Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook and/or follow my Facebook business page will know that I’ve been suffering with pain in my neck and back for the past few months.
While I’ve had neck and back pain before on and off, it got to the point this time where I couldn’t even sleep, so I had to go see a doctor. The doctor said it was my thoracic spine that was the root of all my pain and discomfort, most likely caused by me being sat at my desk working too much.
Now it has been a busy few months and I’ve been spending a lot of time working. However, I thought that walking the dogs twice a day would be enough activity to keep me from killing myself.
The doctor referred me to a physio and I managed to get a cancellation appointment. I also made an appointment with an osteopath recommended by my mother.
After about 2/3 appointments with the physio and 1 with the osteopath, I was able to function without the strong painkillers the doctor gave me. It’s now only at night that I am in some pain and find it difficult to get comfortable.
Then, by a massive coincidence, a friend of mine who runs a gym/personal training business called Limelight Fitness advertised on Facebook about a new 6-week mobility course she was running. It focussed on helping people with, well, mobility problems, so issues with pain in their knees, hips, back, etc. I booked in with her straightaway and started 3 half-hour sessions a week, last week.
Despite the fact it’s pretty hard going, I can already feel as though my general mobility is getting better.
Unfortunately, it’s been a pretty stressful couple of months, what with physio and osteopath appointments 30 minutes away from my house (office). Trying to juggle my work and focus on getting myself better has been difficult – especially as I’m a routine freak!
Getting used to being out of the house at random times during the week – especially now I have started the mobility course – has been a challenge.
To try and arrange my days better, I have put a schedule together and blocked out times in my calendar by client/task.
This has worked really well keeping me on task rather than jumping around multi-tasking and not really getting anything done. As well as turning off notifications during the times I’m working on a task, this has made a massive difference in my productivity.
Now that I’m on the mend, I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the tips given to me by the physio and the osteopath that have helped improve my condition.
1. Set a work timer
My osteopath suggested that I set a timer to go off every 30 minutes and have a 5-minute break every time I hear it. Admittedly, I have mine set for 45 minutes, but this has still worked well.
I’m using an app called Awareness that gongs every 45 minutes and records when you stop using your computer. Five minutes is actually a long time when you’re waiting to get back to your desk, so make a list of things you can do in those 5 minutes e.g. make a cup of tea, tidy your desk/office, pre-prepare your dinner, wash-up, whatever you like really.
2. Invest in some ergonomic kit
Repetitive strain injury is really common in the wrist/arm you use your mouse with. My osteopath suggested I get a vertical, ergonomic mouse. I did and while it took some getting used to, I must say I’ve noticed my wrist/arm pain is a lot better.
3. Exercise your upper body
I had always thought walking for about an hour a day was enough, and for activity purposes it is, but the upper part of my body was not getting any exercise. I now have a set of exercises from the physio that I do each day and with the mobility sessions, my upper body is moving as it should be. These exercises should also sort out my posture – after working at a desk for around 24 years, no wonder my body is finally telling me to stand up!
4. Standing desks
Have you seen them? They are a great idea, but only in small doses. My osteopath says that standing all day working is going to put pressure on your legs, so alternate between sitting and standing. I now have my laptop on my kitchen counter which I use a couple of times each day for around 15-20 minutes at a time.
Do you have any daily routines or top tips that help to prevent aches and pains while you’re sat at your desk working? I’d love to hear them!
I can’t believe that in just under four weeks’ time, my Online Productivity Tools & Applications Facebook group will be celebrating its first birthday. Wow! Where has that year gone!?
Even if I do say so myself, the group has gone from strength to strength. We’ve now got 342 members (at time of writing) and are getting new member requests on a pretty much daily basis.
If you’re not already a member (and why not?), the group is designed to be a place where people can seek advice, discuss and tell others about all the cool tools and apps they use on a regular basis to help them be more productive in their work.
The group’s got a great community spirit and positive vibe about it, with absolutely zero spam – something that’s a pet hate of mine, which I think ruins many great groups.
