+44 (0)1227 392750 (WhatsApp) hello@joharrison.rocks
7 Smartphone Apps That You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without

7 Smartphone Apps That You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without

Social Media AppsAs a professional virtual assistant, I’m all about boosting productivity and improving efficiency. But when it comes to managing day-to-day tasks, communicating effectively and keeping my finger on the digital pulse, few devices afford me more productivity gains and efficiency hikes than my trusty iPhone.

But don’t think I’m about to start singing the praises of my iPhone – I’m not. While it’s been great, this post is all about the benefits of smartphones in general and in particular, how pivotal they can be when we’re ‘on the go’.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you’ll already know some of my top productivity tools. And while the following list focuses solely on the apps I use on my iPhone, there are a couple which crossover to my iMac too.

Mail

Okay, so first up, quite predictably, is email. Being able to receive, read and reply to my business emails right from my smartphone is absolutely fundamental. It means that I can immediately check if a message requires an urgent response and send one accordingly.

If I don’t have time to type something verbose on my phone or the email requires a more in-depth reply later, then I can send a brief message in the meantime simply acknowledging receipt. This keeps my clients informed and their minds at ease.

Asana

Everything I have to do on a daily basis is recorded in Asana. And the fact that there is an associated mobile app boosts my efficiency no end.

Asana enables me to keep track of every task and stay up-to-date with progress from my team members. The mobile version allows me to create new tasks as they come to mind and update existing ones with further info if needed.

Facebook Pages Manager

While the regular Facebook app for smartphones is great for personal profiles, the Facebook Pages Manager is indispensable for anyone who administers a business page – like mine!

Not only can you see notifications as they happen, but you can also garner valuable insights from the analytical data that’s available. Moreover, you can administer several pages all from one app. It really is a versatile solution for keeping abreast of your public pages while on the move.

Buffer

Buffer is the epitome of productivity and efficiency and the fact that I can access it from my smartphone, makes it even better. Literally, from the palm of my hand, I have a complete overview of all my social networks.

I can schedule updates to be posted as I think of them and also check how my previous posts have performed with the built in analytics. It even boasts Buffer’s URL shortening capability, so I can paste web links and they automatically get reduced as they’re posted.

Dropbox/Google Drive

I use both Dropbox and Google Drive. They’re intrinsically the same and mean that I have access to all my crucial files and documents no matter where I am.

While I don’t tend to create new documents and type for hours on my iPhone, having access to my crucial files means I can send them to clients and check them ad hoc if required. The fact that everything syncs up automatically with the cloud in the background, means that I never have to worry about manually copying my data.

XE Currency

I live in France and have clients all over the world, so keeping track of foreign exchange rates is something that’s pretty fundamental to my business. The XE Currency app allows me to see right from my phone the current market rates. It automatically refreshes and also features a calculator for converting currencies quickly.

Furthermore, you can setup numerous different foreign currencies and see the exchange rate quickly and efficiently across them all.

Twitter

Much like I use the Facebook Pages Manager for my business page, I use Twitter to keep track of my tweets. While Buffer has a lot of great features, there are times when the official app still gets the nod.

It has a familiar interface, works flawlessly and offers the full range of Twitter features that I need. That’s why it still retains a place on my phone, even when there are other applications that purport to do the same.

So that’s seven smartphone applications that I utilise while I’m ‘on the go’. It could have been a longer list, but these were the ones I felt I used most often while not in front of my computer.

Are there any smartphone apps that you couldn’t live without? I’d love to hear your comments below.

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?

5 Reasons When It’s OK to Neglect Social Media

In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be an ‘ok’ time to neglect social media, but over the last few months I have struggled to keep up with the constant attention that my social media accounts need.

My social media accounts are not the only things which have suffered neglect, this blog for instance, my eBook Formatting Tips video series and my new eBook Formatting website.  Unfortunately all of these have had to take a back seat because they don’t pay me by the hour like my clients do.

So because I feel extremely guilty for not writing a blog post for nearly 2 weeks, I have decided to drop by and publish this one for you, which will most probably be shorter than normal. 

