Make Your Working Day as Productive as Possible with My Top Tips

Make Your Working Day as Productive as Possible with My Top Tips

If you’re like me and have a whole bunch of different clients you work with on a regular basis, your daily task list is probably pretty hectic – I know mine is! And while this isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, it sometimes means I can’t see the wood for the trees, which makes planning my day that bit more difficult and can (occasionally) impact my productivity.

That’s why I wanted to write this post and share with you some of the tips I use on a daily basis to keep my productivity on track.

Use a task management tool/app

Task management tools and apps – like Todoist (my current fave) – allow you to see at a glance all of the tasks you’ve currently got on your to-do list. They also enable you to sort them by priority and flag ‘must do’ tasks, allowing you to easily see exactly what you ‘have’ to do that day. But to use these tools effectively you have to remember to add every single task and flag/label it appropriately, that goes for non-work tasks too!

Don’t spend too much time on email

I always try and get a couple of tasks out of the way in the morning before I start replying to emails. It gives me a nice sense of achievement early on in the day, which puts me on the right track.

In addition, I use an app called MailButler (for Mac) that allows me to stagger (schedule) my email replies, preventing a deluge from coming in a little later.

Minimise client distractions

It can be hard, but try not to let your clients/customers distract you by constantly calling or instant messaging. Instead, set some time aside for having these types of discussion and ignore/turn off notifications at the times you really need to work.

Learn to triage and say ‘no’

A triage system for clients and customers that lets them know you can’t complete tasks at short notice can really help. It manages their expectations and reduces the likelihood of them asking.

If something urgent does crop up then decide if you can stop what you’re doing easily and assess how it will affect the rest of your day.

Also, remember that saying “no” sometimes is a fact of life. And even though it might cause some extra stress for your client, you need to look after your own stress levels too. Having a clause in your contract that says urgent work will incur a surcharge on their invoice may deter clients/customers landing you with priority tasks all the time.

Swap email for chat apps

Something that has worked well for me is using Slack with a couple of clients rather than email. All our projects are in different channels and it’s very easy to see what’s going on at all times. It definitely cuts down on emails, but do be careful with new message notifications and don’t get sidetracked chatting rather than working.

Save time (in the long run) by making templates

If you often get clients/customers asking you the same questions (I tend to with my author clients) a great way to save time is to either set-up an email template you can customise (MailButler offers email templates) and/or do a short video of your screen (I use Zoom) which walks them through the process. This saves massive amounts of time and lets you get on with the things you need to.

Spread recurring tasks throughout the week

Many productivity experts say you should batch similar tasks together in one day, but when you’re scheduling social media updates for upwards of 2/3 clients such an approach means you’d need to spend a whole day or more just doing that! I find spreading these tasks throughout the week means I get a nice variety of jobs each day.

Set aside some time for yourself

Try and have a couple of days each week where you’re not totally bogged down with tasks. It allows you to do things for your own business and not have clients on your case. For me, Wednesdays and Thursdays are my designated ‘quiet days’ where I can take a bit of a break (and publish a blog for instance – like today), but still be on hand if anything urgent crops up.

Over to you…

I’m always on the lookout for new tips to make my working days more productive. Do you have any you can share? I’d love to hear from you!

My Top Marketing Tip for Freelancers and Solopreneurs

My Top Marketing Tip for Freelancers and Solopreneurs

When I first started out as a virtual assistant in 2011, social media was my first port of call for marketing. Six years on and I still view social media as one of the most valuable marketing channels out there.

But it’s not for everyone.

First, let’s not forget why social media has become so phenomenally popular today. Its roots lay in providing a platform for people to effortlessly interact and be “social”.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other social networks out there enable people to share photos, memories and life updates with the push of a button.

Now you might be wondering, what’s that got to do with marketing myself as a freelancer or solopreneur?

A lot actually, as it goes.

That’s because social media is a fickle beast when it comes to marketing. It was never designed to be full of brands bustling for attention and plying their wares in people’s news feeds.

