Monthly Archive for: ‘November, 2011’

  • Five Free Tips for Increasing Efficiency

    snowmagedden 2011

    Hopefully I don’t have to convince you again that you should squeeze every ounce of productivity out of the hours in your work day.

    Assuming you are on board with that idea, here are 5 practices and tips that will help you get more out of every minute:

    1. Have a plan

    I know this seems obvious, but how many people do you know that actually set, adjust, and track daily goals? How do you know if you had a successful day if you had no goals for the day?

    Tip – Be a specific as possible. Instead of saying “What do I want to accomplish today?” say “If I can only accomplish 3 things today, which 3 would make this a successful day?”

    Tip – You can be as granular as you like. If you want to plan the days according to halves (i.e. morning and afternoon), hours, or even minutes, feel free to do so.

    Tip – Push yourself. Try to fit your tasks into tighter windows than you think you can manage. You may just surprise yourself.

    Tip – Track your progress. How did you do today? How can you do better tomorrow? Do you need to adjust anything or change direction on any goals?


    2. Stop reading the news (so often).

    Two things about this amaze me. 1) People read the news for an astounding amount of their day. 2) 99% of the news has absolutely NO EFFECT on my day-to-day work goals and activities.

    For 1), think about how much time you spend during the day listening to news on the car radio, reading the paper, checking the AJC, browsing your RSS feed, watching the news screen on the elevator, etc. I read somewhere that the average white collar worker spends more than 2 hours per day reading or watching the news. What if you just spent 5 minutes browsing headlines in an RSS feed every morning? Couldn’t you use an extra hour and 55 minutes of time in your day? I could.

    For 2), I have pretty much stopped reading the news on a regular basis and haven’t found myself to be egregiously out of the loop on anything. Even when I do read the news, it’s not like I radically alter my goals or activities for the day based on the day’s top stories. I don’t change the way I analyze shopping centers in Little 5 because some young people are Occupying Milwaukee. 99% of the news has absolutely no bearing on my commercial real estate endeavors, so spending a bunch of time on the news is a waste of time and the opportunity cost of not doing more productive work is critically high.

    Tip – Set up an RSS feed with the most basic and direct headlines that matter to your work and life every day. Spend 5 minutes every morning browsing those headlines and then shut off the news for the day. Anything absolutely critical that happens today will be in your RSS feed tomorrow. Then, use the extra 115 minutes I just gave you to do something creative, answer phone calls, write emails, read a book, or spend time with your family.


    3. Batch

    Batching is just aggregating similar activities into a concentrated period of time. I recommend batching email and phone calls. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I personally am guilty of following that little “BLLLING” that Outlook sounds when I get a new email. It’s like someone is at the door and I have to get up at once to see who it is!!! 99 times out of 100, it is not a life or death email. If it were, the author wouldn’t take the time to write it out, send it to you, and then hope you got it in time to save something from the fires of Hades. They would call you. People don’t email emergencies. They call them in. So why do you need to check your email every 5 minutes?

    The answer is you don’t! Check email first thing in the morning, just before lunch, and just before 5 pm. I promise that it will save you an astonishing amount of time.

    The same idea applies to phone calls. Batch your phone calls at two strategic times throughout the day. Maybe 9 am and 4 pm. Make and return all your calls at the two times you think are most likely to have your calls answered.

    Tip – I try and answer emails at 7am, 11 am, and 4 pm. I haven’t really had any emergencies or problems come from this method. I call around 9 am and 4 pm. I find that most people are in the office at these two times and have a minute to talk.


    4. Focus

    Stop multitasking. Focus on one project at a time and I promise you that the quality of your work will be at its highest. Talking on the phone while modeling a deal is a good way to skip a major line item or input something incorrectly. Stop answering the phone. Stop checking email. Stop talking to your neighbor. Focus on precisely executing your task as quickly as possible. This will give you more accurate work in less time.

    Tip – Tune out everything on the planet except for the task at hand. You will be much less prone to mistakes and will be able to complete the same task you had been completing in (possibly) half the time.


    5. Delegate

    Spending your day trying to push through tasks that you aren’t very good at or just plain hate is a great way to become frustrated and unproductive. A mentor of mine said “If you hate it, automate it or delegate it.” If you aren’t the bee’s knees at modeling, then have a gifted analyst do your modeling for you. If you are terrible at cold calling, pay someone to set up introductions and make cold calls on your behalf. There are plenty of specialists in the world who will gladly perform menial tasks for you at a great price so that you can spend your time focusing on your highest-and-best use.

    Tip – Hire a virtual assistant. There is an army of MBAs in Bangalore who are waiting to do your research, analytics, and data entry for you. Let them. It will be a great investment in the long run.

