7 Steps to Better Email

Email Email Tips Help with Email

For many of us, the Email is our “Go To” method of business communication.  It is easy, quick and you don’t have to worry about disturbing the recipient with an ill-timed phone call.  The recipient can read it when they are ready.

But, are you using Email to best effect? Here are a few quick tips to help you craft a better Email, and make the most of this useful tool.

A clear layout

A clear layout with paragraphs and bullet points as needed will make your Email easier to read.  Easier to read means it is more likely to get read thoroughly.  Reading it thoroughly means the required actions are more likely to be carried out.

question. why, what, where, when, how

Who needs a copy?

Don’t copy in everyone you can think of, just in case they are interested. They probably aren’t.  People get lots of Emails and if you get a reputation for sending an Email every time your cat sneezes, your Emails will be the ones that people don’t open.  A quick rule of thumb is only to send to people on a “Need to Know” basis.

 Why are you Emailing me?

When people open an Email they need to know, very quickly, why you sent it to them, what action they need to take, and how soon that action should be completed.  A good Email will make all of this as clear as possible as early as possible.  It is best practice to put action addressees in the main Email address box and information addressees in the Carbon Copy (CC) box if at all possible.

Reply all.

For the love of all that is furry and cute, please don’t do this unless you absolutely have to. It might seem like a quick way to tell everyone you agree with them, but it becomes a tangled mass of replies.  At some point, someone will think they are replying to a single person in confidence, say something inappropriate or ill-advised, and find they’ve just told everyone about that.  Reply All is notorious for the many ways in which it can backfire on you.  It has brought down entire Email systems, caused friendships to end and been cited in Tribunal hearings as evidence.  Always check that you are replying only to the person you think you are replying to.

If you are Blind Carbon Copied, and you reply all, you will expose your presence as an addressee.  Depending on the circumstances, this could be embarrassing or escalate a situation.

In some Email systems, you can disable Reply All.  For the sake of harmony in the workplace, this can be a good plan if it is feasible.

books, library, learning, training, readingBigger than Ben Hur.

If there is a long Email chain, look to see if your question has already been answered.  Asking it again doesn’t look very professional and adds to the volume of messages without adding value.

War and Peace 

Emails should be concise and to the point.  Use an appropriate level of detail and consider whether all the information is essential.  Weeding out unnecessary information results in a better Email.

 Same But Different

Do you get lots of very similar Email enquiries into your business?   Perhaps you get lots of people asking if you are open on Saturdays, requesting a price list, or needing to confirm bookings.  Rather than spending lots of time answering these similar Emails individually, why not create some template Emails.  In most cases, you will be able to send the Email just as it is written, and if it doesn’t quite fit, you can tweak it to make it more appropriate.  It can be a great way to save a bit of time without compromising on customer service.  Get in touch with me here if you would like to find out more about how I can help you with template emails and Inbox management services.

GDPR: The Resources You Need Right Now

GDPR General-Data-Protection-Regulations; Resources

I’ve been monitoring the GDPR situation closely and I’ve got some updates for you, based on my most recent research. 

As always, this is based on what seem to me to be the most reliable sources of information available.  I am not a GDPR expert, just a very interested business owner who wants to ensure compliance for herself and her clients.

The most useful source of information I have found recently is the self-assessment checklists which the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) have put up on their website. They are very clear and relatively concise considering the complexity of the subject matter.  I think they’ve done a great job of making it as clear as it can be and I’ve used these myself to ensure I am fully compliant before 25th May 2018.

checklistsThere are two checklists, one for Data Controllers, the other for Data Processors.  We are all familiar with these terms from the Data Protection Act legislation.

I’ve checked the two lists against each other.  If you are a Data Controller, as most small business owners will be, then completion of all the requirements of the Data Controller checklist will ensure that you will also be able to complete the Data Processor assessment in full without carrying out further work.  Great if you are like me and fall into both categories.

You can click for further information on every step of the process to identify the tasks you need to complete for your business to ensure compliance.

https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/resources-and-support/data-protection-self-assessment/data-controllers/

https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/resources-and-support/data-protection-self-assessment/data-processors/

These checklists are quite long but you do need to ensure you meet all the criteria.   I’ve gone through the checklists and it seems that there are some key documents that you are going to need to have in place for your business in order to ensure compliance.

