Productivity Tools That We Love

As the years pass it’s becoming increasingly obvious to us that our time is the most precious and treasured resource that we have.  We’re both getting harsher with how we spend it and we both get very cranky if we waste it.  Actually, right now the thing that may upset us more than anything else is an inefficient use of our own time.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had several people ask us how we manage our time.  Instead of going through some of our decision-making processes, today we thought we’d share a few of the tools that help us get things done.

Here is a list of tools that we use to manage our time:

1. Gmail.
If you aren’t using Gmail from Google for your email yet it’s time to switch.  Gmail uses a “conversation” style of email threading that is difficult to get used to for the first few weeks but once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll never go back.

And more importantly, Gmail has the best search functionality that we’ve ever seen for email.  Think of having “Google Search” working for you on your email.  We rarely “save” emails any more in “folders”.  For years we’ve just been using Gmail’s “Archiving” functionality to hide read emails from our inbox but we have access to years worth of data by just searching our Gmail accounts.

The “Advanced Search” even allows you to search within specific “time frames” when you’re looking for something but just not exactly sure when it was you were dealing with it.

We also “forward” ourselves any important emails and include keywords in the email.  We then Archive the messages.  But now those emails have keywords that we can easily search using Gmail’s search functionality.  Some keyword examples “main street offer” or “joint venture agreement” or “sample rental ads”.


You don’t have to use Gmail for personal accounts.  Using Google Apps you can hook up any domain name (e.g. our is “ to use Gmail for that domain’s email.  And it’s free.  What more could you ask for?

Google Gmail = 2 thumbs way up.

2. Paper Based Weekly Calendars. We use paper-based daily calendars – every day.  We both have software and IT backgrounds and have both played with Palm Pilot’s, Blackberry’s and iPhone’s for years but nothing beats the paper-based daily calendar.  We use the “weekly view” formats so we can see the entire week at a time and prefer that the calendars have a monthly view for each month as well.

For managing some virtual projects Google Calendar is our choice if we have to share dates across virtual teams but we use paper-based calendars to manage our own daily activities.

Sounds barbaric, doesn’t it?  Yeah, we know … we’re old school. πŸ˜‰

Here’s the model we use, it’s At-A-Glance Weekly/Monthly Calendar.  You can lay out the week, but it also has a monthly view and a monthly “to-do” list down the side of the calendar that stays visible throughout each week of the month … priceless.

3 Helpful Real Estate Books Not About Real Estate


Real estate investing involves so much more than understanding cash flow and renovating properties.

There are tenants, lawyers, agents, brokers, inspectors, appraisers, bankers, contractors, councilors, neighbours, and family to deal with.  And on top of all that you have to deal with yourself – which may be the most difficult part of it all πŸ˜‰

The other day a few of us were chatting about some of the influences we’ve had that have helped us out the most.

From parents to mentors, to educators to friends … the list is long.

And for the two of us, there are also a few books that have nothing to do with real estate that have helped us out with real estate investing – a lot.

So, call Oprah and break out your spiritual side because we’re about to get warm and fuzzy over here.  We’ve picked out three books that have absolutely nothing to do – directly – with real estate investing that have had a lasting impact on us.

Ready?  Light some candles and let’s do this…

The Trick To Money Is Having Some

Stuart Wilde writes with such a “matter of fact” and hilarious tone that you don’t know whether to take him seriously but this book absolutely rocks.

At a conference we were at back in the Fall we met an extremely successful British radio host, turned massively successful entrepreneur, who is now living on a beautiful estate in San Diego while operating his businesses back in England who gives a huge amount of credit to this book.

We also now an extremely successful businessman in Ohio who raves about this book and the metal shift it made on it that allowed him to expand his thinking.

Out of the three books we’re mentioning here, this one is the least “fluffy” and we can’t tell you what a dramatic impact it’s had on us.  We make a point to read it every few years.

This book has the potential to really insult your accepted beliefs about money but managed to give you a brand new context in which to think about the role of money in your life and how to get it.

There are more than a couple rather controversial quotes in the book, for example,

“All philosophies which that poverty is groovy, do so as a cop out.  It keeps the non-performing members happy for they can live in the ego-trip of thinking that somehow their lack of creativity and effort will be blessed at a later date.  I think they are in for a rude awakening but that is irrelevant.”

Or how about this one…

“The reason why making money is such a joy is that it allows you to grow spiritually, to understand the finer subtleties of life and to come to grips with many aspects of yourself.  This does not imply that rich people are necessarily spiritual, but it does infer that poor people are probably not.”

