To be productive in this fast paced land of notifications and distractions isn’t easy, even for those of us who like to write about it sometimes. I can often be found in a heap at my desk thinking I may as well give up work for the day because there have been so many distractions and interruptions.
There are many productiveness killers, especially when you work from home, and I like to break them down into these categories:
The telephone (whether business or personal), it can interrupt you at anytime during the day and whatever you’re working on at the time will have to be put to one side.
The doorbell, family/friends, the postman, cold callers, people spreading the word of the Lord… it happens, although not so much for me now I have moved to rural France.
Lunchtime, I put this as an interruption because for me I would happily go on working through the whole day without stopping for lunch if I could, but I need to eat. The same applies to tea/coffee breaks.
Email notifications, if you have these set-up they can take you off task by dragging you over to your email to respond.
Social media notifications, the same applies here, they distract you from what you’re supposed to be working on.
Dogs, they need walking… and although they get me away from my desk twice a day for a walk, it’s a distraction that somedays I could do without.
The radio (if you have it on while you’re working), I tend to have the radio on during the day, music I can work quite well too but when there’s a lot of speaking it distracts me quite a bit.
If you’re feeling under the weather it’s going to cause you to be less productive, I know that some days I feel like I’d rather be laying on the sofa with a good book or watching a film.
Stress, this is a big killer of productiveness, if you’re stressed you’re not going to achieve anything.
Not getting enough fresh air, if you’re stuck at your desk for up to 12 hours a day it’s not doing anything for your health or your productivity.
An untidy office is going to create a messy mind, if you have paperwork everywhere, can never find anything, then you’re not going to be working efficiently.
If you work from home then having a messy home the other side of your office is probably going to cause you some stress – it does me!
No filing system on your computer is just as bad as having a messy office, it causes inefficiency.
Can you think of any other categories?
I had originally planned to give you some of my favourite iPhone apps for this article, but it’s turned out to be a much more in-depth post, so I’m still going to give you some apps to check out after my relevant tips.
How to deal with interruptions…
You could ignore the telephone and put voicemail on when you are busy working on a project, I think it’s perfectly acceptable not to answer every single telephone call, you don’t answer emails instantly (well most people don’t).
You may like to install CCTV at your front door so you can see who is calling and then choose to ignore them or not… that’s a bit of a joke, but seriously, if you’re working on something, ignore the door too, or just check out the window first to check it’s not anything urgent.
Lunch is difficult to miss, and you shouldn’t skip it, you probably could do with the break anyway, so why not take half an hour to do something else even if it’s just to hang the washing outside.
How to deal with disruptions…
Any notification can be turned off, so if you’re working on something, turn it off. I find that this is great for productiveness, I can work for much longer if I don’t see the emails appearing in my inbox and all the social media stuff appearing on my computer and iPhone.
Give the dogs something to chew on which will keep them entertained while you’re working, or if it’s walk time, then take them out.
I have found that when there’s lots of speaking on the radio and it’s distracting me from my work (usually if I’m writing something I need to concentrate on) I mute it (in fact I have just done that so I can get this post finished). Mute is a handy tool, use it more!
How to improve your well-being…
If you’re not feeling 100% then take a break, if you have deadlines then prioritise these and then set a time where you can take a break. If you set aside some time to relax you’ll get on with your work more efficiently as you’ll be looking forward to relaxing.
Stress over a long period of time can really inhibit your working day, so you need to stop and look at what is causing the stress. Money worries? Workload? Personal problems? Try to write down what is causing your stress and find ways of dealing with it, the stress won’t go away overnight but just by acknowledging the problems on paper will commit you to taking the first steps.
Take a break – You must get outside in the fresh air everyday, I used to be really bad at this. I used to sit at my desk all day, and then I got a dog, I now have two dogs! They force me to get outside at least twice a day and I feel much better for it. Sometimes having to take the dogs for a walk isn’t good for getting things done, but once you’re in a routine it does get better. Even if you go out for a 5 minute walk around the block at lunchtime, it will give you enough energy to get the rest of your work done.
Here are some apps that I feel help with well-being. I have used a few of these apps, Insight Timer is great at night and I have a great iPhone app called BetterMe which has some breathing exercises for various situations, anger, irritation, worry, sadness etc… I’ve also heard HeadSpace and Calm are also great apps for well-being.
How to deal with clutter…
This is such an easy thing to achieve but I am my own worse enemy sometimes. Just spend 10 minutes each morning or evening tidying your office, making sure things have been filed away, clearing your desk. Before I worked from home I used to be great at this, things have slipped a bit now, but I think that’s because I know it’s only me that has to look at the mess. But it only takes 10 minutes…
Housework causes me stress, I hate it… I have managed to get it under some kind of control. Having pets with a lot of hair is the worst thing ever. I think you have to accept it, you’re going to spend the rest of your life clearing and cleaning. The best thing you can do is the same as with your office, spend 10-15 minutes each day (maybe at lunchtime) having a tidy up. If you do this each day, even if things are not spotless at least you’ll be less stressed. If like me you can afford a cleaner once a week, then even better… it has taken me 7 years of freelance working to put cleaner at the top of my priorities, and it’s so worth it!