What you will Need

documents, GDPR documentsPrivacy Notices – for your website and for your other records

Data Protection Policy

Information Security Policy

Information Asset Register / Information Audit Document

Records showing how consent was gained, and how you will review it.   (If you are relying on consent as your basis for processing)

If you have a Business Risk Management Plan then this should be updated to show the Information Security risks under GDPR if it does not already adequately cover these.

For some businesses, you will also need to create Data Protection Impact Assessments.

For businesses handling children’s data, the rules are much more stringent.  You will need to meet additional requirements, which are documented in the checklists, in order to ensure compliance.

Registration

Registration, It looks as though everyone will need to register with the ICO if you have not done so already and the fee structure for doing so will alter from the date the GDPR comes into force.  Currently, I pay £35, as do most smaller businesses.  From May 2018 it appears that there will be a three-tier system, based on the quantity of data processed and headcount within the business. Tier 1 for the smallest businesses processing up to 10,000 data items will be up to £55.  For the largest organisations, the fee could be up to £1000.

It seems that if your ICO registration is due before 25 May 2018, you will pay the original fee for 2018/19 before moving to the new fee structure on renewal in 2019.  For those of us whose registration date is after 25th May, the new fees will apply.  It’s still not a huge cost for most small businesses when you think that it goes to fund data protection for everyone.

Additional Resources

Additional Resources, GDPR additional resourcesIf you would like to get a bit more detail about how the legislation might affect specific areas of your business or sector, this website has some very helpful information on it.  https://www.dpnetwork.org.uk  This site looks at the practical implementation in more detail and discusses areas where clarification is still needed on parts of the regulations.

As with any new legislation, there will be a period during which the legislation is examined and decisions are being taken about how the legislation will apply and work in practice.  However, this site and the ICO site are both great resources to keep an eye on to ensure you remain up to date with the latest information.

The DP Network site is run by Rosemary Smith whose Data Protection credentials are second to none.  Rosemary has actually been interviewed twice on the Next 100 Days Podcast with respect to the GDPR legislation.  For those readers who like to consume your content on the move, you may find the podcasts useful.  Rosemary appears in episode 89 where she provides an update on her comments provided the previous year in episode 29.  The podcast is available from The Next 100 Days.org.

There are also a number of videos available on YouTube which address the specific concerns of various sectors and might prove useful for you as well.  I have recorded some very general ones myself, and these are available on the YouTube channel here.

There is also a blog post here, which discusses Email Marketing, Subject Access Requests and accountability principles.

Finally, there are a number of workshops being run up and down the country.  If you prefer to get your information in an environment where you can discuss the implications for your particular business with a real live expert, then you should be able to find these via Eventbrite, LinkedIn or your sector’s governing body website.

Simple Steps to Increase Productivity

increase productivity; simple steps to increase productivity

Filing. 

There, I’ve said it.  In this fourth part of the Getting Things Done series, I’ll be looking at filing.  If you have missed the other three parts of the series, you can read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

I love filing, something I have been told is more than a bit weird.  Apparently, No One likes filing.  That being the case, I’d rather like to meet this mysterious No One.  I think we’d get on fine.  But I digress.

The Getting Things Done method won’t work as effectively if you don’t have a decent filing system.  Before your eyes glaze over and you run away screaming in horror, can I just say that a filing system really is only a system that works for you, in which stuff that you need to refer to is kept.

Your filing system doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to make sense to you and hold the things you want to find quickly and easily.  Your system will reflect what you do, what you need to keep, and how you like to work.  And that’s fine.  It’s your system.  Design it to work for you.

Designing your file system can sometimes take a little time to get right, but is worth spending that time because a well-designed system that is kept up to date will allow you to lay hands on things when you need them.  The less time spent digging around in the files, the more time you have available for revenue-producing activity.

Key Considerations

key to success; key to admin success

Key things to consider when designing your filing system:

Ease of access.  You shouldn’t have to trek across the office to add something to a commonly used file.  Keep the reference files you use most often closest to you.

Label things in a way that makes sense to you, so you can locate information quickly.

If you are using hard copy files then keep a stock of new file covers close at hand so that if you need to create a new file for something you can do so quickly and easily.  When you finish with the file (or anything else) put it back where it belongs so that it’s always easy to find.  Put the correct documentation into the correct file.

