
KAUAI DREAMS REALTY Kauai Real Property Specialist - Kapaa, HI
CLHMS, CRS, GRI, Realtor, Broker

Wow yes you are an organized Realtor. I'm hoping to get there.

Nov 13, 2013 01:00 PM
Carol Zingone
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty - Jacksonville Beach, FL
Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS

Sounds like you are incredibly organized! 

Feb 10, 2014 08:50 PM

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