That’s why you need to be smart and patient when looking to leverage social media for marketing purposes.

My top advice would be to get yourself on social media. In particular, the channels you think your target audience is on. Then, you need to spend time interacting with them, getting to know them and providing immense value in everything you share with them.

Share personal successes, images and videos. Show them who you are and what you are all about – do not try and sell to them directly! Then, and only then, will you have gained their trust and attention.

When people like you and see that you know what you’re doing, they will come to you! 😀

This blog post is part of the Freelancermap.com Book Carnival.

Be a Part of My Online Tools/Apps Revolution

Be a Part of My Online Tools/Apps Revolution

Online Productivity Tools & Applications

Those of you who know me will know that I absolutely love online tools and applications. I use them every single day and they’ve become a crucial part of my success when it comes to productivity and efficiency.

Now many of you may be thinking, I don’t use many online tools or applications, what’s Jo talking about?

But I guarantee you all use more than you might think.

That’s because you’ll have taken for granted many of the tools/apps you use on a daily basis, but without them your working life would be considerably different.

If you use an online email service, such as Gmail, for managing your emails and Facebook for elements of your online marketing efforts, you’re absolutely taking advantage of online tools and apps.

Monthly Online Apps/Tools Podcast

In fact, my huge fondness of online apps and tools is the subject of a monthly podcast with the lovely Phil Byrne, strategic director at Positive Sparks.

Each month, Phil and I discuss our top/favourite online tools and apps for the month.

Our latest podcast (link at the bottom of this post) focuses on some apps you might not have heard of.

For example, we discuss RSS tool Feedly, which I started using when Google Alerts was pulled, and has now become my go-to app for content curation. I won’t give too much away as I want you to listen to the podcast (obviously), but I will say that Feedly has transformed how I curate content for both myself and clients.

I also talk about an app that I signed up to ages ago, but never got round to using. It’s called Zapier and it’s an app integration platform that is similar to If This Then That in nature, which I’ve talked about in a past blog post.

I’ve so far created several ‘zaps’ as they’re known and it’s turning out to be a really useful tool. It integrates with loads of other apps that I already use and has bags of potential.

Phil also talks about YouCanBook.me and Niume, an intriguing content sharing system that I previously hadn’t heard of, but sounds like it could be a great collaboration tool.

Join my Facebook Group!

I try to share my penchant for online apps and tools with as many people as possible whenever I can because I know how many benefits some of them can bring. That’s why I recently created a Facebook group in which people can talk about just that.

It’s called Online Productivity Tools & Applications and it’s open to anyone. There are only a few rules, the main one being that no spam is allowed. Other than that people are free to post links to their favourite apps or online tools that they use and discuss the numerous benefits they afford.

I’d love for you to become part of the group because I really do think it provides a lot of value. Even if you learn about one new tool or app a month it will have been worth it.

You can find our favourite apps/tools for October podcast here. Be sure to subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss out on any in the future.

And here are the links to the apps we talk about:

It Can Be Lonely Working Remotely

It Can Be Lonely Working Remotely

frog-897420_1920My decision to move to rural France back in 2011 was not one that I took lightly. It involved a huge amount of courage, but was made infinitely easier by the support I received from friends and family. I’m now enjoying a much better work/life balance than I ever have before and a lot of stress has been removed from my life.

But (there’s always a “but”, right?), while working remotely from home obviously has many advantages and perks, there’s also a side to it that many people don’t see or perhaps don’t consider. And that’s that it can sometimes get rather lonely. Couple this with the uncertainty that often comes with running your own micro-business and you can find yourself in desperate need of someone to talk to/vent at/bounce ideas off of.

The bottom line is that it’s bloody hard work to cope with all the pressures of being self-employed. I’ve got to manage my time effectively; handle peaks and troughs in work (and, therefore, cashflow); and deal with a degree of isolation. This is in addition to knowing that I have foregone the basic employment rights that regular employees enjoy, such as sick pay, holiday pay and access to a workplace pension scheme.