Filing System

filing, file folders, filing processes, filing tips

Don’t make your filing system really complicated.  Follow a naming process, ideally a really simple one.  Always follow the same file naming protocol whether that is client surname, project name, or whatever works for you.  When you are busy you don’t want to be searching around wondering if you filed the Garside Project under G for Garside, P for Project, I for IT, or C because your client’s name is Charles.

File things away regularly.  Ideally, put things away when you’ve finished with them.  As a minimum, tidy stuff up and file things at the end of the day.

If the item you need is in your filing pile rather than the file it will get overlooked, or you will have to spend ten minutes taking the filing pile apart to look for it.

Of course, much of your information will be held in electronic form and the same ideas apply here as for physical paper in terms of labelling and organising things logically for fast retrieval.

Ideally, your electronic filing systems should follow the same labelling plan across all devices and mirror any paper files as well.  That way you can find things, quickly and easily, in every system you own.

Don’t forget your Email System

email, email organisation

Email In-Boxes need to be kept tidy.  It is so much easier to find things if you have a filing system within your Email system and you actually use it.  Again, the labels should echo the labels in the rest of your system so that you have a limited number of places to look for the item you need.

It is very tempting to keep lots of stuff “just in case I need it”.  Sometimes this is exactly the right approach.  Sometimes it is not.  One area where people seem to accumulate far more items than necessary is the Email System.  It can be helpful to look critically at what you are keeping hold of and be realistic about whether you really do need to keep the information.

Sometimes, you can get so overwhelmed with all the things you need to organise that it can be helpful for an outsider to come in and help you to sift through the information and support you in creating a filing and information management system that works well for you.  So, if you want to start the process of increasing your productivity using this method, but are struggling to set up your filing system, get to Inbox Zero, or find time to sort out all the information that needs to be captured and organised, then give me a call.  I’d be happy to support you.  You can contact me here.

Three Steps Will Increase Your Productivity

increase productivity, three steps to increase productivity

This is the third in the series of posts about the organisational methods outlined in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”.  This post examines the importance that review, update and reflection play in the system.  If you missed the previous two posts, you can read them here and here.

When I first started with the Getting Things Done system I had to really force myself to review my lists regularly and to stick to what was in my diary.  You do need to regularly review both in order to make the system work.  No matter how good your system is, if you don’t visit it and reflect on its contents, it won’t be functional.  No diary can ensure you are where you are supposed to be if you don’t actually look at it after all.

Review

review tasks, review lists, listing and reviewing tasksSome people like to review and update the lists daily, having a mini-brain dump/mind sweep session as their last task before finishing work.  Others do it once a week, often on a Friday night, or on a Sunday.

If you find you are adding the same thing to your To Do list each week, or regularly moving a task to a fresh list without dealing with it, then ask yourself why that is.

Is it outside your skill set?  Is it not as urgent as you first thought?  Is it too large a task? Does it need to be broken down a bit to make it manageable?  Do you hate doing the task?  Do you need to outsource it to ensure it gets done?  Do you really need to do it at all, or can it be removed from the list?

By keeping on top of the list, adding to it, reviewing it and reflecting on it, your mind is aware that you have the tasks under control and isn’t wasting energy racing around in circles trying to remind you about things and making you feel stressed.

Once a week, review your list of tasks completed and still to do, and the brain dump list, and make your plan for the week.  Sunday evening is a great time to do this part.  You will hopefully be fresh, rested, have a clear head and be starting to consider the week ahead.  Preparing on Sunday allows you to start on Monday with purpose and know what your goals for the day and week will be.

Keeping the systems up to date and reviewing the tasks regularly takes practice but it can produce some great rewards.

“Do it, Defer it, Delegate it”

delegate, delegate tasks, delegate workDavid Allen suggests using the “Do it, Defer It, Delegate it” approach.

If a task will take less than two minutes to complete you should just do it right away rather than adding it to a list.

If it will take more than two minutes then you should defer it, that is, document it on a list, and, if appropriate, add it to the diary or planner, so that it can be done at the most suitable time.

Finally, for those tasks which are very time-consuming, are not your area of expertise, or you absolutely hate doing, you should delegate the task to someone who has the time and expertise to do it well on your behalf.  If you hate the task then you will either put it off, do it badly, or it will take you much longer than it should.  All of which will have a negative effect on your productivity and impact on your work-life balance.

