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Avoiding ‘Crisis Mode’: Time-Management Advice for Self-Storage Operators

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As a self-storage facility operator, you’re constantly being pulled in multiple directions, which can make time management a real challenge. Here’s advice for avoiding “crisis mode” from someone who owns and operates more than 19 properties.

Reprinted with permission from the Texas Self Storage Association.

Self-storage operation may present unique challenges from time to time, but the principles of time management remain the same as in any other industry. In his book “Four Quadrants of Time Management,” author Stephen Covey says any activity falls into one of the following categories:

  • Important and urgent
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important and not urgent

We never know when a calamity may arise, but we can control where we spend the majority of our focus and time. According to Covey, we’ll be most successful if we put most of our attention in quadrant two—important but not urgent. By doing so, we can greatly reduce the amount of time we spend in “crisis mode.” Let’s learn more about how to apply this approach in self-storage.

Identify Critical Activities

The first step is to identify the daily activities in your self-storage business that are important but not urgent. Some examples include staff training and coaching, rapport-building with customers, regular lock checks, marketing, cleaning and maintenance, collections, retail stocking/inventory, and rental-rate monitoring. Now, let’s look at how focusing on these tasks helps prevent crisis mode.

A customer enters the office to inform you that he’s just vacated his 10-by-20 unit, your only unit in this size. It’s important but not urgent that you make that space ready to rent as soon as possible. You spend the next couple of hours focusing on other tasks. Then a new customer comes in with a loaded moving truck. Guess what? He needs that 10-by-20! When you go to look at the space, you discover it’s going to take you an hour or more to make it rentable. The customer is ready, but you aren’t. You might even lose his business.

Here’s another example: You haven’t done maintenance on your golf cart in months. While showing a space at the far end of the property, in a pouring rain, your battery goes dead—instant crisis and another potentially lost rental.

While enjoying high occupancy for the past several years, you’ve neglected any efforts to market your property. Suddenly the local economy changes and you have a bunch of move-outs you need to replace. You now find yourself scrambling to drive traffic to your facility, thus missing out on multiple rentals and revenue.

These are just a few samples of how neglecting to focus on what’s important but not urgent will ultimately lead you to crisis mode. To help you maintain your focus in this quadrant, get in the habit of making to-do lists. Not only will this keep you on track, it’ll help you avoid redundancy among staff, as you don’t need more than one person performing the same tasks.

Learn to Prioritize

Now that you have your to-do list, you need to prioritize it. A simple approach is to rank tasks by importance, first with letters to group like tasks together and then by numbers within each group (A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, C1, C2, C3, C4). Next, create a monthly calendar for routine items such as overlocks, collections letters, auctions, special projects, etc. You’ll be reminded of what’s important but not urgent and can use any downtime to prepare.

For example, let’s say you have a slow afternoon. A quick glance at your calendar reminds you that tomorrow is the day to send certified rent-due letters. You might spend that time making one last collection call or preparing envelopes, so when you get hit with a rush of customers tomorrow, you aren’t scrambling to complete the task.

Invest in Training

When I previously listed examples of activities that are important but not urgent, there was a reason “staff training and coaching” was first. It’s the most important aspect of reducing time in crisis mode! Often, a disaster develops simply because an employee isn’t equipped with the knowledge to make the right decision. He’ll either make the wrong choice or no decision at all. Consistent training reduces mistakes.

Communicate

Communication is always a key to success. Unless you’re a sole proprietor managing your own property with no employees, you’re part of a team, which makes it essential. Consider using a shared binder to share information with staff. Employees can read it to see what they might have missed on their days off. Also, consider holding weekly or monthly meetings. Keep them to 30 minutes or an hour and focus on essential items.

If you know something will be happening at your property that might affect tenants, let them know. By doing so, you may avoid having to deal with an angry customer later (i.e., a crisis!). Every time you interact with a tenant—unless it’s something routine like taking a payment—note it in your management software. That way, when another member is dealing with that person, he’ll be able to see and use that history to make the right decision, thus preventing a potential catastrophe.

Finally, let your direct supervisor know what you need and what he can do to help you. Tell him about any significant issues that arise at your property. It’s impossible for him to assist you in running the business if he’s in the dark. Through regular communication, he can focus on things when they’re important and not urgent, long before they become a crisis.

Time management can be tricky in self-storage operation. To master it, identify the activities that are important but not urgent, make to-do lists, prioritize tasks, invest in staff training, and communicate with employees, customers and supervisors. These strategies will help you better use your time and dodge that dreadful crisis mode!

John Manes is CEO and co-owner of Pinnacle Storage Properties and Pinnacle Storage Managers, which owns and operates 19 self-storage properties in Arkansas and Texas valued at more than $100 million. He’s responsible for driving the culture, direction and overall operation of the organization. John has been involved in self-storage since 2005, serving in multiple executive-level roles. To reach him, call 210.818.1496; email [email protected].

TAGS: Staffing
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