Group members are also among the first to hear when Phil Byrne and I release our monthly podcasts showcasing our favourite apps that have made a difference to our online lives that month.
If you missed our latest one, check it out now here. I talk about two Slack apps I’ve been using, one of which enables me to read and reply to emails, tweets and Facebook updates right from within Slack itself.
Talking of Slack, I’m also hosting a webinar dedicated to the tool on August 10. You won’t know about this unless you’re a member of the Facebook group.
The webinar will focus specifically on Slack Productivity Power Tips & Tricks.
In addition, I have created a bespoke Slack channel* to complement the Facebook group, which I will use in conjunction with the upcoming webinar to demonstrate functionality.
There are a lot of people who use Slack on a daily basis and would be interested in being part of an ongoing Slack channel* that serves as an extension to the Facebook group (as indicated by a poll we undertook in the group recently).
I envisage the Slack channel* being an ideal place for people who aren’t on Facebook all the time to ask questions of the other group members.
See you on August 10 for the Slack webinar!
*Please note the Slack channel which was set-up for the webinar is no longer running.
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!
As you’ll already (hopefully) know, my focus for 2017 is productivity and, more specifically, how we can all work in ways that make us more productive.
But changing the way in which we work is just one piece of the overall productivity boosting puzzle. Another piece of said puzzle – one that interests me immensely – is how we can utilise online tools and applications to make ourselves more productive.
In fact, I love online productivity tools and applications so much I created a Facebook group dedicated to them. And there’s one app in particular that I wanted to talk about which saves me a huge amount of time every day and boosts my productivity as a result – that app is LastPass.
Passwords have become a huge part of our lives today, with the majority of websites we visit requiring us to login for some reason or another. Internet banking, email accounts, social networks, forums, eCommerce sites, the list goes on and on.
Depending how good your memory is, remembering all these passwords can be nothing short of a nightmare. And if you forget one, it’s even worse! You’ve got to go through additional checks to verify that it is indeed you who’s trying to login and remember the answer to some security question you potentially configured years ago.
The problem for me, as a virtual assistant, is that I’ve got dozens of my own passwords to remember as well as even more for all my clients. Having them written down or saved in a spreadsheet isn’t exactly secure and the last thing I want to do is be pestering my clients for their passwords again, which is why I opted to give LastPass a try.
LastPass is much more than just a password manager
It’s true; first and foremost, LastPass is a password manager. But it’s also a lot more. It can help keep all of your digital life organised, accessible and secure.
All you need to do is create one master password and LastPass does the rest. New website logins can be added to your LastPass vault quickly and once you’re setup, you’ll only need to remember one password going forward.
LastPass even allows you to create secure notes in which you can store information about your most valuable documents such as your passport, birth certificate, credit cards, etc. Moreover, LastPass can store address information too, making ordering online seamless.
On an average day, I must use LastPass at least 30 times. That’s at least 30 occasions where I don’t have to reference a database to find a password, which saves me lots of time and hassle.
In addition, every single one of my and my clients’ passwords are stored securely. Data is encrypted and decrypted at the device level – so on your laptop or phone – and everything stored in your personal vault is kept secret, even from LastPass.
Best of all is the price. LastPass is free to use, with a premium option, which I’ve actually just signed up for myself. It’s only $12 a year and gives you a number of benefits, including priority customer support, unlimited sync across all your devices and the ability to easily share passwords with other people, plus more.
Got a Fitbit, Uber or Yelp account? You should probably change your password…
We keep hearing that our online passwords should always be unique i.e. never use the same one on different websites. But many people still have a tendency to do so anyway. That’s because it keeps things simple.
The problem, however, is that security breaches are occurring with frightening regularity nowadays. Just last week, for example, it was reported that web performance and security firm Cloudflare had discovered a software bug, which could have compromised the security of more than 5 million websites. Basically, anyone with a Fitbit, Uber, OkCupid, Medium or Yelp account should probably change their passwords immediately.