If the thought of cross-checking and updating that spreadsheet sends you to sleep.  If your paperwork backlog makes you want to poke out your own eyes with frustration.  If you’d rather handle a live snake than fill in those forms, then the answer is simple.  Delegate those tasks.  If you have a task or two that you aren’t that keen on doing, why not get in touch with me here.

Plan to Succeed: Using Lists to Save Time

Brain Dump Lists; Save Time; Succeed

Our lives are so busy now.  Just keeping up with technological change, new ideas, apps and methods can be a full-time job.  We have so many things to juggle on a daily basis and so many calls on our time.  It can be difficult to track it all. Many of us turn to lists to help us to manage everything, but a Brain Dump type list alone is not enough.  You need a system in order to succeed.

A system is exactly what David Allen’s brilliant book, Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1) provides.  It’s a great resource for learning how to list, organise and get a grip on all the various tasks that you have to manage in your life.  This is part two of the series and focuses on the day to day use of the system to achieve better productivity. If you have missed the first part of the series, you can read that here.

For this part of the method, you will need a planner, diary, Filofax or similar.  Paper-based or electronic, it doesn’t matter.  It’s your system and should be designed to fit your needs.

One of the first things to do is to examine your brain dump list and put any time critical tasks into the diary or planner.  Appointments, deadlines, meetings, project goals, insurance due dates, social events and so forth.

Another category that you need to note in the diary is dates by which others must deliver their part of a shared project upon which your own tasks are dependent.  If you can’t start until they have finished, then you need to know when to check the delivery date with them or ask about any changed priorities that might impact on your diary planning.

David Allen suggests that you should use the diary only for the time-critical framework and not place your To Do lists into the diary.  I take this to mean that a time-critical task from my To Do list can go into the diary but the entire list should not.

The diary forms a framework that will be central to keeping you on track and feeling organised. By checking your diary regularly to identify upcoming events and deadlines, you can ensure that you allow enough time to prepare for them.  Working backwards you can place tasks on a list for each day that will move you nearer to the target in your diary.

Next look at the remaining items on your long brain dump list.  Add the most critical tasks to a To Do List for the week.  These will be things you need to do to meet the commitments you put in your diary as well as things which you have decided to complete that week.   The latter will be driven by the larger business goals you’ve set yourself.  If one of your goals is to re-write the copy on your website by 20th March you can break the goal into separate tasks, for example, tackling a page a week, and allocate the tasks to different weeks in your planner between now and the deadline.

By breaking large tasks down into smaller ones with measurable outcomes they feel more manageable. You can feel a sense of satisfaction that you have completed a step on the journey to completing the whole task.  If a task is too large and you don’t break it down then it will feel too difficult and you will put off doing it.

Having a long list of tasks with no real feeling of urgency (beyond that awful feeling of having too much to do and not knowing where to start) can lead to things being missed.   Creating a set of daily To Do Lists works much better as you have a much shorter list to get through, and this feels more manageable, and you are therefore much more likely to actually succeed in completing the items.

Choosing too many tasks for your weekly list leads to feelings of overwhelm which will negatively impact your productivity.  Having only one piece of paper for the list is one way to keep the list manageable.   Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day or week.  Three to four main tasks per day is a good number to choose.  You can always go back to your list for more if you finish quicker than expected.

Small related tasks can be chunked together.  Dealing with related tasks in one go can save time as your brain doesn’t need to switch tracks too sharply.  The brain isn’t great at switching rapidly between disparate tasks and takes a while to get back into the concentration zone.   If you plan your week so that similar tasks are done back to back, you will often get more done.  You could write more than one blog post in a particular session for example.

If, whilst doing a task, you think of something else you need to do, just make a note, and then return to your original task.   This will be less disruptive to your concentration than thinking you will remember the new task and write it down later.   At the end of the day or week, you can then add the various notes to your main brain dump list.

By concentrating on only a short list of things and having all the time critical elements noted in a diary, you have a plan for the week which allows you to calmly progress through your week, regularly referring to your list and planner to ensure that you are always engaged in the task that you should be doing and moving to the next task in a timely manner.

