How Productive Are You?

How Productive Are You?

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:

Interruptions

  • 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.

Distractions

  • 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.

Well-being

  • 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.

Clutter

  • 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…

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…

  1. 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… 
  2. 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!
  3. 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.

For more of my favourite tools and apps, you can listen to my podcast or join my Facebook group.

How I’ve Increased My Productivity Through Bullet Journaling

How I’ve Increased My Productivity Through Bullet Journaling

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!

Bullet Journal Weekly Spread

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.

You can also listen to my recent podcast where I talk all about bullet journaling.

If you’re interested in my purchases shown in the image above, you can find them here…

Looking to Become a Virtual Assistant? These Resources are Invaluable

Looking to Become a Virtual Assistant? These Resources are Invaluable

I regularly get people contacting me through LinkedIn to ask how I started being a virtual assistant (VA). In fact, the frequency and number of enquiries prompted me to write this blog post – after all, I’m all about boosting productivity and efficiency, which is why it made sense to write an informative post and direct wannabe VAs towards it.

First and foremost, before I started my VA business, I did huge amounts of research. I spent a lot of time online digesting as many free resources as I could and absorbing all the advice and tips I was finding – there was a lot!

Google is your friend

A quick Google search for ‘how to become a virtual assistant’ yields a whopping 8.4 million results (at time of writing). Even if you just take the time to go through the first page of results alone, you’ll glean a huge amount of relevant info (as I did more than six years ago).

Next, I looked to satisfy the avid reader in me and checked what books relating to becoming a virtual assistant were available on Amazon. There wasn’t actually that many (at the time), but one did stick out, so I placed an order. It was “The Virtual Assistant Handbook: Insider Secrets for Starting and Running Your Own Profitable VA Business” by Nadine Hill. It’s a great resource because it’s so easy to read. I couldn’t put it down once I’d started and read it from cover to cover in no time. It was definitely worth the cost as it contained information about things I hadn’t thought about.

Another great book written by an acquaintance of mine is How to be a Virtual Assistant: Start and run your own successful VA business by Catherine Gladwyn.

VA Forums/Associations

With my interest seriously piqued and my passion to learn more in overdrive, I joined the Virtual Assistant Forums. Like most Internet-based forums, this one allows you to post questions and discuss topics with people who are virtual assistants already or working towards becoming one.

A great way to gain some exposure in such forums is by linking your blog and Twitter accounts, then adding real value to the conversations that are going on. People will naturally look at your profile if they see you as someone who knows what they’re talking about and may click through to your website/social media accounts as a result.

I then joined the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA). It’s a non-profit organisation dedicated to VA development, education and raising public awareness of what VAs do. There are several different membership categories, all of which boast a number of benefits. Check out the IVAA website for more information.

VA Directories

There are two VA directory sites that I’d recommend to anyone looking to start out in this industry: Virtual Assistantville and BeMyVA. They are great places to advertise your services and potentially secure your first clients. Be sure to check out the membership benefits of BeMyVA, as there’s a chance you could feature on their social media accounts and have your articles featured in their newsletter.

Twitter Lists

Twitter lists featuring virtual assistants are great; all you’ve got to do is find some. The easiest way to do this is by using the Twitter search feature to find out profiles relating to virtual assistance, VAs, etc. One you’ve started following some of the profiles you’ve found, go through their accounts and look at any lists they’ve created and been added to. Chances are there will be some relating solely to virtual assistance, which can join or retrieve more useful contacts from.

Hashtags like #VA and #virtualassistant are also a great way to find tweets and profiles relating to the industry.

Facebook Groups

Last, but certainly not least, are all the virtual assistant Facebook groups out there. There are so many, each with their own benefits, that I would never be able to review each one separately. However, I have compiled this list of groups to get you started:

Two other Facebook groups I highly recommend are Freelance Heroes (great for general freelancing discussions and lead generation) and my own Online Productivity Tools & Applications group (great for insights into all the best tools and apps designed to boost productivity).

Over to you…

Are there any resources you use/have used that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about them. Drop a note in the comments or tweet me @JoHarris0n.

How LastPass Helps Me Boost My Productivity Daily

How LastPass Helps Me Boost My Productivity Daily

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.

Password Overload

LastPassPasswords 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 the Power of When Can Make You More Productive

How the Power of When Can Make You More Productive

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!

My Top Book Recommendations for Freelancers

My Top Book Recommendations for Freelancers

When I first started my Virtual Assistant business back in 2011, I needed all the help I could get. Here I was running my own company for the first time and in a foreign country to boot.

At that time, business books were very important to me. They still are now, but back then in particular I  gleaned a huge amount of information from them and was able to successfully build my own business.

Here are my top five must-read books for freelancers:

1. Freedom from Bosses Forever by Tony Robinson OBE

First up on my list of must-read books for freelancers is Freedom from Bosses Forever by Tony Robinson OBE.

Now I should start by telling you that it’s a satirical book. But that absolutely does not detract from the value it provides. In fact, for me, it enhances it. Think of it as a serious book about small business development written in a cordial and easy to understand style.

If you want honest, relevant business advice, which is straight to the point and easy to digest, I highly recommend Freedom from Bosses Forever.

2. Your Business Foundation by Christopher Briggs

The thing I like about Christopher Briggs’s Your Business Foundation is that it’s obviously been written by a guy who’s been there, done that, and got the T-shirt several times over.

Unlike many other business-focussed books, Your Business Foundation provides straightforward advice and assistance, without losing its messages in over-heavy business speak.

As well as all the advice in the book about the best foundation on which to build your business, there’s also a namesake website which has even more tips and information on top.

3. New Business: Next Steps by Ann Hawkins & Ed Goodman

If you’ve recently started or are thinking of starting a new business, New Business: Next Steps is the perfect all-in-one guide for you.

Ann and Ed clearly have a great deal of knowledge about setting up and running businesses, which they translate very clearly in New Business: Next Steps.

Moreover, the numerous case studies and examples make the information that it provided easy to remember and practical.

4. Get Clients Now! by C.J. Hayden

As its name suggests, Get Clients Now! helps you get new clients. Even though I first read it awhile ago, I often refer back to it if I need to get some new clients.

The advice is easy-to-follow and genuinely works. So much so that I tend to follow it for a week or so and then put it down because I’ve already got all the new clients I wanted. It’s that simple!

If you’re an entrepreneur, solopreneur or micros/small business owner, Get Clients Now! should be your marketing bible. Because without clients or customers, your business isn’t going to be the success you envisaged.

5. Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson

Again, this is a book I first read years ago, even before I knew I wanted to start my own business. Nowadays, I refer back to when I need a bit of inspiration.

Richard Branson has always been a hero of mine and when you read Losing My Virginity you’ll realise that he has succeeded through sheer grit, determination and guts.

Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a 500+ page book. Once you start it, you won’t be able to put it down – at least I couldn’t anyway.

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