In response to this security issue, LastPass launched the LastPass Security Challenge. It identifies any websites affected by the Cloudflare bug and allows you to change your passwords for those sites effortlessly.
Are you already using LastPass or a similar password manager? I’d love to hear about your experiences if you are. If you’re not, why not head over to LastPass.com and signup for a free account. Who knows, you might find yourself paying for the premium version in the not so distant future…
How many of us drag ourselves out of bed in the morning? Drink coffee all day to try and make us more alert? Get stuck in the same old routine but not really achieving a lot?
I used to be like this, admittedly not in the last few years, but certainly when I was an employee and dreaded work each day. Since being my own boss I can set my own daily routine, when I get up, when I take a break and walk the dogs or even if I wanted to work into the night and sleep in every morning.
But have any of you ever looked into your chronotype to find out how your body clock can determine the ‘right time’ to do something? Me neither! In my productivity quest this year I added some books to my Amazon wishlist that I’d like to read this year, and one of those was The Power of When by Michael Breus PhD. In fact it looked so interesting I chose to read it first.
There’s a quiz at the start of the book (you can take this online here) which I decided to do online (it was easier than keeping track of my answers). It turns out I’m fairly rare, I am a Dolphin, only 10% of the population are dolphins. Some of the key characteristics of a dolphin are, they tend to be insomniacs (I’m not really, but my sleep is quite disturbed), introversion, intelligence, most alert at night, most productive in spurts throughout the day and strive for perfection.
The other chronotypes are Bears, Wolves and Lions. I’d be really interested to know what you are?
Here is the synopsis of the book:
The latest research shows that there is a right time for all of us to do everything, from drinking a cocktail to getting a flu shot. The catch? That ‘right time’ varies from person to person. Fortunately, as Dr Michael Breus proves in The Power of When, learning to work with your body clock to achieve maximum health and productivity is easy, exciting and fun. When we stop focusing on the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of our lives and start focusing on the ‘when’, we reveal our body’s natural schedule and unlock our hidden potential.
In The Power of When, Dr Breus presents a groundbreaking new programme based on the most cutting-edge research for how to get back in sync with your body’s natural rhythm. Filled with fascinating facts, true-life success stories, fun personality quizzes and easy to follow guidelines, The Power of When will teach you how to not only understand your own body clock, but the body clocks of everyone around you. After you’ve taken Dr Breus’s comprehensive chronotype (body clock) quiz (are you a bear, a lion, a dolphin, or a wolf?) you’ll learn to schedule your day for peak productivity and well-being.
Whether you are interested in the nitty gritty of body clock research or just want to follow the big-picture plan and learn how to be your best, The Power of When promises to help you achieve your goals.
This book fascinated me, I couldn’t put it down. In fact many of the suggestions for a dolphin like me I was already doing, for example my one and only coffee each day at 10.30am… not napping… doing more deep work in the afternoons… binge watching my TV shows at lunchtimes. I was really quite surprised that my routine was fairly accurate to what my body clock wants.
I haven’t changed a few things, because I don’t feel I need to. As a dolphin the ideal time to get up is 6.30am… yeah that will never happen, I love my bed. I also don’t jump out of bed at that time and do some light exercise, I walk the dogs at 10am and 4pm, other exercise doesn’t really exist, especially at 6.30am!
Some changes I plan to implement soon are changing my French lessons to around 4pm in the afternoon, that’s because this is the best time of day for me to learn something new. I’ve struggled with my French, so I am interested to see if this helps! I have also started to go to bed later, and I try just to read fiction at bedtime which is less stimulating. I’m also conscious of when I speak to my boyfriend (he’s a bear) about important things, 5pm is supposedly the best time.
Going back to the title of the post, knowing when the ‘right time’ do to things means you will certainly be more productive. Along with some other tips I’ve picked up in the last few months my days are proving to be a lot more productive.