With the amount of things you can download onto your computer these days it soon ends up being very cluttered. If you start as you mean to go on, again this won’t be a long job. Every week check through your files and make sure they are in the relevant folders so you can easily find them again. Many people believe that it’s not necessary now because you can easily run a search of your whole computer, but what if you can’t remember what you named it? Better to have specific folders for specific files.
Here are my favourite apps which help me control my clutter and save time:
Hazel watches whatever folders you tell it to, automatically organizing your files according to the rules you create. Have Hazel move files around based on name, date, type, what site it came from and much more. Automatically sort your movies or file your bills. Keep your files off the desktop and put them where they belong.
Toby is a great add-on for Google Chrome, it’s like a filing system for all your websites, you can easily find all the important sites you use time after time without keeping all the tabs open and slowing down your computer.
TextExpander is a massive time saver, you can create snippets and templates which appear at a touch of a button or two. This saves so much time when writing emails, and anywhere else you need template text quickly.
LastPass keeps all my logins safe and secure, not only that it also keeps my client logins safe and secure too… I can also login to accounts with a click of the mouse.
What are your top productivity tips? I love to find out what other people do to increase their efficiency while working so please add your tips in the comments. I hope some of my advice is helpful, and look forward to hearing about yours.
Just over a month or so ago, I started bullet journaling and now I’ve been at it for a short while, I wanted to tell you more about it, including how it’s increased my productivity.
But before I do that, let’s address the elephant in the room: what is bullet journaling?
If you’ve never heard of it before, you might be surprised to learn that bullet journaling is actually something that requires a notebook and a pen – shock horror! Now you’re probably thinking how can an analogue (manual) system be more efficient and effective than a digital one? It’s a fair question, so I’ll explain.
What is a bullet journal?
Let’s start by looking at the most fundamental part of the bullet journaling system: the bullet journal itself. It’s basically a notebook that’s been tailored to enable you to track the past, organise the present and plan for the future – they’re not my words, by the way; they are the words of Ryder Carroll, the guy who invented the bullet journal and bullet journaling.
In a nutshell, a bullet journal allows you to record, organise and manage all of the tasks you need to do, the events you need to be aware of and any other notes you need to stay on top of. The journal itself comprises four main elements: The Index, The Future Log, The Monthly Log and The Daily Log.
Don’t worry; while it sounds complicated, all you need to get started is a blank notebook and a pen.
The easiest way for you to see how the elements mentioned above come together is to head over to https://bulletjournal.com and watch the 5-minute tutorial video at the top of the page.
How does a bullet journal help boost your productivity?
We all lead busy lives and it often seems as though there’s simply not enough time in the day. This is where bullet journaling really helps.
You see, with bullet journaling, you are constantly reviewing entries to check if they are still worth your while i.e. will the reward for doing them outweigh the effort you’ve invested? The ones that are will be rolled over (migrated) into the next month or near future, while the ones that aren’t worth your time will be struck out.
It’s this feature of bullet journaling that really helps you focus on what matters and ignore what doesn’t – leading to you becoming more productive in the process.
While it might seem like a long-winded, time-consuming process writing all this stuff out by hand, it actually makes you pause and really assess each and every item. If something’s not worth the hassle of writing it out again the next month, is it really worth you even doing it?
Remember, there’s a huge difference between being busy and being productive. And the more bullet journaling you do, the more natural it will become to progress from using it as a system to adopting it as a practise.
Is a bullet journal a to-do list, a planner or a diary?
It’s all of the above and more!
One of the reasons why I love bullet journaling so much is because it allows me to track my day-to-day activities, record my experiences and remain focussed on my long-term goals.
My own bullet journal has been further customised to meet my own needs. The ability to customise as you see fit is another big draw of bullet journaling.
For example, some of the things I have on my weekly spreads at the moment are:
A small monthly calendar so I can easily see dates
A block for each day where I put my tasks/events and notes (if I have space)
A block for money that is scheduled to come out of my bank
A block for next week’s tasks that I can then move over
An area where I can record my mood, energy and productivity – this is work in progress, and I’ve changed it a couple of times
My water/liquid intake on a daily basis
General notes about my day/week
I also have other pages which contain:
Trackers – things like reading, personal development, housework, etc.
Lists – places to visit, books I’ve read, ideas
Challenges – For example, my 30-day de-clutter challenge
There really is no limit to what you can include!
If you’re more creative than I am, you can even draw pictures, doodles and add oodles of colour. Check out some of these bullet journals on Instagram for more inspiration.
Does bullet journaling sound like something that could help you see the wood for the trees? Maybe you’re already a bullet journaling pro. Either way, I’d love to hear from you about your experiences and how bullet journaling has improved your productivity.
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!
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.
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…
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