If you find that you still have too many tasks that fall into the critical category and you are not able to fit them all into your day, one option is to delegate some of the tasks.  I will be examining delegation in more detail in a future post and it is often the answer for those time consuming but essential tasks such as data input, research, sourcing images for social media, proof checking and filing.  If your lists include time-consuming admin tasks that you just don’t have the time to do, then just get in touch.  I’d be happy to help you to get it all under control.

Lists: The Key to Productivity

Getting things Done; Lists: Productivity

Keeping track of everything you need or want to do in a reliable and effective system is utterly critical to successfully negotiating a world in which you are bombarded by information from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.  Getting Things Done, both quickly and effectively, has never been more important.

This is the argument which David Allen puts forward in his book Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1).   Getting Things Done is a whole system and I will only be covering some small areas of it.  However, in the book, David himself suggests that if you take only some of the ideas from the book and apply them, then you will improve your productivity.

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the method and if you find them useful then I really do recommend you purchase the book.  There is so much more to the book than the tips I will be sharing with you.

Like all methods, Getting Things Done does have a learning curve and this can make it feel a bit of a challenge to start out with.  Just like the latest productivity app, it does add some time to your day before it takes it away again, but when you have made it your own, it really does work.

The idea is to capture all of the things that you need to act upon or remember, all the things you want to do in future, and any half thought out ideas, in a trusted capture device.  The recommendation is to use a loose-leaf folder or notebook for the capture device.  You could use an electronic tool rather than paper and a pencil, but writing the lists longhand is the recommended method.   Alternatively, you can write each thing on a separate piece of paper.  This has the advantage of allowing you to deal with each item separately, shuffle the paper into themed piles and easily add items to themed lists.

This initial Brain Dump, which I won’t lie to you, does take time to do properly, captures every single thing that is swirling around in your head.  All you have to do is sit down with a notepad and a pen and write down anything that comes into your head, both professional and personal, that either needs doing, or you would like to do.  Even those big goals that you hope to achieve at some point, such as climbing Everest or buying a sports car.    Big ideas and small ones. Even really small things like get a lightbulb for the bathroom or brush the dog.  It doesn’t matter what it is, just dump it all out.  If you find it easier, you can put it onto separate sheets of paper headed things like work, family, goals, house, garden.  Whatever works for you.  It’s your list after all.

Once you have everything captured initially it needs to be organised into sections so that you can find things easily on your lists.  Loose leaf files work well for this reason.

I can hear people grumbling as they read.  “So, you want me to create an immense list of stuff to do?  A list that will mainly remind me of all the stuff I haven’t done?  Have you been sniffing the highlighters again and lost your mind entirely?”

But wait.  I promise it will all make sense in a moment.  Firstly, you won’t need to look at that immense list every day.  Secondly, there is a scientific reason why this process works.

A Russian psychologist, Zeigarnik, discovered that the brain can more easily recall incomplete tasks.  Knowing you will want to finish the task at some point, your brain works hard to keep that information available to you.  Once the task has been done it will breathe a sigh of relief and instantly forget that particular thing.  So, if you have lots of unfinished stuff swirling around your head, then your brain is always cursing and swearing at you, having to hold on to much more information than it was designed to hold.  It will drop some of it because there isn’t room in there for the sheer quantity of stuff that we are exposed to in the digital era.  It will also make you feel stressed, upset and on edge all the time as it constantly tries to remind you of all the things you have left undone.

Later research by Baumeister and Masicampo showed that tasks we have not completed will actively distract us from other activities.  This is why we become less productive if we have a lot of things that we are trying to juggle.  However, they also showed that distraction evaporates once we have noted down a plan for completing the distracting task at a later date.

In short, dumping stuff out of your head brings calm.  Calm allows focus.  And focus enables productivity.

The lists work because they become an external hard drive for your brain. Once your brain realises that it is all written down it can let go of all that stuff that is swirling around in your head making you feel stressed.

For those of you who are already terrified about just how long your list will be, I’ll cover the organisation step in the next post because that part is critical.

Productivity Starts with You

Productivity; Productive; Tips for productivity

Yes. You.  There are all sorts of productivity tools and methods out there but they share a key feature at their heart.  You.  When it comes down to it, the only way you can become more productive is by changing the way you think about and act toward, the things you want to achieve.  So, at the start of a new year, here are ten tips that should help to start you on your way to greater productivity.  