Yeah, he’s definitely not politically correct.

So if you’re up for a little laughing and a little shock value then this book is for you.

There’s a chapter in the book about raising your energy that sounds very “pie-in-the-sky” at first but it’s had a huge lasting impact on us.

So overall a fun read that will likely change your thinking about money in some way.

We’ve mentioned this book before and really can’t recommend it enough.


No Radio For Twelve Years

This week … a rant of sorts.

There’s this classic story… that we’ll summarize for you here:

Benjamin Franklin received a letter from the mayor of a small town for some money to purchase a new bell for the town square. Benjamin sent the money with a note suggesting they skip the bell and instead buy books for the town library. Libraries have answers, bells make noise.

Sound advice we think.

Most people we run into don’t seem to spend any time trying to acquire the “know-how” they need to get anything their heart desires.

The attention span of the masses seems to be shortening faster than Justin Beiber can Tweet.

How many people do you know that really STUDY anything? Most people don’t apply themselves to acquiring the “know-how” to anything that can make a difference in their lives.

We just got off the phone with an extremely successful dentist who runs an amazing practice on the west side of Toronto.

Although he’s earning a huge income and his net worth is growing rapidly he is constantly looking to acquire new information. He travels to conferences, invests in information, talks to people, pays for consultations, gathers new material, tests new processes, asks thoughtful questions, reflects on ideas … it’s no wonder he has so much wealth in his life.

It seems to us, that in everything we’ve ever tried, we’ve moved from being pretty horrible at it, to being somewhat competent, to being very competent… not perfect and not the best, but pretty darn good. Getting good at anything takes some effort.

This applies to investing in real estate, to building websites, to writing and starting businesses.

And an important part of this process involves getting through a LOT of information in a big hurry … and regularly.

We recently shared elsewhere that I went through a period of 12 years without listening to the radio in my car. 12 years.

Sounds funny as I type that. 12 years of driving and no radio. And even when others are in the car with me, including my amazing wife, there’s no radio … I just leave it off Can’t stand it.

Over the last 12 years I can count on two hands the number of times I turned it on in hopes of catching a traffic update.  I don’t even know what station to turn to to listen to a Maple Leaf’s game and I’m a huge fan.


I’ve been using that time to digest information. I’ve been listening to audio programs in my car for 12 years. Buying information from all sorts of places and listening to it.

It’s only been in the last three months, with my kids getting older, that I can’t trick them into thinking I can’t turn my audios off. They have revolted and taught me how to work the radio. And only now do I know that Katy Perry is a big deal in pop music and her song “Fireworks” is actually kinda catchy.

The Difference Between A Pay Raise & Self Reliance

Look, some people reading this will hate what we are about to say but we’ve found that it’s always best to share what you feel needs to be shared.

Here it is:

You can’t depend on other people for your financial well being.  Not the company you work for, not the Conservatives or the Liberals.

A story for you…

A good friend got a promotion a while back and couldn’t hold back his delight.  We could understand, we used to be the same way.

But then something hit us in the head one day and we realized that if you get a raise your standard of living likely increases along with that raise.

No matter how many books about saving you have read, you’ll likely go out a buy that new cell phone with the larger data package or that 52″ 3D TV you’ve been dreaming about since you saw it at your friend’s house.

Maybe you even book a little vacation to Cuba and for you Americans reading this…maybe it’s the Bahamas πŸ˜‰

So you end up spending more money.

Guess what?

You are MORE dependent on your income than you were before.

Your raise has increased your dependence on your income.  Not decreased it.

Your raise has chained you even more closely to your job.  The shackles grow stronger.

With the family to support and the mortgage on the house, you feel locked in.  No options.

And then if the financial markets hit some tough times your company sponsored RRSP plan may not look as promising as it once did.

Look, you need to take control of your own financial future.

If you’re looking to start this process, and it really is a process, here are some ideas to think about:

90 Minutes To Complete Domination

In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of having BIG and FAT reasons to achieve any lasting change.

We chatted about comfort being the enemy.  You can’t just “want” to achieve “financial freedom” or “the perfect family/kids” or “physical fitness”.  And you definitely won’t last if you just “want” to “start or your business” or “invest for cash flow”.

You need deep pain and frustration.  Sounds horrible, we know.

Your “want to have” must be turned into a “gotta have” or you stand very little chance of breaking out of whatever rut you’re in.

This conclusion is coming from our own self-observation and tracking.  So we can tell you with certainty that it’s important – at least, to us.

