The Appraising Life: Pursuing Productivity through Work-Life Balance

March 17, 2022

By: Rachel L. Richardson

In their presentation on efficiency, Jennifer Benton, a Director on the Valbridge Women’s Council (VWC) Board and appraiser in the Detroit office, and Richard Jander, MAI and Director of Hospitality Valuation in Houston, shared that productivity is inextricably tied to the positive mindset achieved through a good work-life balance. Each presented tips and perspectives on the topic in the February Val-Talk, part of an ongoing series open to all Valbridge employees and organized by the VWC Mentorship Committee.

“You have to be in the right mind,” Jander claims, “to work efficiently.” This mindset, he notes, is produced when you prioritize work-life balance and cultivate the right work environment. Benton agrees, saying that often the sense of fatigue happens when you feel “you’re never able to do the things you enjoy or make time for the things that are most important to you.”

Stress can impact more aspects of our lives than we might realize, Benton shares, noting from personal experience how it can affect not just our mental outlook, but also our physical wellbeing. “Burnout is real,” Jander adds, saying “it’s something to recognize and avoid.”

Bolster Your Mindset

Several choices can help us avoid burnout, Benton and Jander say, choices that help us keep a positive mindset through balance. For one, they encouraged prioritizing personal time and hobbies. “Find your tribe,” Benton adds, describing communities and groups centered on shared interests. Jander also stressed having set work hours, focusing on family time, taking regular vacations and personal days, exercising, and learning to say ‘no’ and mean it.

Outside of work hours and while on vacation, Jander urges, truly disconnect. “If you didn’t have to create an ‘out of office’ email reply when on vacation,” he says, “you aren’t doing it right. You’re doing it right if you have to seriously think about your passwords when you get back.”

To shape his mindset at work, subconsciously setting the tone and pace for the day, Jander rotates through a varied music playlist in his home office each week. “Mondays,” he says, “are classic rock (ACDC, Led Zeppelin, etc.) or maybe some EDM/house if I don’t want anything that I would want to sing along with. The middle of the week is classical, jazz, the 80s, or blues. Fridays are reggae or Margaritaville as a way for me to get my mind right for a fun weekend.”

Cultivate Efficiency through Process and Environment

Besides building into those activities that refresh your mind, Jander highlighted ways to bolster productivity through both process and environment. Appraisers are “problem-solvers by nature,” so his process is modeled after the scientific method: “Understand the problem. Form a plan of attack. Gather evidence. Develop the value. Write the report.”

Having consistent work hours and budgeting your most efficient ones, Jander shares, is also an integral part of the process. As a morning person, Jander knows his most efficient hours are early in the day before his email inbox chirps to life. Benton, too, focuses on larger tasks she can accomplish in the quiet hours while her son sleeps. After you’ve set your work hours, Jander says, try to stick to them.

Also in the process, both shared the value of making lists. Benton uses a checklist she created to include all the elements of an appraisal report. Not only does this help her quickly refamiliarize herself with what remains on a project she had to leave unfinished, but it also illuminates what small pieces she can accomplish inside a short window of time. With a sixteen-month-old son at home, where Benton works most days, she finds short time windows are sometimes the only time windows available.

It’s also key to “find an environment,” Jander says, “that is conducive to being productive.If you’re working from home, he asks, do you have a real office or a laptop at the dining room table? Do you have desk space for paperwork? Use two (or more) monitors, he encourages, with a full keyboard and mouse; maybe even polish your typing skills through a free online class, if you need to.

Make the Time and Prioritize

The goal of work-life balance, Jander says, is to work just enough to do what you want to do with the rest of your life. “I love my job,” he says, “but I don’t want to be here every day all day.”

For Benton, this means finding ways to save time and then spending that time on her priorities. “Everything has an opportunity cost,” she says, noting that anything a person spends time on takes away from time spent on something else. “The reality,” she adds, “is you don’t have time for everything.” So, keep checking in with yourself, she encourages, adding that as your life and circumstances change, reassess what matters most to you—then spend time on it.

To save time, Benton shares, she has begun to use resources like Instacart, and productivity apps (like AnyList), and has hired someone who provides housekeeping services. Benton admits she often approaches life with an I-can-do-it-myself attitude. She laughs. “I mean I can, but with these resources, I don’t have to.”

Outside of their work hours, Jander and Benton spend time with their families and their hobbies. For Jander, this may mean hiking, biking, woodworking, gardening, or auto restoration. For Benton, this includes connecting with other young mothers, reading, and roller skating, which she loved doing as a kid.

By spending time on refreshing activities and maintaining balance, Jander continues to enjoy the life of an appraiser, nearly twenty years after entering the profession. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long,” he says with a smile, “but apparently it has.” Because each assignment is different, he adds, “I don’t get bored. I get to see people, look at buildings, and see some really fun stuff.” 

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