Lessons from The Overlook: Prioritization

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. This experience is a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use.

People misuse the word priority all the time.

It literally means one thing is more important than another, but business leaders often forget that. They'll say strange things to employees like "you need to juggle multiple priorities," which makes no sense given that nothing gets prioritized when you try to make everything a priority.

Sally and I knew we needed to prioritize our work on The Overlook when we bought it. We both have full-time jobs that involve a lot of travel, so time was already scarce.

I had envisioned myself exploring some of the many hikes in the area or building a website to showcase the cabin, but that would have to wait.

Our immediate challenge was we closed escrow on October 6 and needed to get the house back on the rental market by November 1. There were already guest reservations for November, which is peak rental season for Idyllwild.

Idyllwild's hiking trails would have to wait. Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Idyllwild's hiking trails would have to wait. Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Safety is Priority One

You never want anyone to get injured. You really never want anyone injured when they're a guest on your property.

The Overlook needed a few safety repairs that were called out in our home inspection. For example, the gap between the railing boards on our deck was too wide in places and we needed to add some additional wood to make it safe.

So a lot of our precious time in October was spent finding a licensed contractor to do the job and coordinating the work from our home two hours away in San Diego. 

Sally and I also had to consider our own safety. Many people get into business without thinking about the appropriate type of organization (sole proprietor, LLC, Corporation, etc.) or insurance. 

We spent a lot of time on both. 

Our attorney, Ric Bauman, is incredibly efficient and cost-effective, but it still takes time to organize documents, set up appointments, etc. I shudder to think how much time we'd waste if we didn't have someone like him on our side.

Insurance was even more difficult since we had the double-whammy disadvantage of buying a home in a wild fire hazard area and wanting to use it as a vacation rental. Surprisingly few highly rated companies write policies for these types of properties, but we managed to get a good deal through a Farmer's Insurance agent named Bradley Carr who understood our needs.


Function was Priority Two

Safety issues out of the way, we had to turn our attention to making the cabin functional for our guests.

There were a few things that needed attention. The internet, cable, and phone took untold hours and 23 contracts with Time Warner Cable to get up and running. 

We also needed to add some furniture to the master bedroom. (The previous owners had closed off this room to renters for some reason, so it was sparsely furnished.) Our property manager had scheduled time to take pictures to add to her website, so we ended up having just two days to get it done.

Living Spaces really saved us here after we spent half a day hitting up used furniture stores and consignment shops. They have a huge selection of reasonably-priced, high-quality furniture. We found a nice dresser and matching nightstands that could be delivered to our home the same day we bought them. This allowed us to haul them up to the cabin the next day.

There were a million other things for us to do too. We had to replace cracked dishes, get some electrical repairs done, and add in some additional items we know guests will appreciate like an iron and ironing board.


The Big Takeaway on Prioritization

October was a whirlwind, but we got the important things done.

I really wanted to spend time on fun things to help us offer an amazing guest experience, like mapping the guest journey, creating a kick-ass guidebook for the house, and turning the garage into a game room.

Those are all items that will get done eventually, but they didn't need to get done in time for the renters who had booked the place in November. Safety and functionality came first so our guests would have a nice place to stay.

This exercise was a big reminder on the importance of prioritization. There were times when Sally and I didn't know when we'd find the time. Whenever we felt this way, we went back to our priorities and set aside any task that wasn't red hot urgent.

You can apply this lesson too. 

Take a moment to clarify your priorities. These could come from your values, your business plan, or a separate exercise. Then use those priorities as a guide to help you manage your time.

Reflecting back on last October, I was reminded that the best customer service leaders embrace prioritization. They understand they can't do everything at once, so they do what needs to be done now and do it well, before moving on to something else.

The good news is The Overlook looks great and our guests have been thrilled so far. We even survived a heater that went kaput right before guests arrived on the coldest day of the year, but that's a story for next month.

Check out The Overlook and see pictures at overlookidyllwild.com.