    So, those are my 5 tips for increased efficiency and effectiveness in your work day. Do you have any to add or subtract? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


    Recommended Reading: The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris

    Many of these concepts come directly from Ferris’ new classic on productivity and lifestyle design. This is a great read and I recommend it to anyone, anywhere, in any business.

    – Duke

  • Black Swans in Commercial Real Estate, Part I


    In case you haven’t seen it yet, I recently wrote and article on The Black Swan by Taleb. In the book, Taleb argues that we are all terrible at predicting the future. That there are game-changing events that happen often enough to alter the course of history or at least the economy.

    So, the logical next step in my mind is: “How do Black Swans apply to commercial real estate deals?”

    Let’s start with the basics:

    Taleb argues that everyone, everywhere is bad at projecting the future. That economists and analysts are equally terrible at projecting what the S&P will look like in 12 months. I think the same applies to commercial real estate. When we run analysis on an IRR or the projected returns for a given deal, we have to assume vacancy rates, rental rate increases, exit caps, and half a dozen other assumptions. How often to we get them exactly correct? I would guess almost never. You may guess the exit cap correctly, but the rental rates haven’t trended upward like you thought. Or you may get vacancy right on the nose, but you miss on the TIs your projected for your industrial users.

    Do you see the point? Projections and IRRs are basically just educated guesses. Once you start to think these numbers are written in stone or are in any way certain, you are inviting trouble.

    So, as a deal-maker and CRE pro, how to you build this lack-of-precision into your analysis?

    My answer is simply “salt.” Take every number and projection you get with a grain of salt. I learned in loan originations that you can make numbers say whatever you want, so assuming that numbers are ironclad or exact is fallacy. All of those projections and return numbers you are looking at have about 10 assumptions that go into spitting out that number. Put another way, to make 1 number true, you have to assume that 10 other numbers are also true. What do you think is the chance that all 10 of those numbers are 100% accurate?

    Probably not very high. Right?

    So, I’m not suggesting to do away with IRR projections or cash-on-cash return numbers in your analysis. What I am saying is that you should understand that these numbers can vary by 50% or more. So your projected 20% IRR has a serious chance of ending up a 10% IRR (or, conversely, a 30% IRR).

    The point is, IRR and Cash-on-cash numbers are comparative not absolute. That is, they can be used to compare projected returns against the same property type in the same basic location, but I would caution against comparing across property types, locations, and certainly against other investment vehicles. You CANNOT compare a 10% return on mutual finds to a 10% return on a shopping center acquisition.

    As long as you keep that in mind, then IRR and C-o-c projections are fine. But as soon as you start expecting exactly 16% on your money from a projected 16% IRR, you are asking for trouble. Or if you try to pitch your office development as a 15% IRR that compares to the 7% investors are getting in the S&P, you have missed the point of comparative analytics.

    So, to paraphrase Taleb, all of us, no matter how educated or intelligent, are terrible predictors of the future. As long as we understand that and build that into our assumptions and our interpretations of models, then we should be able to save ourselves headaches and heartbreaks.

    I will continue on Black Swans later on in the week, but for now, stay skeptical of numbers!

    – Duke

  • Five Free(ish) Tools for Increased Efficiency (and Agility)

    We all have roughly the same amount of time. Whether you work 8 hours a day or 16, you still have to push to accomplish everything you want to accomplish every day. The man who is most efficient with his time will find he achieved more than his peers.

    So, with that in mind, here are 5 free (or nearly so) tools for you to increase the efficiency in your day.



    Free Note-taking and recovery software for multiple devices

    Evernote is a great free tool to keep track and be able to recall important documents, websites, emails, or other important information. You basically just install the software (inluding plugins for browsers and email), clip the notes you want to keep, tag them, and then Evernote will save them for later recovery. When you want to find them again, just type in some keywords into the search function of Evernote and it will recall and display all of the notes you tagged with those specific keywords. So you can probably see why this is a great tool for keeping hundreds, or even thousands, of notes on various topics as long as you tag them appropriately.

    How to use it: Watch this.

    How to get it: Download it here.



    Free mobile document app for multiple devices and platforms.

    Dropbox is a great way to take all of your documents with you. You simply install the free software onto all of your devices (including tablets and smartphones) and then save documents into your Dropbox. Dropbox then uses cloud computing to save the document on your shared space and you can access that document from any device that has Dropbox. It is a great tool for keeping contracts, surveys, legal docs, or plats on your iPad when you visit a site.

    How to use it: Watch this.

    How to get it: Download it here.


    Google My Maps

    Customizable maps from the champion of free mobile software

    As with most things from Google, this free software is better and easier to use than its pricey counterparts. My Maps is an extension of Google Maps where you can customize a map by putting routes and place-markers on certain areas, properties, or submarkets. It allows you to place a marker on a given property and then attach notes, pictures, or other rich text to that marker. So you can probably see why this would be a great tool for tracking property, deals, submarkets, or anything location-specific.

