“Be deliberate, disciplined and focused” with Tom Lawyer of Transwestern Commercial Services

The keys to moving projects forward are to be deliberate, disciplined and focused. This may mean slowing down. In many ways, slowing down can help speed up solving a problem or finalizing a task. We are more efficient, more creative and make better decisions when we are singularly focused. As a part of my series […]

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The keys to moving projects forward are to be deliberate, disciplined and focused. This may mean slowing down. In many ways, slowing down can help speed up solving a problem or finalizing a task. We are more efficient, more creative and make better decisions when we are singularly focused.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down to Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Tom Lawyer. Tom is the President of Transwestern Commercial Services, a national commercial real estate services provider. Since assuming this position in November 2018, Tom has taken steps to strengthen the company’s ability to compete in a sophisticated, multifaceted industry. He ensures service excellence through the firm’s 34 U.S. offices, guides the implementation of innovative real estate solutions, leads expansion opportunities, and directs strategic business development efforts that capitalize on Transwestern’s consultative service approach. In addition to serving on the company’s board of directors and executive committee, he participates on an enterprise-wide steering committee that spans the services, investment management and development arms of the organization.

Thank you so much for joining us, Tom! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am fortunate in that I started in commercial real estate straight out of college and am now in my 40th year in the sector. My “beginning” was with a small commercial real estate company that was run by a family friend. After a short time there, I was hooked on the business and knew it was going to be my lifelong career. I have had the privilege of working for some great companies, including Trammell Crow Co., Citibank, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and now Transwestern Commercial Services. Throughout my career, I’ve been involved with almost every commercial property type in many capacities and across most major U.S. markets, which gives me a comprehensive view of the industry.

I started at Citibank in 2002 as Managing Director of Commercial Real Estate Finance. I oversaw the national origination platform and operations of a national loan portfolio. In 2011, I moved to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s Commercial Banking division as Managing Director and later Vice Chairman of the company’s Real Estate Banking Group. While there, I was responsible for U.S. real estate banking to top-tier real estate developers, investors, real estate operating companies, investment funds and REITs. I also co-chaired the Real Estate Banking Investment Committee and served on the Global Real Estate Council for the firm. I retired from J.P. Morgan in late 2018 and began with Transwestern.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed.” Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

For anyone who works in a competitive environment, the sense of urgency is elevated. Whether it is in their professional or personal life, I think most people would agree that the pressure to complete more tasks in a shorter period has expanded exponentially during the past 10 years or so, and the pace of change continues to accelerate.

One reason many people feel rushed is that more families today are two-income households. Whether by choice or necessity, this dynamic has changed how many people structure their lives and allocate time. This only gets more complicated and creates more time pressure with the addition of children. Between a career, responsibilities at home, and spending time with family, many are left feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all that is required of them.

More so than family dynamics, technology and the escalating pace of change is a primary reason that many of us feel rushed. In today’s world, we have instant access to information, and we are connected 24/7 to friends, family and work. There is very little downtime in our lives, and we all have become impatient. We expect immediate responses from everyone we communicate with, regardless of the medium we use. In turn, we know that anyone who requests information from us is also expecting an instant reply.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

Being rushed or feeling pressured for time impacts how we feel and act. The more things that stack up on our to-do list, the less focused and deliberate we become. Many people take pride in calling themselves multitaskers, but studies have concluded that we do not do our best work when we are distracted by too many other competing agendas. Certainly, the simple and less critical tasks can be accomplished with a multitasking approach, like watching a football game while doing the dishes. More complicated, highly critical activities need a singular focus and deliberate attention.

When we take on too much, set unrealistic goals, or do not prioritize appropriately, we find ourselves becoming less and less productive. We feel elevated levels of stress, which only inhibits our ability to focus.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

Everyone’s goal should be to prioritize things that need to get done, and then to focus attention on the most important or time-sensitive tasks. Once those are solved or moved forward in the process, the next-most critical activity can be addressed. It is not that a person can only do one thing at a time, but rather that a person cannot effectively do 20 things at one time. If we slow down and are deliberate about tackling the task at hand, we will find that crossing things off our list will become much faster and easier.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

I find that the most effective and productive people tend to be organized list-makers. The first step is to create a detailed list of things that need to be done or followed up on to keep tabs on deadlines and demands.

