"I need to spend less time in the office, more time in the field."
"I need tools that are easy to use, and don't detract from getting my job done."
"I need to have information at my fingertips so I can instantly answer homeowner and board member questions."
"I need a break so I can spend more time with my family."
Do any of these sound like you? If you look at the needs of the typical community association manager, one thing stands out. CAM Managers need more time.
We always talk about the many hats a manager wears. The sheer volume of things you need to remember and deal with on a daily basis can quickly become overwhelming. You may find yourself asking, "How do other managers handle all this and still get a little sleep every night?"
The answer is both simple and complicated. Sadly there is no magic portal that gives you extra time every day. (Unless you know of a magic time portal, in which case, please share with the rest of us!)
What we do have, is a series of time saving tips and efficiency tricks that add up to real time you can use every day. Since your day is broken into various kinds of tasks, we are going to talk about efficiencies within each area. Let's dig in:
- Less Time on Email: Limit the amount of time each day you spend answering emails, for example 30 minutes in the morning, and 30 minutes in the evening. Many managers get bogged down in the minutae of clearing the inbox and aren't able to spend enough face to face time in the community as a result.
- Last Things First: To insure that all emails are treated fairly and responded to in a timely manner, check your mail from the oldest to the newest (bottom up). This helps keep emails from 'falling through the cracks' too.
- Clever Uses for Signatures: Copy common responses you write to signature blocks in your mail program. You should do this any time you find yourself typing the same response to different people more than once a month. Then you can simply drop in a beautifully written reply without having to waste time rewriting it each time, or digging through old emails to copy and paste.
- Be a Man (or Woman) of Fewer Words: Limit your replies to the bare information that is needed. For most email replies, most people write 3 paragraphs when a few words would do. The reader is also much more likely to read a shorter email (they have email management issues too!).
- Catogorize & Hide Away: Mark emails with follow-up flags, categorize by color for things like “Urgent,” “Info,” “Waiting/Re-assigned,” “Need to do Later,” etc. Once you have categorized them, move them as much as possible to get them out of sight if there’s nothing to do with them or they’re done.
- Organize by Community: Organize emails by community by creating a folder for each community in your inbox. Once an email is done (read, responded to, etc.) move it to the appropriate folder. It will be a LOT easier to find it later when you need it.
- Out of Office / Auto-Reply: Don't be afraid of Auto Reply in your email program. Use it when you need to go off-site, during busy season, when you'll be in court, etc. People are very understanding of delays if they understand there is a reason for it.
- VM to Email: Out of the office a lot? Look into a Voice Mail to Email service for your office. This can be very helpful for the manager on the go.
- Delegate, Delegate, Delegate: Develop a hierarchy for who handles what issues. Instead of having homeowners call the manager directly, they should be directed to reception, who can route the call to accounting, or look up a quick piece of information. It's shocking how much time managers spend just redirecting phone calls, when this can easily be taken off their plate.
- Share Your Calendar: Sync your calendar schedule with your smart phone. A simple tool like Google Calendar can integrate with your email program and your smart phone so your team can access it in the office while you're on the go, and you always know where you need to be.
- Go Paperless: It may take a bit more time in the short term to attach documents to owner accounts or organize your files by property and create subfolders in each but the time going paperless saves you in the long run from going back and forth to the filing cabinets is well worth the effort.
- Yearly Folders: Many managers spend quite a bit of their day tracking down emails, looking through reports, searching CCRs for info, etc. because they don’t organize their information in one location. Try keeping a yearly folder with copies of budget, contracts, important info and contacts for each community in your portfolio so you can easily access it when you have questions.
- Go Generic: Remove the manager's email and contact info from generic form letters. Instead, direct homeowner questions to a generic email address and phone number that the receptionist or one of your administrative people can be responsible for. (They can always escalate the issue to you if need be, but many homeowner questions can be resolved with a simple lookup of their account info.)
- Redirect and Reflect: Redirect complaints and issues to the board of directors. For example, you can add a form to your violation letters that provides the homeowners with a recourse if they dispute the violation. Form responses can be directed to the Board or Committee members responsible for compliance, not the manager. (Get a free sample of letters with this feature here.)
- Go Online: Invest in web-based management tools that allow you to access your full community data from your smart phone, laptop, or tablet, no matter where you are. Having everything possible in electronic form puts all of the info you need at your fingertips at a moment's notice.
- Automation: Seek out ways you can automate repetitive processes. The rule of thumb should be that if you find yourself doing the same operation more than 2 times a week, you could save time by automating it.
- Training: Get trained on the software you use to manage your communities! Often there are a ton of timesavers and helpful tips to make your processes go faster that are sitting there, waiting for you to discover them. Training is a great way to get this information.
- Listen to complainers: It seems like counterproductive advice in an article about saving time, but if you can stop talking and trying to explain why things are the way they are, and just listen to what someone has to say, you can actually save some time.
Follow up their complaints with a suggestion for them to come to the next board meeting so they can explain their issue to the board, or if that isn't possible, ask them to put it in writing for you. Many times, the complainer just wanted someone to hear them and they will not pursue the next step, but even if they do, the Board are the ones with the actual authority to make changes, not the manager.
- GTFM! (Get the ef'n Money): When you perform services above and beyond the terms of the management contract, charge for them! The more you allow anciliary charges to slide, the more the community will come to expect those services to be included in their management fee. You are not doing yourself or the community any favors by working for free. You'll burn out faster, and they will lose a great manager.
(How is this a time saver? When you charge for your work, the board will think twice about asking for additional services that take up your time.)
One last thing. We've talked about all the tips you can do to save time, but this one is more about feeling good about what you've accomplished. Often our to do lists are so overwhelming, it can feel like you are working all day and getting nothing done. I Done This is a simple free tool that allows you to list all of your accomplishments for the day. It's like a reverse to do list that acts as both a reminder of what you've done, and the "Attaboy" pat on the back you so desperately need, but don't often get from directors or homeowners.
What time savers have you found that help make you more efficient and get a good night's rest? Share them in the comments below!
*Image credit: Monoar Rahman Rony via pixabay