    How to use it: Watch this.

    How to get it: Visit Google, click on “maps”, click on “my places”, and then click create map”. From there, the world is your (data) oyster.



    Mobile access to your CoStar account

    If I have to tell you what CoStar is or why you may want it with you when you are not at your desk, then please call me about some swamp land I have for sale at a great price!!!! ACT FAST!

    How to use it: It is the same as regular CoStar, more or less, but they do have a fancy slideshow.

    How to get it: You have to have a CoStar subscription. After that, just download it to your mobile device.


    Office 365

    Cloud Computing for next-to-nothing

    Office 365 is a great cloud computing option for the budget conscious professional with limited needs. At $6 per month per user, 365 offers most of the functionality of larger and more complicated clouds, but at a steep discount. And if you are, like most of us, very familiar with Office products, usability should be straight forward. Clouds are a great option for storing all of your information and documents on a server than can be accessed from any computer in the world, and are still secure enough that you can feel safe that your confidential documents won’t be hacked.

    How to use it: Watch this.

    How to get it: Sign up here.

    So, those are 5 free or cheap options to increase your flexibility, mobility, agility, and get-it-done-ility. These will help you become more efficient with your time and ultimately more accomplished in your deals.

    If you have any additions or feedback to the above list, feel free to post in the comments below.

    – Duke

  • Random Thoughts


    Just as a heads up, I am currently working on articles about Black Swans, Bankruptcy in CRE, More on Goals, and Interviews.

    Stay tuned.

    For now, stay random.

    1. It is amazing to me the number of ways people can hide money and shelter their assets. What a cool and intricate little niche of the finance industry.

    2. I think Toco Hills is an under appreciated retail market. Is there any inline vacancy is that submarket?

    3. If I could live in one place in the world that is not the US, it would be Luzern, Switzerland.

    4. Why are dumb people often the loudest people? Is there an inverse relationship between volume and intelligence?

    5. What habits would the perfect man have every day? How would he spend his mornings, evenings, and work time? When would he exercise? What would he read? Hmmmmm . . .

    6. Who is John Galt? (Give me a couple weeks and I will tell you as I finish Atlas Shrugged).

    7. If you aren’t taking a small step every day toward achieving you goals in your career, then you need to come to terms with the fact that you will eventually be passed by those of us who are.

    8. I think one of the greatest assets of Atlanta is the density of trees. Have you ever flown into Hartsfield from out west and just looked out the window as you landed back here? We have one of the most wooded cities I have ever seen from the air. That’s pretty cool to me and I think it is worth preserving.

    9. I have no opinion on JoePa.

    10. “In the beginning you make your choices. In the end your choices make you.” – Darren Hardy.

    Keep it clean.

    – Duke

  • Clean Slate Project: Brainstorming


    If you are going to build a world-class city from raw land, where do you start?

    Tough question.

    I think you start with problems. I would ask “What are the problems facing this hypothetical city and how can we use design and smart construction to solve them?”

    And if you are going to truly create an exceptional city that is the model of new urban design, you cannot limit yourselves to the current problems facing the city. Let’s break it down this way:

    What problems has this city/region/area faced in the past that have been overcome and how did they overcome them?

    What problems are currently plaguing the city and how would a better-designed city solve those problems?

    What potential problems will this city (and all cities) face in the future that can be avoided or minimized through intelligent planning?


    To paraphrase Andy Stanley: “Given its past experiences, current circumstances, and future hopes and dreams, what is the ideal layout and design of this city?”


    Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit and work from there. What are our current problems and how can design solve them?

    As I see it, Atlanta’s three major issues are: transportation, water, and education. At least two of those are addressable by smart urban planning and the eduction will follow since smart people will want to live where there is great transportation and clean water.

    I’m not going to get into transportation and water solutions just yet, but I think the important message to take away from this part of the thought experiment is that we need the help and expertise of water management and rapid transit professionals. Fresh water sources and the intricacies of rapid transit are not my area of expertise. We need outside counsel.

    So, jumping back to 30,000 feet and just as a heads up for future editions of this series, I plan on tackling this project as follows:

    1. Figure out Atlanta’s problems or shortcomings and devise a plan to fix or preempt them.

    2. Figure out what experts and industry leaders would be best qualified to answer those questions.

    3. Interview them.

    4. Extensively.

    5. Design the new urban frontier based on their suggestions and recommendations.

    6. Find a way to sketch or model the new city layout and design.

    7. Share it with whoever is interested.


    Maybe nobody will be interested. But I am interested and this seems like a fun way to get to talk to some very intelligent people about our fair city. I plan on having fun with this.

    I am certainly open to any suggestions about how to tackle this project, ideas to consider, experts to consult, ways to make it readable, or whatever. Feel free to leave comments or feedback below.

    – Duke


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