So, with all this in mind, here are my top three tips for overcoming the loneliness and uncertainty that working remotely can bring:

Make the most of video calls

Don’t just hide behind your inbox and fire off emails all day long. Skype, Facebook’s own built-in chat and Blab all offer a way for you to see your colleagues and clients, as well as talking to them.

It might not seem that big a deal, but it makes such a difference when you can see the facial expressions of the person you’re talking with. It’s often the closest you’ll get to experiencing that being in an office feeling.

Take regular breaks

Regular breaks are needed throughout the working day to give your mind and body a rest. In modern office environments, conscientious employers insist their employees take regular breaks, but when you work from home there is tendency to neglect them.

Even if you just get away from your computer for a cup of tea or coffee in the mornings and afternoons, and treat yourself to a proper lunch break, it will make you feel a lot more relaxed.

Customise your environment

The beauty of working remotely/from home is that you have total control over your working environment. If you’ve got photos of things that make you smile, make sure they are nearby while you’re working. The same goes for other creature comforts that make you feel contented.

My two dogs never fail to put a smile on my face throughout the day. Although we don’t all always agree when I’m bouncing ideas off them. Funny that…

10 Ways a Virtual Assistant Can Help a Small Business

10 Ways a Virtual Assistant Can Help a Small Business

“I-like-things-to-happen-and-if-they-dont-happen-I-like-to-make-them-happen.”I regularly speak to small business owners, on both a personal and professional level, and if there’s one thing they all tell me it’s that when they first started out they tried to wear too many hats. In other words, they bogged themselves down with tasks that they really shouldn’t have been doing and ultimately lost focus on what they should be doing: building their businesses.

Unfortunately, this is one of the pitfalls of running a small business. It’s only when the owners realise that by trying to do everything themselves they’re actually hindering their businesses that things start to change.

But as we all know, hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can all learn a lot from it. That’s why I wanted to share with you some of the tasks that I carry out for my clients. While you will undoubtedly know about most of them, there are a few that may surprise you.

What I want to do is get you thinking about which of the tasks you’re currently doing yourself that could be delegated to someone else. Even if you manage to reclaim just five minutes of your time each day by delegating or outsourcing a task or two, I’ll feel as though I’ve done my job.

Here are just some of the duties I perform for my clients:

Project management – most business owners have got lots of nice little projects they want to undertake, but overseeing them all personally is often a time-consuming nightmare and something that detracts from the overall value of the project.

Newsletters – this newsletter didn’t write itself and yours won’t either. That means you’ve got to spend time thinking about what you want to include and then even more time compiling it. Time that could perhaps be spent doing something more constructive.

Social media management – we keep being told that our businesses need an online presence and one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to achieve this is via social media. But unless your business pages are updated regularly and your audience kept engaged, your social media efforts will fall by the wayside.

Blogging – Like social media and newsletters, blog posts are another necessity for most businesses today. And, like social media and newsletters, blogs are at their most effective when they are regularly updated with fresh content. Can you give your blog the time and attention it deserves?

PA services – general admin duties need to be done, but it doesn’t have to be you who does them, right? Even if they’re mundane, there’s someone out there who would willingly help you with them.

Email management – how many emails do you receive each day that warrant a reply, but not necessarily require a personal response from you? Responding to emails consumes a lot of time and unless those replies produce leads or sales, your time may be better focused elsewhere.

Calendar management – okay, so it’s similar to email management in its nature, but nevertheless it’s still a crucial part of running a business. Much better you concentrate on preparing for client meetings than organising them.

Research – conducting research is something that every small business does from time-to-time. And while the Internet has given us an overload of information at our fingertips, wading through the sea of resources to get to the stuff that matters can take hours.

WordPress management/maintenance – WordPress updates seem to be released on an almost weekly basis nowadays. Couple this with the constant plugin changes that also occur and maintaining even a basic WordPress site can be time consuming. That’s before you’ve even thought about making any content updates.

Data management – as your business grows, so too will all its data. Nothing is more frustrating than not having the information you need to hand. The technology exists to make it so, but all those documents and files still need to be put in the right places.

