Managing time effectively is about more than upping your productivity. It helps you think creatively, enjoy your work, and get a work/life balance that benefits you and your business. Time management is key to feeling good about what you do, but to do that, you need systems. Here are some examples of systems that can help you organise your time so that you become more organised and efficient.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of time management systems, it’s a good idea to think about who you are. Your personality plays a key role in how you tackle tasks, your style of operating, and how you interact with others. When coming up with systems to help you manage time, something that works with your personality is going to be better than something that doesn’t fit well.
Tried and Tested Time Management Systems
This is a great idea for all those procrastinators out there (you know who you are!). The Pomodoro Technique is where you use a timer set for a specific amount of time. During that time you commit to working on a task without distractions. When the timer stops, you stop. Traditionally the timer is set for 25 minutes, followed by a short break, but you can set it higher or lower to suit your individual preference.
What is good about this is that you can fool your brain into working on those less appealing tasks. After all, we can all stand 15 minutes of concentrated effort, even if we don’t feel like it. But, what happens during that time is that we often find our flow. It becomes easier to finish the task. And if you don’t, then at least you have made progress, which is better than still being stuck procrastinating! All you need for this is a timer and willingness to commit.
Forget to-do lists, time blocking is a far more effective method of organising your time and tasks. Time blocking gives you a visual representation of how your day, week or month is planned out. There are apps out there you can use, good old Google Calendar or even a spreadsheet works as a daily planner.
Using colours for time blocks helps you differentiate between activities. For example, you could use different colours for different clients, or one colour for admin type tasks and another for scheduled meetings. You don’t have to stop with work either, you could schedule time blocks to include time spent with family, exercise and relaxation.
Time blocking helps you get a balance between work and life, because you can see exactly where your time is being spent. If your planner shows too much of one colour, then maybe it’s time to delegate or make some changes.
The 1-3-5 System
Rather than a traditional to-do list (that often simply makes us feel overwhelmed), the 1-3-5 system is where you write down a series of tasks you want to complete that day.
- 1 high priority task/ large task
- 3 medium tasks
- 5 small tasks
This makes your priorities easier to manage, and helps you to make progress without feeling overwhelmed. It is amazing what you can achieve, and how much better your time is spent when you have a system, as you stop wasting energy trying to do it all at once.
Most of us will be familiar with time tracking apps. Many entrepreneurs and freelancers use them to track billable hours. But, it is also very useful as a tool to show you what you spend most time doing. Time tracking apps that I use are Rescue Time, and Timing App. These can be set to run in the background so you can review how you spend your time when it suits you.
Having this insight means you can devise a new schedule where you spend appropriate amounts of time on tasks, and organise your time more effectively. It helps you to see where to streamline your processes, such as through using automation. Or what tasks you could outsource to a VA or OBM.
My Business Task Audit is another way to gain that insight into time spent on tasks. Its free, and could give you that organisational push you need to take control of your time, rather than it controlling you.
When we have poor time management, we have more stress and are less productive. Having some simple systems in place can transform how you work, increase your energy levels and make you feel more positive. It is amazing how a simple shift in how we spend our time can transform how effective we are at work, as well as how we feel.
If you are looking for some help in developing systems and processes that can make more of your time, feel free to get in touch!
Sometimes the words ‘Virtual Assistant’ (VA) and ‘Online Business Manager’ (OBM) are used interchangeably. While both are support roles for a business, there are some key differences between the two. If you’ve been considering hiring a VA or OBM, knowing the difference will help you decide what level of service you need for your business.
What is the role of a VA?
When your business grows and tasks become too much to handle with the capacity and resources you have, outsourcing to a VA is a great option. Whether it is help with general admin, or specialist tasks such as social media management, a VA has the expertise to take on many common business processes on your behalf. A VA takes direction from you, so when you want help, you send your VA tasks for completion.
A VA often works for a number of clients, each for an agreed amount of hours per week.
What does an OBM do?
An online business manager is less task oriented than a VA, rather they focus their expertise on helping you manage your business to drive growth and increase revenue. Partnering with an OBM means you allow them to understand your business inside out, and use their knowledge to work independently and manage things as they see fit. The advantage with this is that you do not have to micro-manage, an OBM can solve problems and keep your business running smoothly without your input.
Another advantage of working with an OBM is that you can take time off work or put your effort into new projects without worrying about the details of your existing business. Your OBM handles it all!
Adding to the confusion between the two roles, there may be some VA’s that also offer OBM services, but an OBM typically dedicates more time to their clients and has a deeper level of business management knowledge. An OBM tends to have fewer clients, and charges a higher rate due to their higher level of business acumen and expertise.
Do you need an OBM or a VA?
The level of help you need, how much control you are willing to hand over, as well as your budget, will be factors in deciding whether to hire a VA or an OBM for your business.
If you are looking for someone to oversee the complete management of a project, want to hand over the running of some parts of your business, or need help with planning and strategy to take your business forward, an OBM is the right choice for you.
If you need more staffing power to speed up day to day tasks, you like to keep a close eye on your operations, or would prefer to hand over the less exciting jobs to free up your time, a VA is there to help.
It is easy to see why the two roles are often confused with one another, as there is some overlap with the types of activities that a VA does, and an OBM will oversee. But when you really understand the difference, the two roles are distinct.
There are many great reasons to hire an OBM, especially for small business owners and entrepreneurs who typically lack a balance in their professional and personal life. There may also be a point where you feel as if you are spending too much time managing your business, and not doing the creative thinking that made you start your business in the first place. Whatever the reason for hiring an OBM, it can make a huge difference to your time, stress levels and overall well-being, as well as enabling new business growth and direction.
If you are looking for an OBM to help take your business forward, feel free to get in touch.
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.
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:
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.
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!
When I first started out as a virtual assistant in 2011, social media was my first port of call for marketing. Six years on and I still view social media as one of the most valuable marketing channels out there.
But it’s not for everyone.
First, let’s not forget why social media has become so phenomenally popular today. Its roots lay in providing a platform for people to effortlessly interact and be “social”.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other social networks out there enable people to share photos, memories and life updates with the push of a button.
Now you might be wondering, what’s that got to do with marketing myself as a freelancer or solopreneur?
A lot actually, as it goes.
That’s because social media is a fickle beast when it comes to marketing. It was never designed to be full of brands bustling for attention and plying their wares in people’s news feeds.
That’s why you need to be smart and patient when looking to leverage social media for marketing purposes.
My top advice would be to get yourself on social media. In particular, the channels you think your target audience is on. Then, you need to spend time interacting with them, getting to know them and providing immense value in everything you share with them.
Share personal successes, images and videos. Show them who you are and what you are all about – do not try and sell to them directly! Then, and only then, will you have gained their trust and attention.
When people like you and see that you know what you’re doing, they will come to you! 😀
This blog post is part of the Freelancermap.com Book Carnival.