As you’ll already (hopefully) know, my focus for 2017 is productivity and, more specifically, how we can all work in ways that make us more productive.
But changing the way in which we work is just one piece of the overall productivity boosting puzzle. Another piece of said puzzle – one that interests me immensely – is how we can utilise online tools and applications to make ourselves more productive.
In fact, I love online productivity tools and applications so much I created a Facebook group dedicated to them. And there’s one app in particular that I wanted to talk about which saves me a huge amount of time every day and boosts my productivity as a result – that app is LastPass.
Passwords have become a huge part of our lives today, with the majority of websites we visit requiring us to login for some reason or another. Internet banking, email accounts, social networks, forums, eCommerce sites, the list goes on and on.
Depending how good your memory is, remembering all these passwords can be nothing short of a nightmare. And if you forget one, it’s even worse! You’ve got to go through additional checks to verify that it is indeed you who’s trying to login and remember the answer to some security question you potentially configured years ago.
The problem for me, as a virtual assistant, is that I’ve got dozens of my own passwords to remember as well as even more for all my clients. Having them written down or saved in a spreadsheet isn’t exactly secure and the last thing I want to do is be pestering my clients for their passwords again, which is why I opted to give LastPass a try.
LastPass is much more than just a password manager
It’s true; first and foremost, LastPass is a password manager. But it’s also a lot more. It can help keep all of your digital life organised, accessible and secure.
All you need to do is create one master password and LastPass does the rest. New website logins can be added to your LastPass vault quickly and once you’re setup, you’ll only need to remember one password going forward.
LastPass even allows you to create secure notes in which you can store information about your most valuable documents such as your passport, birth certificate, credit cards, etc. Moreover, LastPass can store address information too, making ordering online seamless.
On an average day, I must use LastPass at least 30 times. That’s at least 30 occasions where I don’t have to reference a database to find a password, which saves me lots of time and hassle.
In addition, every single one of my and my clients’ passwords are stored securely. Data is encrypted and decrypted at the device level – so on your laptop or phone – and everything stored in your personal vault is kept secret, even from LastPass.
Best of all is the price. LastPass is free to use, with a premium option, which I’ve actually just signed up for myself. It’s only $12 a year and gives you a number of benefits, including priority customer support, unlimited sync across all your devices and the ability to easily share passwords with other people, plus more.
Got a Fitbit, Uber or Yelp account? You should probably change your password…
We keep hearing that our online passwords should always be unique i.e. never use the same one on different websites. But many people still have a tendency to do so anyway. That’s because it keeps things simple.
The problem, however, is that security breaches are occurring with frightening regularity nowadays. Just last week, for example, it was reported that web performance and security firm Cloudflare had discovered a software bug, which could have compromised the security of more than 5 million websites. Basically, anyone with a Fitbit, Uber, OkCupid, Medium or Yelp account should probably change their passwords immediately.
In response to this security issue, LastPass launched the LastPass Security Challenge. It identifies any websites affected by the Cloudflare bug and allows you to change your passwords for those sites effortlessly.
Are you already using LastPass or a similar password manager? I’d love to hear about your experiences if you are. If you’re not, why not head over to LastPass.com and signup for a free account. Who knows, you might find yourself paying for the premium version in the not so distant future…
A VA can take a huge weight off of your shoulders and help you with those tasks that bog you down when you should be focussing on other areas of your business. However, hiring a VA is not quite the same as hiring an employee and there are different considerations to make when taking this route. It can be a huge advantage to hire someone for only the hours and skills you need, without the commitment in terms of budget and hours that you might have to consider with an employee.
Here are some pointers on how to start a successful VA relationship and avoid some common pitfalls.
1. Ensure you are ready to handover to a VA
A common mistake when hiring a VA is not being ready to pass on your work. The best tasks to hand over are the repetitive ones. This means you don’t have to train your VA on lots of new types of work and you will be free to concentrate on other things. Using a tool like Asana, I can see which tasks come up regularly and then easily assign them to my new VA once the workload looks like a viable amount. By reviewing those tasks before hiring, I can also see what skills and talents my new VA needs.
2. Create a repeatable process
Giving a successful handover often relies on your processes and systems being thoroughly nailed down before you start. I don’t give any work to a new VA until I have a tried and tested method to share with them. Creating a training document or video for the tasks you want to outsource is a great way to make the handover less painful. It also means that should your team grow, any new team members will be able to pick up (and run with) that same task with minimal interference and input from you or anyone else.
3. Hire as carefully as you would an employee
Introducing a new person to your business data and contacts is a sensitive process. Whether you are sharing your Social Media logins or your company books, ensuring you have a reliable and trustworthy VA is of paramount importance. Check references as carefully as you would with an internal employee and consider a short Non-Disclosure Agreement for anyone handling confidential material.
4. Agree on timescales
When working with remote VAs, you may have multiple people working across different time-zones. This can have an impact on turnaround times. It can also be an advantage if you need round-the-clock-cover, as a VA on the other side of the globe can work while you sleep.
Something else to bear in mind is that you are a client, not an employer. You are probably not the only person who the VA works with. Treat the relationship as a partnership and consider a Service Level Agreement to help keep your workflow on schedule and easy to manage. Setting expectations early will help avoid any frustrations for both parties.
5. Agree the payment structure
There are many different types of VA solutions available, from individual sole traders to large Virtual Assistant businesses with multiple employees. Each business has its own payment structure and pricing. Hourly pricing might appear to be the simplest option, but you might get better value from a retainer or package based model (in which a set number of hours are sold in bulk).
