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.
Encryption benefits us all in our day to day lives and perhaps you weren’t even aware of that. However, there is a wide range of different situations in which encryption assists in the security of certain services.
For example, encryption methods are used to safely exchange data between web servers and browsers, withdrawal cash from ATMs, sent secure emails, online data storage (think about files, photos, videos, etc) and also when you send messages to your friends and family through messenger applications such as WhatsApp.
The different types of encryption methods such as symmetric and asymmetric encryption will not be explained in this article but instead, I’ll provide 5 different ways how everyone benefits from encryption in our daily life.
1. SSL Certificates
Browsing the internet is an activity that most of us do every day. On the internet, encryption comes in the form of Secure Sockets Layers (SSL) certificates. SSL protection is a security technology feature that website owners can buy in order to increase the security of their site.
You can recognize an encryption protected website from the green padlock and the “HTTPS” in the URL.
SSL protection establishes an encrypted communication channel between a browser and a web server.
An active SSL certificate on a web server is especially useful on websites where visitors enter sensitive information such as credit card information, phone numbers, IDs, etc. That means that all the data that is being transferred between a browser and a web server is encrypted for security and privacy reasons.
For example, if you’ve seen awesome shoes on a webshop, you’ll need to enter your shipping details and payment information. On a SSL secured website, this means that all of your sensitive information is encrypted, so that the readable text that you entered will be encrypted into ciphertext (unreadable text). This makes online shopping very safe!
2. Cash Withdrawal From ATMs
Banks use Hardware Security Module (HSM) encryption methods in order to protect your PIN and other banking information while the transaction is in transit in the network.
HSM encryption comes in many different types but, in essence, it’s function is to encrypt the 4 to 6 digit PIN of every person that uses the ATM. Then, the PIN is decrypted at the HSM side in order to execute and validate the transaction or money withdrawal.
This encryption method ensures that hackers won’t be able to get their hands on your PIN in case they intercept the network data in transit.
Webmail applications such as Gmail and Hotmail provide the earlier explained SSL encryption (HTTPS) in order to protect the user. However, it’s important to note that SSL encryption does not encrypt the text in emails.
Thus, without going too deep into the technical jibber-jabber, the NSA for example, would still be able to intercept your emails in readable text format.
Privacy-minded users are increasingly more often leaning towards end-to-end encryption email providers such as Protonmail and CounterMail. Millions of users have already made the switch to similar encryption protected email providers.
This email software ensures that every sent and received email is encrypted into ciphertext. So, even when the email is intercepted, it’s unreadable to anyone without the decryption key.
4. File Storage
Popular file storage platforms such as Dropbox and Google Drive, with 500 million and 800 million users respectively, greatly emphasize on the security of the platform.
Obviously, the platform wouldn’t be used by millions of users – individuals and businesses – if it didn’t provide a secure environment to store important files, photos and videos.
That means that every file is encrypted into cipherdata in order to protect the users. Dropbox even stated in their security protocol that they break every piece of data into multiple other pieces and encrypt these smaller pieces of data one by one.
Both platforms protect files in transit between servers and apps, but also at rest (when it’s stored on their server). Which is incredibly helpful for all these millions of users, to be sure all their important data is safely stored online.
It comes to no surprise that WhatsApp values the privacy of its users, which is why WhatsApp implemented complete end-to-end encryption in their messenger application. That means that all your messages, photos, videos, voice messages and files are secured.
Only the person you’re communicating with is able to read what you’re sending. End-to-end encryption also means that even WhatsApp is not able to read any messages, because it’s stored on their server in encrypted format.
And the best thing is that WhatsApp automatically encrypts every message by default and there’s no way to turn off the encryption.
Bill here from PixelPrivacy.com. My blog is all about making the world of online security accessible to everyone. I pride myself in writing guides that I’m certain even my own mom could read! Be sure to head over to my blog if you’re interested in keeping your private information just that: Private!
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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