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You're that stressed. Really? Let's get some perspective.

Back when I was still with a property management company, I used to regularly poll my managers and on-site marketing people to gauge their satisfaction and stress level. I was regularly surprised by the level of stress, or perceived stress, that many of these managers seemed to labor under day in and day out. What was causing it? Was it me, my owner, co-workers, policies, pricing, marketing, competition? The weather? Their hair? Sometimes I was really quite nonplussed. So I decided to go deeper, get more into the root of the problem.

Once I could rule out most of the above, aside from the fact that my owner at that time was quite possibly a lunatic, I came across a completely different cause – the person themselves. Many of these managers had the same basic job, same performance, same salary, similar living situations and family lives as non-stressed managers. What were they doing differently? Freaking out about nothing, for one. Doing many things which caused them stress, for another. Have you ever had a day that just seemed to start off bad, and then get progressively worse? If you sit and analyze that day, somewhat removed from its outcome, it is interesting to pinpoint where things may have gone wrong. Did you wake up late? Run out of gas? Miss an errand, forget an appointment? Drink a few gallons too much coffee? Did you show up to a meeting unprepared or a few minutes past acceptable? Were you short with a person who you should have indulged in conversation, or dismissive of someone whose ideas could have helped you? We have all been there. Many of us have had each of these happen, sometimes all in just one day. But how many of them are avoidable, how many can you prevent? I can’t go into the psychology of why some people self-sabotage, but I do explain to my employees and consulting clients that certain people, certain types, have these instances happen much more frequently than others. Not just unlucky, but people who build their own road blocks and then drive right into them. Repeatedly.

Work stress is avoidable and manageable. Especially in this industry – while not dismissive of the factors and elements that can make it maddening, they are hardly unmanageable. Ticked off supervisors? Please, not a big deal if you can prove that the problem is being addressed or was not yours in the first place. Mad resident? It isn’t that hard to make them happy when you listen and empathize. Eventual eviction is also a tool for the chronic complainer. But there are so many things we can do, in this business and in life, to keep us out of these mood destroyers and time wasters. Wake up early. Plan ahead. Prepare, read up, think a few steps beyond. Surround yourself with other people with good habits, not those that may bring out the worst of yours.

I think that perspective is one of the most important things to being a success. You have to see how you fit into the collective whole, before you can really say you have it so rough. To that end, when I had some of these perpetually stressed out managers and marketing people who just failed to see how they could actually manage most of their stressors, I had them do a day of volunteering. Forced volunteering. My favorite was having property managers, used to running their own ship according to a very pre-planned set of rules and procedures, and with a fairly predictable work day - work a day in an emergency room. The people who toil away in these hectic places know a bit more stress than the typical property manager. Property management can get dirty, but rarely can you wind up with both blood and “soil” on your uniform. From just one patient, err "resident". While Ms. Gomez may be a tad upset about her dishwasher leak, she isn’t dying on your desk. You talk to the charge nurse and the various EMT and attending physicians, and they just laugh about being stressed. Yes, they feel it, but they manage. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to do their job. They wouldn’t be a help to anyone.

So the next time you feel like your workflow and daily life is just too overwhelming, pause a minute for perspective. Don’t get coffee, that just adds caffeinated fuel to a fire. Take a break. Think about what you could be doing in the local emergency room. Think about the people who go out and save people from all sorts of health emergencies.  Think about the young people who work hard in an emergency room for 10 hours or more, with little or no thanks and a paycheck remarkably smaller than yours. Think about your office, your aromatherapy candles and your crackling fire in the leasing center. Let the balance of stress come back to equilibrium and smile. Realize that your stress is well within tolerable limits. And that Ms. Gomez will probably renew her lease if you just slide in a stolen dishwasher from a vacant unit today instead of ordering that part that may take two weeks. 

Christopher Higgins is The Apartment Guy, an industry educator and owner of multifamily assets in 7 states and two Canadian provinces. He takes the idea of stress reduction seriously while spending hours in airports each week. For more, visit www.theapartmentguy.net.

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I think there is another category, as well Christopher, of those who perpetually try to "look busy". Sometimes they want to be rewarded for all their hard work. Sometimes they want to look so busy so their boss won't give them any more responsibilities. But looking back on when I was young and using this strategy, I almost always felt more stress than if I had just done the job. "Looking busy" was surprisingly hard! Also, I have noticed is that many of these people play the part so often that they actually start believing it themselves about how busy they are. I really have no idea how to handle that type of situation where someone has convinced themselves they are over-burdened when they are not, but I've seen it plenty of times.

  Brent Williams

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