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.

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

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

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

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

Use a task management tool/app

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

Don’t spend too much time on email

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

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

Minimise client distractions

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

Learn to triage and say ‘no’

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

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

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

Swap email for chat apps

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

Save time (in the long run) by making templates

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

Spread recurring tasks throughout the week

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

Set aside some time for yourself

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

Over to you…

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

10 Ways a Virtual Assistant Can Help a Small Business

10 Ways a Virtual Assistant Can Help a Small Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Effectively Outsource for the Benefit of Your Small Business

How to Effectively Outsource for the Benefit of Your Small Business

outsourceI wanted to write a post that would hopefully go some way to addressing what is perhaps the number one comment I hear when people come to me looking to outsource: “I don’t know where to start?”

These are people who have inevitably built successful small businesses but they don’t know how to go about outsourcing. Maybe it’s because they genuinely don’t believe that someone else could do what they do, or that they don’t want to let go of the reins – either way, my advice is the same.

I give them a simple way of figuring out which tasks they really should consider outsourcing. It’s pretty much a foolproof tactic and the end result is ultimately beneficial to them as business owners – more time to spend focussing on the tasks that add real value to their businesses. The stuff that helps them grow, attract more customers and keep the ones they have already happy.

But what is it I tell them, you ask?

Start Keeping a Log

That’s right, I tell my prospective clients to start keeping a log of everything they do. Make a note of every single task that they carry out on a day-to-day basis. This might sound like a chore but trust me, it pays dividends in the end. Plus, they only need to do this for a couple of weeks – even a week is a good start.

The purpose is simple: to make them realise exactly how much they do themselves. This list should contain everything and be as detailed as possible when it comes to menial, mundane tasks because these are often the most time-consuming, yet add the least value.

Review Said Log

Once the log has been compiled, it’s time to analyse it. I tell my clients to go over everything that they have written down or typed and review it objectively – this is the key.

By going over what they have compiled and being brutally honest is the first step on their outsourcing journey. But they really do need to be brutally honest and answer the following three questions:

  1. Which tasks do I really not have time for?
  2. Which tasks do I really not like doing?
  3. Which tasks am I really not that good at?

These are the three key questions that will open the outsourcing door.

Look to Outsource

Any tasks that you don’t have time for, don’t like doing or are not that good at should be outsourced – boom! It really is that simple. This allows you to concentrate on the aspects of your business that really matter.

But where do you find someone who can carry out all the tasks that you want to outsource? The answer is you don’t – look for several talented individuals and outsource accordingly. For example, even though I’m a virtual assistant, I still have a highly-capable team around me. I know exactly where I can allocate work for the best results for my clients.

Unfortunately, outsourcing is often viewed as something that’s difficult and risky. The reality is, however, that it’s really not. By outsourcing the day-to-day tasks that you don’t need to be doing, you’ll ultimately freeing up more time for the things that you should be doing.

Focus on growing your business and let competent individuals, who specialise in outsourced work, do the rest…

To find out how a virtual assistant can help you in your business, why not sign up to my newsletter (top right hand corner) where you will receive a free eBook and interview providing lots of great tips to outsourcing.

8 Things That Having No Internet Has Taught Me!

If you follow me on Facebook then you’ll have seen that I have been without Internet for pretty much 2 weeks. We had some bad storms over here in France and last Wednesday Orange.fr told me that my livebox (which is a kind of router) was storm damaged. This was at 5pm on Wednesday evening, the Orange shop in Poitiers (the nearest to me) shut at 7pm. I leapt in my car and drove through the worst storm ever, a 2 hour round trip to get myself a new livebox.

My new livebox worked for about 1 day and then also gave up the ghost. By the time I got to call Orange again it was Friday afternoon and the English helpline is closed all weekend. First thing Monday morning I called them again and I was told the earliest an engineer could get out to me was Friday morning (tomorrow).

I have since been ferrying my lovely iMac around rural France in search of an Internet connection so I could continue to work. I have spent a few days at my mum’s using hers, but it’s not a great connection and with three people using it the speed was seriously slow. So yesterday and today I have driven half an hour and am installed in my friend’s gîte (Longère Louise) which is where my dad recently stayed when he popped over for a visit.

So here I am, and I have found time to write this blog post, I don’t know how.

At first I was pretty stressed without the Internet. All my work is done online, I communicate with all my clients online, much of my work is based around social media, websites and blogs. How I would manage to have no connection until tomorrow was making me feel pretty frustrated.

As the week has gone on, with only having a few hours each day connected I have realised that actually, there is lots I can be doing offline and preparing for when I get my connection back. Some work related, and others not so.

Here is a list of things I have learnt since having a limited Internet connection:

I don’t need to be online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

The world will not end if I am not constantly online checking my emails, Facebook, Twitter etc… Neither will my clients get angry that I am not available 24/7.

I can still work even though I don’t have internet

I have found that working offline during the mornings has made me a lot more focussed. I have been working on formatting, and preparing emails ready to send when I have a connection. Not only that but I get a lot of the day to day to-do list out of the way before I get online.

I waste a lot of time online each day

I knew this anyway, but not having the connection has made me realise where my time goes each day. Of course much of my work is online, but there are times when I get distracted doing something which isn’t earning me any money. My time in fact could be better used somewhere else, like working offline coming up with strategies for my business for example.

I get a lot more done when I am limited by time

This isn’t the only time I have noticed this. For example when I was having French lessons on a Thursday afternoon I would speed through my work in the morning, and wonder why I was stressing that I wouldn’t have the time to do it. The same goes for this situation, I am getting my work done in the small window that I have and not even feeling under pressure. I have another 2 hours here today and already I am wondering what it is I can get done, as I did most of my work in the first hour I was here.

For my basic working tasks, I don’t need super speedy internet

I always complain about the speed of my Internet, but actually sitting down and thinking about it I don’t need it to be fast to still be able to complete my job. If I want to stream TV and music, then yes, it would be useful, but for work I just need a connection so that I can check and respond to emails and do some work online at a regular pace.

Using something like Asana is paramount to staying organised

If I didn’t use Asana to keep track of my tasks (my own and clients) I would be jumping from one task to the next. Having this in place means I am organised and I can see exactly what needs to be done and which tasks can be put off for another day.

As far as I know I haven’t lost any business by not being online 24/7

All emails are being responded too, just a bit more delayed than usual… and usually I respond pretty quickly! All my clients have been very understanding, and I have continued to keep them updated about the situation so they know when I am online or not. I have set-up an out of office message for my emails to explain that I am checking emails, but I have limited Internet. So far, this hasn’t caused any issues as I have even picked up a few new clients this week.

I have finished reading a book I started months ago

Since I started my own business, my love of reading has been put to one side. This week though during my offline time, I have managed to not only finish proofreading a client book, but I also finished a book I started month’s ago. I’m not sure starting two new books last night was a good idea considering my Internet should be back tomorrow, but I am going to try to not neglect it so much now.

So going forward, I will be having more offline time, I may not even check my emails so much each day… all those blog posts I read telling me to check it less, well I might just try it now I realise it may work out for the better. I may also put in place some restrictions on my Internet connection, so it’s not available at certain times of day, so I can get all those offline jobs done that I sometimes don’t get to.

What I have missed though, is being able to work at home… The poor dog has been passed from pillar to post, and I have lugged my iMac around in my car, really hoping I didn’t drop it in the process. One thing I really really need is a nice new MacBook Pro, it’s my birthday in July if anyone fancies buying me one?