Sloth - Ain't it cute?!

This adorable little guy is a baby Sloth.  When I found this picture, I decided that I want an army of these little guys to go forth and do my bidding.  No one would question them, because they're just too darned cute!  However, before investing in an army of sloth minions, I did some research on Wikipedia.  Here's what I found:

  • Sloths sleep just over 10 hours a day
  • Baby sloths cling to their moms, but sometimes fall off to the ground. Because the sloth is a well designed animal, they don't usually die from the fall, but from neglect. The mothers often refuse to go down to the bottom of the tree to retrieve them even though they usually only bear one young baby per year, if that.
  • They have about a quarter as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight, probably due to the fact that they hardly ever move
  • Kind of gross, in a fascinating way, but the sloth only goes to the bathroom once a week.  And always in the same spot.
  • They eat, sleep, and give birth while hanging from the same branch, where they often stay even after death.
  • Besides their large claws which dig deeply in to the branches they sit on, the sloth's natural defense is that it blends in with the tree and rarely moves, so predators don't notice it. 
  • Top speed for a sloth is about 15 feet per minute, and to get to top speed they expend HUGE amounts of energy

Cute but not productive.  In fact, the word sloth comes from the Latin, "Acedia," used to describe a state of listlessness or not caring or not being concerned with one's position or condition in the world.  More commonly used today is the word Apathy.  (And if you don't care what apathy means, you've come to the wrong post!)  Did your mother ever tell you that, "Idle hands are the Devil's playthings?"  If so, she was referring to the deadly sin of sloth.  As a "deadly sin" it corresponds to the holy virtue of diligence, or keeping an ever watchful eye. 

In the property management world, while we don't often have idle hands, we still see a lot of sloth.  Apathy can become a property, or even a company culture if the people in leadership positions aren't aware of the perils.  No one here is disputing that a good majority of property management folks are some of the hardest workers out there.  I've known many a manager who puts in 10-20 extra hours in a given week, and I've known many maintenance techs who get more done in a day than I could dream of getting done in a week.  On the other hand, I've meet and worked with many multifamily professionals who resemble some of those sloth animal qualities noted above from time to time.  Now, we aren't setting out to be that way.  No one wants to be the manager with the top speed of 15 feet per minute.  Few of us wake up in the morning and decide that today we're just not going to care or do anything (and if we do, maybe it's time to take a mental health vacation and assess if this is still a good job for us to be in).  Usually, sloth happens by accident and that's why it's so tricky.  A lot of people don't see the apathy and sloth around them until it's already up to their knees. 

So why is sloth such a sneaky little bugger?  When our days are filled with so many requests and we have to chose which ones are important, we sometimes never circle back to those little things, like repainting the faded numbers on a resident's reserved parking space.  After all, there are only 24 hours in the day, and you're only supposed to be at work for 8 of them.  Then, in the hubbub of the next morning, sometimes it's easier not to circle back to those few things you left last night, what with everything else that you just had dropped on your plate.  But to truly fight sloth, you have to commit to the follow through every time, whether it's questioning your team about project statuses, calling to follow up every work order, or even the dreaded second resident conflict follow up call.  As the marketing team at NIKE would tell you, JUST DO IT.

Sometimes our priories lead to a touch of sloth in our days.   I'm guilty of this myself.  In my last job, emails from my clients got top priority.  Emails from my temps got second priority.  Emails from my corporate office...were lucky if they got answered some days.  I asked some of my industry contacts if they'd be willing to share with me some other examples of sloth and apathy that they've seen while working in the multifamily world.  Names and specifics have been withheld:

  • Managers who never come out of their office and leasing agents who never come out from behind their desks
  • ILS and MLS systems that, "Take 1 photo (that essentially looks like everyone else's). Add some bullets that are pretty much like everyone else's.  Put the listing (it's not advertising) in a book with a bunch of other listings that look the same.  Let it run without changing it almost ever.  No effort.  All just an expense for nothing creative."
  • Choosing to not fix a problem on a property because "not enough people have complained about it yet"
  • "Not Caring" what Yelp! or Apartment Ratings says about you. "It takes 10 minutes out of your day to respond.  Why not just do it and mitigate the bad press!"
  •  From a property inspector: " I've seen recently a

    large property badly in need of both cosmetic and structural improvements.

    Wood shakes cover several of the buildings to which carpenter bees, hornets, yellowjacks, etc. invade.  I also have buildings where the front shutters are missing, the bottom and of Masonite board is gone and why aren't they fixing them?  To encourage the manager to get busy leasing. Biggest and laziest catch 22 known to man."