Here is my list of ‘ok’ times to neglect your social media
(and other online pursuits):

1. When you are very busy with client work

This is the main reason I have not been attending to my social media over the last few months.  I have a lot of clients, new clients who need me to be on hand to format their eBooks, set-up their websites/blogs, provide virtual assistance too.  My clients pay me, so my first priority is them, the same should go for you, your clients come first!

2. When it’s the summer

A bit flimsy I know, but there’s been a bit of a heatwave here (France) the past couple of weeks and you just can’t sit at a desk for long when the temperatures outside are reaching into the late 30’s.  But not just the heatwave, I moved to France to have a better work/life balance and I want to go out and enjoy the weather when it’s nice… which is one of the reason’s I bought the puppy a couple of months ago, we can go out and enjoy long walks along the river and get away from the desk at the same time.

It’s a fact that if you have time away from the desk, you will be more productive when you’re actually working, some time back I wrote this post – Do You Take Enough Breaks?

3. When you’re unwell

Nobody can work well when they are sick, it’s impossible to give 100%.  Take the time you need to get well again, and then you can get back to work refreshed and ready to go.  I used to get sick a lot when I worked in the UK (as an employee), since my move to France and working for myself I don’t get sick anymore… and if I do feel under the weather, I just take a couple of hours out and lay on the sofa and do something relaxing like read a book or watch some TV.

4. When you’re on holiday

This is something I find difficult.  I have a week off work next week as my brother and nephews are over for a visit… will I check my iPhone for mentions on Twitter?  Will I feel the need to respond to emails?  Probably yes… but I won’t feel bad if I don’t write on my blog, or post updates to my Facebook page. As long as you let people know you are on holiday, they should be able to cope without you.  Again, your clients are the most important people to your business, so ensure they know you’ll be away and then you can relax.

5. When there is a special occasion

Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas… Enjoy yourself and don’t feel bad for neglecting your social media.  I took the day off work for my birthday and had a lovely day, my anniversary is coming up but that falls on a Saturday so no issues there!  Take time off to enjoy yourself, you’ll have a much better relationship with work when you are back at your desk.

Do you have any other suggestions?  

I am sure there are more than 5, I just don’t have the time to come up with them.  In the meantime, take a look around my blog and see if there are any other articles you’re interested in, it’s pretty varied, there should be something for everyone.

 

Smartphone Addiction: Are You?

N.B. This blog post was written in June.

The Eurostar was running late, trespassers on the line, I still had an hour left to kill and I was bored of my magazine and my iPhone so I thought I would write a blog post.

While sitting in Gard du Nord station in Paris waiting to board I looked around and noticed that pretty much everyone in the vicinity was using a mobile phone, mostly smartphones – I was using one too! I tell a lie there was a woman reading on her Kindle, not her phone.

I have read a few blog posts recently about smartphones, one in particular I remember because the title was ‘Are you sleeping with your smartphone?

I’ve had my iPhone for 2 years now and it goes everywhere with me, currently it is sat on my lap underneath my netbook, while trying to write this post on the Eurostar with it going round bends fast, it’s not easy… The French girl next to me is asleep and I just had to rescue her iPhone from the floor as it flew off the little lap table!

I use my iPhone for many things, I don’t sleep with it but it is the first thing I pick up each morning before I have eaten breakfast and taken a shower. I check my email (business and personal), then I check Facebook (again business and personal), then I check Twitter for any mentions or retweets and I thank those people. I then pop over to Buffer to post out my automated ‘Thanks for following’ tweet to any new followers (I use Ifttt.com to automate this). I think I then get out of bed and get ready for work.

During the day it will sit next to me on the desk and will bing every time I receive a new email or someone retweets or mentions me, I take a quick look to see if it needs an instant reply and if not then I carry on with work. In the evening when I have finished work for the day I sit on the sofa watching the TV and flick through Flipboard, starring things in Google Reader to be added to Buffer, or emailing the links to Buffer instead.

Rumor has it, the iPhone 5 is being released in October and I have a dilemma about what to do. I live in France but my iPhone is currently on a contract  in the UK with Vodafone.

