Managing Change

The 21-Day Desk-Free Challenge

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A decade ago I never would have imagined a day in my business life when I would not have needed a fax machine. In the real estate world, it's all about contracts and paperwork and transacting business with people in hundreds of different communities. But now technology has replaced my fax machine along with my typewriter and my watch.

Five months ago I looked around my office and wondered, "What else will become obsolete?" Perhaps by getting ahead of the curve I could eliminate things in my business that were holding me back from building a more efficient empire. As I looked around my office one day, the one noticeable item that seemed pretty obsolete was my desk. I opened the drawers to see what was inside.

There were files from old conferences that I had attended. There were old boxes of business cards. Basically my desk was full of old files, memos and correspondence. My desk had become a receptacle for stuff that should have been thrown away but for seem reason I hadn't do so. Five months ago, I challenged myself to living without a desk.  

It's been said that it takes 21 days to create a habit. So right off the bat, I decided to not visit my office for 21 days. I own a large real estate business with sales offices throughout Massachusetts. Instead of going every day to my personal office (where my desk is) as I usually did, I chose to start living out of my briefcase and visiting all my sales offices.

It started off as a 21-day challenge, but it wasn't hard at all. Now five months have gone by and I can count on one hand the number of times I have visited that old desk of mine. I work from conference rooms, coffee shop corners and reception areas. When I need to make a private call, it's not so hard to find a little spot somewhere to do so. Living desk-free has been a game changer.

Here are the five lessons learned from living without a desk:

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1. Building relationships.

Working without a desk has enabled me to form more and better relationships with my 250 real estate agents. They don't have to come out to headquarters and find me behind my desk because I run into them at their offices when I spend a couple hours or entire days working from a conference room. Now instead of getting to know only a handful of people in my company, I've really gotten to know hundreds of my people. My relationships have deepened because I'm unchained from my desk.

2. Embracing technology.

Life without a desk has forced me to embrace technology. My old brown desk used to be filled with yellow sticky notes of stuff to do. Those sticky notes have been replaced with cool technologies like Evernote that organize my lists, remind me to do stuff and give me a historical record of what I completed and when.  

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3. Feeling liberated.

I've come to feel like a desk is nothing more than a glorified trash receptical. I no longer store stuff I don't need because I have nowhere to put it. I take notes on my iPad at conferences. I scan business cards into my phone. And all the other stuff gets thrown away or better yet I choose to not even take stuff when I attend events because I know that it will just end up in the trash. Everything I need is kept in organized notes on my iPad.

4. Questioning the status quo.

Ever since I stopped using my desk I find myself looking for more opportunities to improve my efficiency. Do I really need the laptop anymore? Maybe the laptop is just a crutch like my old desk used to be. Leaving that old desk behind taught me to question everything that I use in my life. I've come to realize that there are many things that we use daily only because that's the way it's always been and not because it's smart or efficient.

5. Cutting costs.

By embracing the desk-free challenge, I've saved costs. I no longer need the desk or the space around it. What would my company look like if I could teach others the value of living desk-free? There's a price for space and what I've learned through the desk-free challenge is that the real cost for my business was my sitting behind a desk. My business and life have changed for the better all because I questioned, "Do I really need this desk?"

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