Did I give you any ideas? I really hope so…

Need a bit more inspiration? Drop me a line and we can talk about it in a bit more depth.

5 Bad Habits That Are Crippling Your Productivity

5 Bad Habits That Are Crippling Your Productivity

“All bad habits start slowly andWhether you are a just starting out as a one-man band or you are on track to join the Fortune 500, productivity is king. So why is it so difficult to stay on task, keep your priorities in order and make time for your personal life? We have all done it; we have all fallen into the trap of working harder rather than working smarter. This inevitably leads to becoming frazzled, fed up and in dire need of some R&R with friends and family that you dare not take for fear of dropping a ball in business. It’s obvious that this is a downward spiral, so how do you escape this self-imposed trap?

Improving productivity begins with breaking the bad habits that we have collected over time. Here are some of the most common habits that are holding you back:

Too Much Browsing

I know, there are very few businesses that can live without being online for a large portion of the day, but being constantly plugged-in to a never-ending source of entertainment, news and social media sites, or as you might call it ‘very important business research’, is a major distraction. In terms of my own business, being online is critical, but it’s easy to meander from researching trending topics for my client’s social media strategy to being absorbed into a meaningless (albeit amusing) abyss of tweets, Facebook posts and eye-catching news items. Even five minutes here and there soon adds up and can end up robbing you of valuable hours each week. If you can, put yourself on a strict regime and limit your online activities. You probably already know which sites you need to ignore, so set aside specific times of the day when you are allowed to browse for fun and when it should be business only.

The Noisy Workspace

Background noise is an invasive niggler that wants to rob your brain of its train of thought. Whether you work in a shared office with a boisterous sales team or a cosy home office with a pneumatic drill outside and the neighbour’s baby piercing your eardrums, noise pollution will drive you crazy. Don’t just plough on through it and expect to be productive. You can’t always control the noise around you, there is no diplomatic way to tell Janice from accounts that her shrill laugh is destroying your day, but you can choose whether to stay and listen or move to a quiet space. Even if it takes you an hour to get across town to a tranquil spot, the time will be won back and multiplied with the new-found efficiency of your day.

Obsessive Message Checking

Your clients, your business partners, your team and your suppliers all want a piece of you and you want to keep on top of it all. Checking your emails every ten minutes, responding to every messenger pop-up immediately and answering the phone in the middle of a complex task can wreck your concentration and leave you reeling. Your important to-do list gets forgotten and prioritisation goes out of the window. Most people in business do not really expect immediate responses to every communication. You can make it known that you are only available on chat tools at certain hours and limit email checking to perhaps four or five times per day and still give an excellent response time. If you need to get your head buried into a tricky task, there is no harm in diverting your phone to voicemail for an hour or two, closing all of your communications down and just getting the job done. You will feel better for it, do a better job, get it finished faster and have more time to respond thoughtfully to all of your enquiries.

Not Taking Breaks

You might get an extra hour of work done in that lunch break, but at what cost? How often have you had a stroke of genius while making yourself a cup of coffee or taking a short walk? Stepping away from your to-do list can put it into perspective and allow your brain the freedom to wander and think creatively. Even if you don’t get a light-bulb moment unexpectedly while tucking into your well-deserved lunch, you will at least be refreshed and ready to face the rest of the day rejuvenated and refuelled.

Refusing to Change

You have a system, a schedule, a process. It’s worked in the past and you still trust it despite the fact it no longer fits your evolving business. If you are struggling to keep on top of things then it is time to admit that the system is out-dated. It’s scary trying new things but employing new processes, changing things around and adjusting your routine could save you so much more time in the long run. You might take a few wrong turns along the way and lose a little time here and there, but if you just blindly keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same results. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Engage with that entrepreneurial spirit that got you started and take some risks.

Working with a virtual assistant can improve your productivity, not only because they will pick up the smaller, menial tasks you don’t necessarily like doing but they are also great at helping you create systems and processes.

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