I have a good deal, I get 10 free texts per day back to the UK which does me just fine, as I use WhatsApp with some friends and also plenty of friends have iPhone’s so we can use iMessage for free. I also get 25Mb of Internet free per day, which in general is fine because I don’t tend to use 3G a lot, but there are occasions (like yesterday) when my phone decides to sync so much data that I go over my data allowance and Vodafone send me text messages every few minutes to inform me. I make no calls with my iPhone in France and incoming calls are directed straight to Voicemail so I can decide whether to call people back. It costs me 75p connection charge for up to an hour for every incoming and outgoing call I receive or make.

My dilemma in September when my current contract comes to an end is whether to get a French contract or upgrade my current UK contract. I will lose my 10 free texts back to the UK, but I will gain Internet access (probably not limited). Any calls I make to the UK will no doubt cost more than 75p though, but I never make calls in France and if I do I have a landline to do that (with free calls). Another problem I foresee if I get a French iPhone is that it will be connected to the French iTunes store which I had issues with recently with my iMac purchase. I am English, I want to buy English apps and products even though I live in France.

I use my iPhone for everything, but I wonder whether sticking with my UK contract is the better plan. When I use my iPhone outside of the home (and wifi) it is only to check social media channels and email which I tend to keep within the 25Mb limit anyway.

I’m a freelancer, I work from home and sometimes I need to be flexible with my working environment.  That means when I am out and about I need to be able to check my emails for anything urgent, or take calls from clients during working hours.  In the summer I’d like to sit outside to work, so having a smartphone means I can continue to work away from my desk.

So what would you do?  

I’m not even sure I can upgrade in the UK if I live in France, I think I need to do some more investigation.  I will be totally lost without my iPhone, maybe I shouldn’t upgrade at all and keep my iPhone 4 – do I want to risk losing the contract altogether?!

I guess this concludes that yes, I am addicted to my smartphone!

A Different Day in the Life of a Virtual Assistant

Way back when I first started my blog I wrote a post called A Day in the Life of a Virtual Assistant. I didn’t think it would be a popular post; who wants to know about what I get up to all day? But it turned out to be one of the most clicked on posts I’ve written about virtual assistants, and many of the visits have come through searches on Google.

Since writing this post back in January things haven’t really changed too much, but I wanted to write an update today because it’s a little bit different, and hopefully today will be the first of many.

I am writing this blog post from my partner’s farm, in France of course. While he is off getting the wood in the tractor I am sat outside at the rear of the farmhouse in the sun, the temperature is around 21 degrees and directly in the sun it’s over 30!! We’re still in March, it’s unbelievable.

There is no Internet, I barely have a 3G signal on my iPhone and the sun is causing some screen issues but who cares, I’m not stuck at my desk in the office which is probably colder than outside right now.

All around me I can hear various animals, a couple of lambs were born last night so they are safely in the barn and their Mum is bleeting away. The cows are rather quiet today, they’re not out in the beautiful weather, I asked my partner why and apparently it’s because the grass isn’t ready for them to eat yet. The ducks and geese are happily swimming in the large pond I am sitting next to. One of the ducks seems to be billy no mates and he’s lost a lot of his feathers, not seen anything like it before – it appears that the other ducks are picking on him. There’s also the odd lizard running up the side of the farmhouse, or basking in the sun, certainly something you don’t see in the UK.

As well as having no Internet, there’s also no toilet… this is a major problem for me, so until the fosse septique is installed I doubt whether I’d be able to spend a whole day here. Although as I mentioned in my last post, my partner comes home for lunch, so it’s quite possible if I didn’t have much Internet work to do.

Most of my clients recently have been authors who need their books formatted for eBook, so this is the perfect task to be getting along with on the farm. I don’t need the Internet, I just need my trusty netbook and a seat and I can get along with the formatting in the peace and quiet of the French farm life.

I just wish Google worked out here, it’s handy to be able to look up random things…

I could get used to this though, although I’m not sure how much work I’d get done around watching the antics of the various animals, it’s quite addictive, I used to people watch a lot, now I animal watch.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my post, a bit different from normal but I hope my new calm working environment might spark some creative ideas for new blog posts, so watch this space.

I recently set-up a board on Pinterest called The Farm, I have some more images to add to this from my recent visit.