Aside from payment models themselves, make sure you understand the payment terms and how you will be invoiced, especially with the smaller or solo operations.
If you’ve not yet considered hiring a Virtual Assistant, read more about why working with a VA can benefit your business, save you time, money and help you to accomplish more.
With 302 million monthly active users sending 500 million Tweets per day, Twitter can feel like a double-edged sword. With such a huge audience of consumers, comes competition from other businesses all vying for their attention. In order to stand out from the crowd and avoid being drowned in a sea of Tweets, your brand needs all the help it can get. A clear strategy based on thorough analysis is paramount if your business is to continue to engage the right users, grow its following and garner goal-orientated results.
Luckily, there are swathes of Twitter tools available to help you accomplish just that…but where to start and which to choose? Many tools have appeared and disappeared over the last couple of years. One word of caution when using any 3rd party applications; do keep abreast of policy changes on social media platforms. Some tools do have issues, if they have break Twitter’s Ts&Cs, they will stop working altogether.
Before you get lost in the mire of endless options, consider first which areas of your strategy need the most support. Choose a tool that fits the need, experiment with it, learn its nuances and test the outcomes before introducing additional tools. Not only will this result in a fair test of the tool in question, but it will also prevent the inevitable melt-down that results from trying to do too much learning at once!
I have experimented with a number of tools for both my own social media efforts, and those of my clients. Here’s my pick of some of the Twitter tools I use for success:
Primary feature: Time-of-day tweet optimisation
You have spent a great deal of effort in creating the perfect tweets for your audience, but are they being buried in the rabble? Tweeting often is important, more than once per day if you can, in order for you your voice to be heard. Regular tweeting alone is not always enough though, at peak user times, everyone (including your direct competitors) has the same idea. Tweriod helps you identify the optimal time to tweet in order to get the biggest reach. A simple and easy to use tool, that will help you stay one step ahead of your competitors and see your messages cast the largest possible net.
Primary feature: Discovering relevant, shareable content
Recently launched Fan Page Robot searches and suggests trending content for your audience, enabling you to quickly and effectively retweet interesting content. This tool is no one-trick pony though. In addition to soothing your content curation woes, it will help you identify the best hashtags for your posts, the best times to tweet and even includes a post-scheduling dashboard.
Primary feature: Finding new customers
Twitter is great for keeping in touch with existing customers, building community and even as an extension of you customer support efforts. Responding to your followers keeps them engaged and makes them feel valued. But what about finding new business? TwitHawk enables you to find new customers who might need your products and services, by searching for queries that a potential customer might have posted. For example, if you sell designer menswear, you might search for ‘Where can I buy designer shirts?’. TwitHawk will then do the legwork of filtering through and listing tweets with relevant keywords. You can even target the search geographically.
Of course, there are many other tools available, and you may already have your own favourites, but if you need a helping hand, give these a whirl. They can save you a great deal of time, frustration and even money.
Photo credit: Pete Simon on Flicker
This is the first in a series of articles I am putting together based on my mission Save Time, Save Money and Accomplish More.
There’s no denying that our modern lives are busy. We’ve become slaves to email; dictated to by our diaries; and smartphones have become ubiquitous in our day-to-day lifestyles.
That said, why is it that most of us don’t give time management the credit it’s due? After all, it’s a hugely important part of our lives and can be especially beneficial when it comes to running a successful business or being an effective employee.
So that’s why I’ve put together this short survival guide on saving time, which will help you work smarter, not harder.
What are you really good at? If you’ve never asked yourself that question then now’s the time. This is because by focussing on what we’re good at inevitably leads to more productive days. Don’t spend hours pondering over a task that really isn’t your forte – delegate it to someone else. You don’t have to delegate everything, but even if you can offload a few tasks it will free up your day no end. So start by making a list of your strengths now and play to them wherever possible.
2. Plan every day
Okay, so we can’t always make a plan and stick to it, but not having one in the first place is even worse. That’s why you should spend around 10 minutes every morning (or even the night before) planning your day. It doesn’t need to be highly detailed and it can be subject to change – although, if possible, try not to change it too much. Make a simple list of all the jobs you need to complete and then assign a number next to each one so that you have a dedicated order.
3. Start with the most important task
Now, important and urgent are not necessarily the same thing. So it’s up to you to decide which of your tasks are truly important and, therefore, going to bring the greatest benefits to you and your business. Once you have decided, this is the task you should tackle first. It may even take you the whole day or longer, but it will inevitably be worth it.
4. Focus on one task at a time
This leads on from the previous point and is equally as crucial. Focussing on one task at a time will allow you to complete it to the best of your ability. Jumping back and forth between tasks will not. In fact, each time you switch to another task your brain loses efficiency. By focusing on one task you will gain much more time in the long run.
5. Limit your workday
You might be thinking, how on earth can reducing my workday lead to more time? It’s a perfectly fair question and one that I’ll answer right now. Basically, we are all naturally more productive when we know that something has to be done by a certain time. For example, the day before you’re due to go on holiday is usually one of the most productive days of your year. You know that you have to leave the office by a certain time and that all your outstanding jobs have to be completed before you go. This makes you push yourself to finish them so that you can go away with a totally clean conscience in terms of work. This technique can be employed every single day. Simply give yourself a time by which you have to leave the office and watch how subconsciously productive it makes you.
So that’s my short virtual assistant’s survival guide to saving time. Why not try each of my suggestions and see for yourself the benefits they can afford. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!
Your turn: Do you have any saving time tips? Let me know in the comments below.