  • Teams that don't want to embrace new tools because either, "it's a pain to learn them," or " they just don't want to," even when instructed to by corporate, thus putting branding efforts in jeopardy. 
  • Corporate offices that don't follow up on the instructions given to site personnel, and don't ensure some reason for the teams to follow through.
  • Vendors who make appointments they never keep. "Don't ask for 15 minutes of my day and then never show up."
  • And that stack of filing in the back of your office.  You know the one I'm talking about.  Yea tall, about six months high?  Yeah.  That's not just paperwork.  That's a stack of apathy.

If something in your guilt area is a bit twingy at the moment, I'm sure you're in good company.  In the property management world, we've all be guilty of a little apathy here and there.  I think it's an inevitability.  But the good news is that there are some easy things you can do to fight sloth in your office.

First, keep your ears and your mind open.  It's easy to dismiss new ideas.  Shutting them down is easier than seeing a plan through to the end.  It takes a lot less work just to tell someone that, "we don't do it that way," or that, "It's not possible."  Whether it's a new marketing idea, splitting up fliering the property between 3 people, or taking the extra three minutes to check in with the property that's trying to reach an occupancy goal this week, it's always worth considering and trying.  Part of how we got in the problem we're in with technology in our industry is that we didn't care to keep up with developing systems and ideas.  And when you shut people down, you're sending the message that it's not worth trying to go the extra mile in this job.  Just do the status quo and hope no one asks questions.

Second, get your tushie out of that chair.  Seriously!  One of my favorite managers to talk  to in the Seattle area once told me about his nightly closing routine.  The office is set to close at 6, so starting at 5pm, he leaves his office and closes the door.  He then spends the next hour in the front office with his leasing staff, talking to residents and offering to take work orders from anyone who comes in to pick up a package, etc.  He says that not only does this let his residents connect with him on a personal level, but it also makes the close of day a lot less stressful on his leasing staff.  Everyone knows that 60 of the craziest minutes that we spend in a day are usually in the hour before close.  On top of all that, he gets a chance to check in with his staff and see where they are on different projects.  His staff feels heard and helped, his residents feel connected with and he has a good bead on what's going on with the professional people who matter most to him in his day to day execution of activities.

Along those same lines, on site folks, when was the last time you walked your property?  I would have to guess that 50% of the curb appeal problems that we face and small maintenance issues that blow up in to big problems could be averted with a 20 minute walk around the property once a day.  Are your breezeways clean and cobweb free?  What about the pet litter areas, are they clean?  If you said yes, I ask you this question- Are you sure?  Vendors, this isn't just for the on site folks.  Are you spending your day totally on the phone?  It's easier to make 50 calls than 35 site visits, that's for sure. It's even easier to send out 100 emails. But to do your clients justice, to really serve them the best, you need to be seeing them face to face as often as is convenient for them.  I'll tell you, I've tried to run business both ways, and sometimes you can't avoid the month of phone calls, but your relationships will suffer.  Get out of your office and go see the people who give you a job.  And take them something better than a note pad.  Take brownies.

Next, grab a little initiative.  If you see something that needs to be done, even if it's not your job (the stack of filing that needs to be processed by your leasing staff) and you've got even 5 minutes, jump in.  Sometimes it takes you doing something very small to inspire the rest of your staff to step up the the plate.  Take yourself off autopilot.  Yes, doing things the same way everyday makes the day a little more predictable, but it also allows you to pass by those opportunities for growth. 

And lastly, I know everyone's manager harps on this, but I can't leave it out: Time Management.  In an industry where our priories shift every 5 minutes depending on what current crisis we're facing, it's important to have a firm grasp on time management.  One of my good friends, Jen Piccotti of Satisfacts Research, once passed along this idea during a discussion of time management techniques:

"A favorite tip I picked up is the 1-minute rule. If something comes across my desk, email, voice mail, etc. that can be resolved in 1minute or less, do it. It works and allows more time for those other,bigger projects that need prioritization."

Her "1-minute rule" has become a part of my daily routine, and I'll attest to the fact that it does make life a lot easier once you get used to it.  (For more time management and organization ideas, see my post here.)

Sloth can be fought.  Fight it with inspiration, motivation and follow through.  What are some ways you've chosen to fight apathy in your work place?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

(And, given further research, I've decided that baby sloths are not the way to go for my army of minions.)

(I'm doing this blog series to promote my new seminar on the 7 Deadly Property Management Sins through BTLD Consulting!  If you're interested in booking out for the seminar for your team or apartment association, shoot me an email at

The Perils and Power of Pride

Seven Deadly Sins Week Starting September 7th!