If you do one thing after reading this post, take the quiz, Micheal provides some really great insights into your chronotype. At the end of the book there are four master clocks, one for each chronotype, they are a quick way of checking when the best time to do something is… drinking coffee might not be that important, but what about a job interview, or learning something new? Choosing the best time to do something puts you in control of what you want.
Don’t forget to comment here with your chronotype, I’d love to know!
This year is set to be one of the most productive years yet for me and my business. Late last year I decided to start moving my business forward which I’d been neglecting slightly due to the amount of client work I’d been tasked with. I have been so lucky these past 5 years that my business has grown from strength to strength. But one downside of this is I struggle to find the time to work on my business.
I was given a challenge last year by one of my great clients, Phil from Positive Sparks, on the podcast we do together each month. He knew that I had been wanting to publish an eBook and I’d told him about my plans to update my eBook Marketing eCourse and publish this as a Kindle eBook. I’d been meaning to get round to it for ages… but it was just something I kept putting to the back of the queue behind everything else. Phil pushed me to do it because he made me accountable to the podcast audience! In September I decided that I had to get this done before the end of the year.
I tasked my great graphic designer Ryan to design me a cover and my wonderful writer James to go over it and make some improvements to my writing (basically editing it). It all came together just after Christmas and it went up on Amazon Kindle as a pre-order ready for the New Year. It was published on the 9th January and has been fairly high up in some of the Kindle store categories since then. I already have 5 reviews, all 5 star!
The eBook is aimed at newly self-published authors who want to get a head start in marketing their books. Having worked with many many self-published authors over the last 5 years I understood that they needed most help in this area, so doing the eCourse was my way of helping them out for free. Now I’ve published the book I hope that it will help a lot more authors get on with their marketing.
But back to the productivity. I came across Mike Vardy before Christmas, he runs The Productivityist… I took his online course through Todoist (my new project management tool of choice) and found that I really liked some of the ways he worked. I also learnt some great new things I can do with Todoist to make my days more productive. I spent a good few weeks following Mike and really taking on some of his ways of working. The one thing which has helped me enormously is to theme my months. You can read a recent article from Mike here about his year in preview and how monthly themes work.
I themed January as ‘My eBook’ – that meant I chose to spend my free business time on my newly published eBook. That covered things like marketing it, getting reviews for it and generally finding ways in which I can get the word out there. I have had a fair amount of success, but I feel that just having that month concentrating on one goal really helped me get things done.
In fact January was a great month for me, I earn’t the most I’ve ever done in one month (in 5 years), got my eBook published and I have also been #1 of #811 on The Executive Secretary Top 250 Social Media Power List for two consecutive weeks! Not only that, I also helped #MicroBizMattersDay trend on Twitter (with my VA helpers) for pretty much the whole event on the 13th. I felt I needed a treat, so I bought myself a Fitbit, it’s very rare that I buy something just for me.
So back to monthly themes… my theme for February is going to be the eCourse (and also to create my new home office). I am going to use the eBook to get the eCourse updated, there is no point in having an out of date incentive on my website! As for the office, I have a lovely mezzanine area in my house which is currently where the cat hides from the dogs and does most of his living. This is the second warmest room in my house in winter, so I am going to totally redesign it and create a fab workspace with a reading nook (for the cat mainly, but for me too!). I will be taking photos when I get started so I can share the transformation.
I already have a theme for March, but that’s some news I’ll share with you later on.
My Facebook group has also been growing and we’ve even had some app/tool founders popping in offering our members a chance to try out their new apps/tools. The monthly podcast I do with Phil has also been great, and the last one we did in January I was really excited about my latest app Blinkist. I paid for this app, which I hardly ever do, so you can see how much I like it. Blinkist has over 1500 non-fiction books available to read, but in short bursts (blinks)… so you get the entire book in something you can read in about 15 minutes. I have been devouring books most nights and learnt so much, my library of books to read gets bigger every day! You must check it out if you want to read but don’t have time to.
Productivity is my theme for the whole year… what’s yours?