If you’re able to get emotional enough, for long enough, to take action, then the next part of the achievement equation is creating environments that force our new behaviours.

Let’s break this out into two sections.

The first, actually measuring what’s important.

And the second, structuring your day so that you don’t lose your mind.

Tracking Your Way To Anything You Want

Some people do an excellent job of getting really upset and deciding to make a change but then lose that emotional super-charge because they haven’t built-in mechanisms to remind them of their progress.  To keep them on track after the emotional charge of adrenaline wears off.

In the previous article, I mentioned that my son was taking some snowboard lessons over the holidays.  He was able to track his progress by counting how many times he fell on the bunny hill.

Next, when he mastered that he went over to the “big chairlift” and tested himself on a real beginner hill, “The Big Easy”.   And he desperately wanted to master this hill so that he could go hang out with his nieces on the Intermediate runs marked by big “blue squares” on the ski hill map.

After tackling “The Big Easy” for an entire day he was able to make it down without turning himself into a human snowball.  He went from falling every ten feet to being able to control his descent and was averaging only about one or two fairly small little falls per run.  That was enough to secure the all-important parental permission required for him to go down an intermediate run.

His speed of descent, his control and most importantly, the number of falls were his tracking tools.

He was able to clearly count his progress.

Let’s take two more examples of measuring your progress:

1. Real Estate Investing.

If you’ve been searching for a good cash flow property for any length of time and not getting anywhere you’ll quickly lose the motivation to continue.  When Nick and I began looking for good homes we turned it into a game.

a) How many properties did we have to go through in order to find a good one?  It ended up being 10 properties required to find an acceptable property.  Knowing this kept us motivated.  If we had looked at 15 properties with no luck over two days we knew that in the next five properties we were likely to find two gems … and that kept us going.  That knowledge gave us the motivation to look at over 50 properties each … a week, for months.

b) If we had a vacant rental property we turned to measuring leads, carefully.  We asked ourselves, how many phone calls from our advertising did we need to get six people to view the property?  It turned out we need about 12 leads.  After that, we figured out that to get a tenant we needed at a bare minimum, three good applications.  We then started measuring how many leads turned into appointments and how many of those turned into applications.  Knowing the numbers took the mystery out of the process and kept us focused on constantly improving our advertising and application conversion … instead of just throwing up a lawn sign and praying.  Tracking, measuring, reminding ourselves of the key numbers made us much more effective.

2. Small Business

Over the years we’ve realized that tracking tenant leads to a property is exactly the same as tracking potential customer leads into a business.

a) How many visitors does your website require to get your “desired response”.  Your website has a purpose right?  Well, measure the response.  Once you know that you need 40 visitors to get three sales or two contact forms filled out or five free quotes then you can focus your energy on increasing your lead flow.

b) How many “free quotes” or “browsing Sally’s” do you need in your business to secure a sale?   Is it five?  Three?  Fourteen?  Once you track that you can to predict how much business you’ll be able to generate from the leads you’ve been working so hard to secure.  And if you know how much that customer is worth to you then you’ll be able to measure exactly how much you can spend to acquire that customer?  It’s beautiful.

How many small businesses track leads, prospects and customers?  How many know the average value of each customer?  Worse, how many know the lifetime value of each customer … the value of the same person over three or four years?

Tracking and measuring this stuff keeps you motivated and better yet, creates a massive competitive advantage.


If you know it takes one hundred visitors to your website to get three sales for a profit of $3,000 … then all your focus can be applied to generating those one hundred visitors.  You don’t waste time with frivolous details like beautiful logos and vanity phone numbers.

If you know it takes twelve tenant leads to get one solid tenant worth $30,000 in gross revenues to you … how much would you be willing to pay to generate those leads?

Measuring and tracking are what separates the boys from the men, the girls from the women.

“Whatever the majority of people is doing, under any given circumstances, if you do the exact opposite, you will probably never make another mistake as long as you live.”
– Earl Nightingale

90 Minutes A Day To Complete Domination

Let me ask you something…

What one single thing could you do, every day, that will guarantee 2011 would be drastically different than 2010?

To get different results you must have different behaviours.  To have different behaviours consistently you want to turn important actions into habits.

I’ve found that to change my behaviour I need to do something every day, no matter what, for several weeks, without exception, until it turns into a new habit.

When I start working out every morning I made a commitment to do cardio every day.

I started with 2 minutes of it.

120 seconds.

Then, the next day, 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Then, the next day, 3 minutes.

I laughed at myself.  Others laughed with me.  The process became fun.

