Work Less Without Sacrificing Your Business

Real estate professional Rachel Adams was doing big business at the expense of her personal life. So she endeavored to make more time for herself without her productivity taking a hit. Here’s the plan she developed and how you can emulate it.

Rachel Adams has the kind of success story most real estate professionals strive to emulate. Adams, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Roseville, Calif., went from closing 39 transactions in 2012—her first year as an agent, at age 26—to 123 just two years later, landing in The Wall Street Journal’s top 1 percent of salespeople nationwide. The rapid rise in her business made her life appear perfect.

But it wasn’t.

Adams’ impressive sales numbers masked a personal life spinning out of control. On the cusp of her 30th birthday, she was battling depression after divorce, exhaustion from 80-hour work weeks, and a 30-pound weight gain. She soon realized she had neglected one critical element of true success: work-life balance.

“I was one of the top 1,000 agents in the country, and I felt empty and lost,” Adams says. “I knew I needed to take a hard look at my life and make some changes. … I wanted to see what would happen if I made myself a priority.”

She gave herself 90 days to transform her life, documenting the journey for a book she cowrote with her life coach, Nina Rowan Heller, called Lost to Found in 90 Days. Since it was published in December 2015, Adams and Heller have created inspirational videos, a mobile app, and a private Facebook community of 3,700 members around the theme of the book. And her business has gotten even better: She closed $36 million in sales in 2015, and she attributes much of the success to her lifestyle changes.

“My business exploded because I was much more intentional with my relationships with other people,” Adams says. These were the key lessons she learned about re-evaluating her time and building self-love during her 90-day challenge.

Make an announcement about your intentions. When you’ve identified the changes you want to make in your personal and business life, mark the start date of your three-month plan and share it with five of your peers, asking for their support. On Dec. 1, 2014, Adams announced on social media her 90-day goal to reach a higher level of happiness. She also texted five friends and asked for their support as she committed to lifestyle changes. “I realized it would be harder to let my loved ones down than it would be to let myself down,” Adams says.

Make a contract around your commitments. Write down what you want to accomplish—including the path you’ll take to get there—and sign it. Then share it with your accountability partner, suggests Heller, founder of Rowan Health Concepts, a firm that provides holistic wellness services to corporate executives.

Remove your main distractions. Make a list of 10 habits you want to eliminate, such as overbooking your time during certain intervals in the day or week or spending too much time on social media. Take the first two items on your list and remove them from your life for the next 90 days. Consider how you’ll replace those habits with more productive activities.

Adams’ two biggest distractions were dating and drinking, so she deleted dating apps on her phone and drank soda water with lemon at networking happy hours. “What started to happen was those one or two good decisions led to other good decisions,” Adams says.

Keep a journal. Block out 10 minutes a day to write down questions to yourself: How do you feel about giving up your biggest distractions? What challenges will you face and how will you deal with them? Use a blank page or even your smartphone to record what’s on your mind, taking note of your current mental and physical states.

Heller says journaling is an important tool to reveal true thoughts and to capture those “aha” moments. “It is the most effective means for … recognizing patterns and trends that govern your life,” she notes. “Journaling identifies your obstacles clearly and helps you find solutions to overcome them.” Be sure to frequently review past entries.

Establish a morning routine. Create a schedule you can stick to that involves waking up earlier, drinking more water, eating a healthy breakfast, and getting some exercise. (Even a short workout routine will suffice.)

Adams, who says she isn’t a morning person, used to aim to get to the office by 10 a.m. She realized, however, that the most successful businesspeople often valued a strict morning routine. “Every morning is a fresh start, and if you start the day out right with some positive choices, maybe you can keep that going the rest of the day,” Adams says. Here’s a sample of Adams’ morning schedule:

  • 6:30 a.m.: Drink a full glass of water.
  • 6:40 a.m.: Pray and meditate, including positive affirmations.
  • 7 a.m.: Journal about short- and long-term goals as well as things she’s grateful for.
  • 7:20 a.m.: Mini-exercise of 25 squats, 22 push-ups, and 45 sit-ups.
  • 7:40 a.m.: Healthy breakfast and supplements.
  • 8 a.m.: Get ready for work.
  • 9 a.m.: Arrive at work.

Make one major lifestyle change. Vow to eat cleaner foods and prepare meals in advance so you’re not forced to make last-minute, unhealthy food choices on the go. It’s not about going on a diet, Adams says. For her, it needed to become a new way of life. She focused on meal prep so she’d be ready for unexpected changes in her day. She committed to eating cleaner, unprocessed foods, tossing out all processed snacks, eating only lean meats, incorporating vegetables in almost every meal, and increasing her water consumption to at least two liters per day.

To stick to a commitment to drinking more water, Heller fills a water bottle up each morning and puts six rubber bands on it. Every time she fills up the water bottle, she removes a rubber band to make sure she’s staying hydrated during the day.

Calculate the value of your time. Determine your hourly income rate. Divide the income you earned last year by the number of hours you worked. (Adams divided by 2,000 hours of work per year, removing two weeks for vacation and multiplying 50 weeks per year by 40 hours of work per week). Then, re-evaluate your to-do list with your hourly rate in mind. Adams realized she was wasting time on nonessential activities, which then starved her of any personal free time. “I was stunned to find out the value of my time,” she says. “Had I not done this exercise, I would never have realized that a lockbox errand cost me $190.”

She created a start-stop-continue list. The “start” column contained activities she needed to start doing to increase productivity, such as time-blocking in one-and-a-half-hour increments. The “stop” column contained activities she needed to delegate, such as hiring a runner for a lockbox delivery. The “continue” column contained activities she was continuing to do well.

“When I become more aware of how I was spending my time, my business skyrocketed,” says Adams, who rebranded the 15-member real estate team she leads as the Rachel Adams Group. Her journey to a better life is hardly over either: She continually picks two new distractions to tackle in 90-day increments. She’s also focusing more on how personal relationships can influence professional success in a new book she’s writing with her fiancé called We’re a Team.

“When I first started this journey, all I wanted was to be happier, feel good in my skin, and have self-love,” Adams says. “I found that when I started showing the best version of myself personally, I began to show the best version of myself professionally, too. Other people started to notice. I had more energy. I was coming in 10 minutes early to appointments instead of 10 minutes late. You’ll never be the best business owner unless you start taking care of you first. I know that now.”