Review your activity regularly.

Can you streamline the task you are doing?  Can you do the task differently, or put the steps in a different order so that you can be more efficient with your time?   Can you automate any steps?   Can any of the routine tasks, or parts of tasks, be outsourced to save you time?

By regularly evaluating what you are doing, and how you are doing it, and making small changes, you can improve productivity a little bit at a time.

Baby steps are better than no steps at all

A little bit at a time is a great way to tackle anything.  Baby steps can build into quite a journey if you just keep going.  This is particularly valuable if the task is large or one that you are not looking forward to.  Breaking a larger task down into smaller chunks and taking steps to complete each small chunk, one by one, gives a sense of achievement.  Also, if you have lots of small things on your list and you get through several of them, you do feel productive.  Feeling productive will encourage you to be productive.

Just get started on something.  If you are really stuck, just start on the thing that you know you can do well that day.  Even if that thing is tidying up the office.    Oddly, I have been known to have my best ideas when I’ve stopped trying to force them and just had a tidy up.  Some new idea will be triggered, you will get your motivation back, and you will be off again.

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” – Henry Ford

Motivation and having a positive mindset are key parts of productivity.  Believing that what you are about to tackle is not only possible but that you will smash it, is critical.  It is hugely helpful to surround yourself with positive people who motivate, challenge and support you.  When you are struggling (and no one can be super positive all the time) having people there who are supportive and positive can be hugely beneficial in getting you back on track and allowing you to believe that you can do the task you have set out to achieve.

If you find yourself feeling negative toward your task then it’s time to put that task away and work on something that you do feel positive about.  Go back to the difficult task on another day when you are feeling more positive about the work and you will probably find that it moves forward more quickly.

Say No more often.

That might seem odd, but it works.  There are only so many hours in the day and you can’t do everything.  If the task must be done but you don’t have time, then delegate it.  If the task is not important enough to actually delegate, consider whether you should just say No.   If you concentrate only on the tasks that will move you toward your goal, and say no to the things that will not contribute to the goal or will move you further from it, you can become more productive.

Consider tasks in the light of your goals each time and take on those that you really feel have value.  Reject or delegate tasks that will affect your work life balance because getting that right is also a key part of productivity.

Get some sleep, have some downtime

You can’t be productive if you are exhausted, stressed by all the calls on your time, starting to hate your job or business because you are spending too much time in it, and have lost sight of why you are doing what you do.  Motivation will hit rock bottom if you are tired and if you do nothing all day and all night other than work.

You will be more productive if you switch off for a while each day.  Whether you exercise, veg out in front of the television, pursue a hobby, read or meditate, whatever works for you.  But do something different.  You will get a perspective on your tasks and be more productive as a result.

Deadlines

If you don’t have an externally provided deadline, then create one.  Whether you are the sort of person who leaves the work to just before the deadline, or one who takes pride in submitting work well in advance of the deadline, it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is to set deadlines so that you have to complete work by a particular time or date.  If you don’t, the work just expands to fill the available time and you end up doing busy work that doesn’t contribute to the outcome.

Organise your day into chunks, fit tasks into time slots, and stick to those.  It really does help to make you more productive.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Don’t multi-task.  Please.  Just don’t.  Most people don’t benefit from it and there is scientific evidence to suggest that it actually reduces productivity.  It is much more productive to really focus on one thing at a time.

One way to do this is the Pomodoro Technique, which has you completely focus on a task for a set time, usually 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break.  Do four of these task focus sessions, with the 5 minute break between, and then have a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.  Rinse and repeat.

Keep your To Do List short

There are few things more stressful than a massive To Do list.  You will spend much of the day panicking about how much you still have left to do on the list.  This panic will affect your productivity because in the back of your mind you are always thinking of the next task and this affects your focus.

It is better to be realistic, have only three or four main tasks on your list and get those done.  You can also add a few small tasks that need very little focus and can slot those in between the larger tasks.  This can be helpful in giving your mind a bit of a rest before you tackle the next larger task.   Things like answering Emails, making routine calls and setting up appointments would all count as smaller tasks.

By keeping your list realistic you can focus fully on each task on your list and you will complete them successfully because of this.