Long to-do lists are not a bad thing, but prioritization then becomes key. Not everything on the list is of equal importance, so the second step is to identify the top five priorities, which can be determined by importance, outside deadlines, or a myriad of other factors.

Third, break those five goals into specific, manageable tasks.

Fourth, identify the right people to help execute the project and the specific tasks for each team member. Rarely is any project accomplished by a single person, but team managers must provide precise directions and clearly delegate tasks to the appropriate team members.

Fifth, adjust the project timeline as needed and hold people accountable for their portion.

Lastly, at the end of each week, rewrite the list. Check off any goals that have been accomplished and add any new goals that may have emerged. Reprioritize the list and start again.

The keys to moving projects forward are to be deliberate, disciplined and focused. This may mean slowing down. In many ways, slowing down can help speed up solving a problem or finalizing a task. We are more efficient, more creative and make better decisions when we are singularly focused.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

I have used the word “focus” many times in my responses. To me, “focus” and “mindfulness” are similar words. Both describe one’s ability to be aware of something in the present state and to filter out other things going on around them that can be distracting. In a professional setting, this can be as simple as closing email software or instant messaging programs while working on a specific task to avoid pop-up notifications that can interrupt a train of thought or creative process.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

Mindfulness and focus are straightforward concepts, but they can be difficult to implement successfully when you have so many demands on your time. Being relaxed is a key trait of mindful people. They have developed the ability to manage the stress in their lives by remaining calm, not over-thinking things and blocking out distractions around them.

There are some fairly simple techniques that anyone can integrate into their lives. First, turn off digital notifications and pop-ups. Rather than hearing a sound or seeing an icon every time a new email is received, set a designated time to check email. Second, resist the urge to multitask while on a phone call, even if you are not an active participant in the call. Many of us have conference calls with colleagues where we are not a primary audience or presenter, but it’s important to listen actively. If there is no visual component, try turning off your computer monitors so that you aren’t distracted by email or other tasks. Third, take a few minutes each morning to breathe deeply and set the intention for the day. Similarly, at the end of the day, take a few deep breaths and let go of any residual stress.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

I find that paying close attention, actively listening and being present in the moment are all very important to remain focused. We find all too often that we don’t truly listen. We are either thinking about what we want to say next, driving our own agenda, or worrying about all the other things we need to attend to. How many times have you checked your phone for emails or texts while in the middle of an important discussion, or seen others do this? This lack of focus creates stress in the long run and makes us much less productive. Technology makes communicating so instantaneous that we frequently let it drive our day instead of focusing on the most important tasks we set forth for ourselves.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?

Ben Franklin established a set of rules early in his life that he felt would allow him to be a better person, more productive and lead a better, more moral life. He outlined 13 virtues that would lead the rest of his life, but he also realized that taking on all 13 of these virtues at once would not work. He devised a system that allowed him to focus on a single virtue every week, over 13 weeks. Then he would simply start again. He kept track of his progress and marked his success and failure. A few of his virtues dealt with getting things done and managing his time effectively:

“Let all your things have their place; let each part of your business have its time.”

“Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail to what your resolve.”

“Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”

My interpretation of these three virtues is quite straightforward. Franklin was an ambitious man. He believed “order,” or one might say “prioritization,” was paramount when pursuing many interests. He also believed it was important to complete what you set out to do. Rather than spend too much time thinking about what to do, he encouraged taking action to get it done. He believed a person should focus on what is meaningful. He did not want to waste time or get bogged down in the unnecessary.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort, that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, and civilization work.” I have had the privilege throughout my career to be associated with many great people, and without their dedication, commitment and resolve, I would not be the person I am today. Being part of a talented team is a gift, but we must always realize that others are counting on us, as well. We must uphold our end of the bargain, which means being focused on getting things done.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Africa for the first time. I came across an African proverb that I wrote down and have kept at hand since then. It says, “If you want to go quickly, you go alone. If you want to go far, you must go together.” For me, this highlights the importance of teamwork, collaboration and cooperation. We can do more together by understanding and accepting our differences and unique perspectives than we will ever do alone. This is true in our society, companies, teams and families.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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