I did it for 67 days straight.  No exceptions.  After late nights, after Michael Buble concerts, after Bon Jovi or U2 concerts, after late men’s league hockey games … every morning, no exceptions.  I didn’t make it a choice.  I wanted to create a new habit and it worked.

Now I do 30 minutes first thing every morning, 5 days a week.  No issues, no hassle, it’s part of my routine.

I started small because I absolutely hated it but had no excuse to avoid it.  How could I admit to myself that I couldn’t do 2 minutes of cardio?  I mean … it was 2 minutes.

Tracking and measuring my progress actually encouraged me instead of discouraging me.  I saw the number increasing every day until I hit my 30-minute goal.

Now for the fun part…

What To Do When Crap Hits The Fan…

Have you ever been in a position where you just can’t believe how you got yourself into such a mess?

You know, things are going wrong, nothing’s working as planned?

Real estate investing produces those kinds of days.

Actually, any business produces those kinds of days, they just seem to pop up with real estate investing on some sort of scheduled, reoccurring pattern.

And the size and scope of the “crappy day” will often increase over time.

I remember, about ten years ago, closing on a property with Nick.

On the actual closing day he was in Europe.  In Paris, France … on a tour through Europe.  I remember that day vividly because the morning started off with our Mother in a panic.

Nick had called from France to say he landed and was OK but there was a hiccup with his accommodations and he hiked his way into downtown Paris to try and find somewhere to sleep … the trip, the confusion with where he was staying and the hike into town had left him exhausted and hungry.  He found a bakery to buy a loaf of bread and headed to a park to lay down and get some rest.  But before he did he found a public restroom where he could “freshen up”.

It was one of those restrooms where you have to pay with a few coins to use them.  You know the kind, after you pay you have like 5 seconds to enter the thing before the door locks again.

Upon entering his backpack got stuck in one door and somehow another door slammed into his face … hard.  He smashed his nose and it began bleeding badly all over his shirt, his pants, his hands and he was now stuck … sandwiched between these two doors because of his large backpack.

Nick’s a big strong dude, so he somehow ripped his way out of the situation and then proceeded to use the shirt he was wearing to stop the bleeding.

After the shock of the event (I still laugh every time I hear it….what else is a brother for?) he lay down on a bench or ledge or something to catch a quick nap.  Apparently he tied his backpack to his body somehow so now one would steal it.  I’m actually laughing as I type this!

I can only assume he was mentally and physically exhausted.

A short time later he woke up to find himself in the middle of a mob of people … apparently the park was part of the route for the Gay Pride Parade in Paris.  And he was right in the middle of it.  Backpack, bloody shirt and from what I understand, in no mood to be part of a parade.

So needless to say by the time he called home to let his caring mother know that he landed in Europe safely he had a lot to report.

“Crap had hit the fan” for him that morning in Paris and he was not enjoying it.  Looking back it makes for a great story though, doesn’t it?

Our Mom was spooked by it … she was worried for him.  I was amused πŸ™‚

Later that day I got a call from our Lawyer to say our rental property had closed.  And the literally, an hour later, the tenants we had inherited called to let me know that the grass needed cutting, the microwave was broken and there was some strange bedroom door handle that need fixing ASAP.   I was nervous and no idea how to handle any of this … so I just agreed to everything they said.

I guess this was some sort of payback for me enjoying Nick’s pain earlier in the day.

For me, that moment, as small as it seems now, was the crap hitting the fan.

I took apart my own lawn mower and stuffed it into the trunk of my Honda Civic … my brand new Honda Civic.

A friend called at about the same time and I explained what was going on … he mentioned he had won a microwave at a stag or something and that I could have it.

I then packed up my toolbox and headed down to the property.

When I got there I was too scared to even talk to the tenants so I just assembled my mower and began cutting.  I didn’t even say hello.  It was interesting to watch the tenants peak at me through the windows as I peaked back at them.

LOL, I can’t believe that’s the way it went, but that’s exactly what happened.

I then finished the grass, knocked on the door, and barely said Hi as I walked into their kitchen to plunk down a new microwave on the counter.

Next, I asked where the door handle was that needed fixing and with my limited handy man skills proceeded to patch up some sort of fix for it.  The entire time one of the tenants was watching my work over my shoulder.  It was horrible.  I was sweating … badly.

Living on Your Terms

Yesterday we had an open call in day for our Inner Circle members. These are one on one calls where we can talk about anything. At the end of it, we both felt inspired. It’s amazing to see what people are accomplishing for themselves, and to know that we have been able to help different…