Notice what wastes your time

And take steps to corral those things into a set timescale so that they cannot take over your day.  For me, it is Social Media.  I have three set times each day when I look at it.  I’ve banned myself from looking at it at any other time because otherwise I’d be reading interesting articles and adding new and exciting ideas to my “Investigate This Further” list for rather longer than planned.

Disorganisation and mess are the enemies of productivity

I’m not advocating a sterile, clear desk that contains only a beautiful mug, a flower and one, beautifully clean, laptop.  I am not sure I’ve ever owned a desk that had a flower on it, and most of my mugs are well loved and not a candidate for one of those fancy flat lay photos that seem to suggest we all work on clear desks, in really large, light rooms, and make fancy patterns on our coffee every time we go to the kitchen for a brew.

If you saw my desk you would know it was a place of work.  However, I know where everything is.   The things I need to lay my hands on quickly are right where I need them.  My filing system yields up its information quickly and effectively.  I seldom need to spend much time looking for things.

You can be so much more productive in an organised environment.  If you are surrounded by an environment which you feel is not organised then you will feel less organised.  You will be distracted by the need to put something away, move something out of the way, or search for something that you were sure you had last week.

It can be useful to set aside time to tidy the desk or workspace on a Friday before you leave work.  When you get to your desk on Monday you have a tidy and organised environment which will set the tone for a productive and effective week.

Next Steps

Task delegation was mentioned earlier in the article and it really can make a difference to productivity as it is the best way to free up more time for you, more time for you to concentrate on your business and more time to achieve your goals.  If you are struggling with your productivity and your admin is taking over your life, then let’s have a chat.

I can take your admin tasks and make them run smoothly, so you don’t feel you want to run away from them.  Leaving you free to be really productive in the areas that will most benefit your business.  Still not sure?  Why not see the difference my support has made to other businesses here.

Choosing a Voice Recorder for your Business

Voice Recorder; transcription;

Some of you will recall analogue Dictaphones.  The tapes would jam, snarl up and stretch from repeated use.  The sound quality was variable.  The recording time was limited and it was all too easy to accidentally wipe a tape by pressing the wrong button.  But times change.  The new breed of digital voice recorders are a huge improvement on the old analogue systems.  A modern voice recorder is an incredibly useful tool in the modern office with a wide range of practical applications across several sectors.

Can’t I just use my Smart Phone?

Most smartphones have a voice recorder on them.  These are perfect for practicing presentations, creating reminder type messages that you can listen back to, and also great for recording 2am thoughts that you can later note down and expand upon.  We often have our best ideas when we are out and about, just about to fall asleep, or following a really great discussion (whether at networking or in the local pub).  As most of us have our mobile phones with us all the time, they are great for this kind of off-the-cuff verbal note-taking.   Voice recording apps aren’t really designed for heavy-duty use but if you aren’t going to use the voice recorder for lengthy tasks and won’t need to transcribe your information very often then your smartphone may well be adequate for your needs.  Some smartphone apps do allow you to send the file to your transcriptionist via Email.  If this is something you intend to do, even if only occasionally, then it is worth checking that your chosen app will allow you to do this quickly and easily.  You should also check that your chosen transcriptionist can transcribe the file type on their system.  I use a system that will work with many, though not all, file types.  A good choice is an app which saves to MP3, MP4, or WAV format.  These work well with most transcription systems.

Dedicated Recorders and how to choose one.

If you want to use your voice recorder more effectively in your business, and really harness the advantages which they can bring, then a dedicated machine is best.  These machines have better sound quality, making the recordings clearer and allowing your Virtual Assistant to transcribe the information much more accurately.  Higher quality machines can also minimise background noise.  This is particularly important if you intend to use it for focus groups or interviews.

Consider the battery life if you are planning to use the machine a lot.  Some machines have a battery life of 48 hours which should be more than sufficient.  However, it is worth choosing a machine that takes standard batteries as it will be easy to carry a spare with you.  It will also be straightforward to purchase a replacement battery if you do forget the spare.

It is also important to consider the file format.  As with the voice recorders mentioned earlier, MP3, MP4 and WAV are popular formats which all transcriptionists should be able to work with.

The machine needs to sit nicely in your hand, not being too heavy, bulky or unwieldy.  It should have one press record and be easy to pause, replay and stop.  Some machines are voice activated which is a nice feature if you use it for interviews or meetings.  You can also get machines that will playback at variable speed, though if you are planning to send out your dictation, your Virtual Assistant’s system will allow for this so it is not necessary for you to choose that option unless you want it for your own playback purposes.

Some of the more expensive devices produce incredibly clear sound and have directional microphones which will record simulated 3D sound.  However, unless you are using your system for a very specialised activity which really requires that level of clarity, a mid-range machine should be absolutely fine.  It is worth taking into account the amount of storage which the advanced directional systems use.  This will reduce recording time.  You need to balance the need for accuracy against the available recording time and purchase your machine accordingly.

Recording time is related to memory capacity on a digital system.  The more memory the machine has, the longer it will be able to record for.   If you think you may need more memory at a later stage, then it would be worth looking at devices which have Micro SD slots so that you can add cards to extend the memory at a later stage.

When you are ready for the files to be transcribed, they can be sent via Email to your Virtual Assistant.  Alternatively, you can upload them to a shared cloud storage area and let your Virtual Assistant access the files from there.  I am happy to receive files via either method.   You can see more details about my transcription services here and can get in touch with me here to discuss your transcription task and book it into my diary for accurate completion.

8 Ways to Harness the Power of a Voice Recorder

Voice Recorders are useful for so much more than the traditional task of dictating letters, memos and reports. 

Here are eight ways to harness the power of the voice recorder in your business.  Doing so can save you time, and as we all know, time is money.

 Content Creation

If you have lots of ideas for content but all your ideas run away screaming at the sight of a blank screen or blank sheet of paper, then recording your content on a voice recorder can be a great way to get over that block.  Send the resulting recording to your Virtual Assistant.  They can turn it into a document that you can upload to your site with pride.  They will ensure the grammar and spelling are correct, source appropriate photos and create graphics to use with the post so that it looks polished and effective when you upload it to your site.

Send your VA the audio file from a video.  Great if you need a written version of your video for a handout. Very useful if you want to sub-title your video.  Brilliant for creating a blog post from your video content.  Re-using content in new ways is a wonderful way to increase reach by allowing your audience to consume content in the way they prefer.

Process Planning

Record all your ideas for innovations within your business and send the recording out to be transcribed.  Workflows, process documents, induction manuals and many other documents can be planned easily in this way.  Once you have recorded it all, your Virtual Assistant can transcribe it and, if necessary, organise the information into a logical sequence. The result is a bespoke document that fully reflects your business.

Business planning

If you suffer from Blank Page syndrome and just can’t think when faced with a computer screen, why not create your business plan using a voice recorder and have your transcriptionist organise your thoughts into a plan that will help you to keep your business on track.

GDPR

This will bring changes to your business and you will need a written document which outlines how you will handle things like access requests, requests to be forgotten and of course, the all important plan for how you will store, manage and protect the data which you hold.  Tell your voice recorder all about your plans, the methods you will employ, and the safeguards you will put in place… your transcriptionist can turn it into documentation.

Focus groups.

Never miss anything in your group again.  Record it all and have someone transcribe it.  Don’t forget to ask people to talk one at a time though. You may miss valuable content if you let people talk over each other.   I do have experience in transcribing focus groups and if this is something you would be interested in, then please contact me.

HR consultants.

Within HR, the advent of the smartphone voice recorder has transformed meetings.  So many attendees surreptitiously record potentially difficult meetings on their smartphones that some HR consultants choose to openly record these types of meetings on dedicated voice recorders in addition to having notes taken longhand.  This two-pronged approach can help to ensure people feel they have received a fair hearing.   There is little room to dispute what has been said and the participants can agree on whether the minutes or the verbatim transcribed recording should be used.

Using a dedicated voice recorder rather than a smartphone is recommended in this case because the recording is higher quality, will catch more of the discussion accurately and will be easy to download and send to your transcriptionist.  An excellent quality recording will also ensure greater accuracy in the transcription as everyone will be heard clearly.    I provide both minute taking and transcription services, and with a background in HR, have the knowledge and experience to ensure the meeting is recorded effectively and accurately.  Click here to learn more about my services.

Reminders.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with things to do, one option is to use your voice recorder to just list all the stuff you need to do.  You can just listen to it when you are planning your day.  A better idea is to send it to your VA for transcription.  Not only will they transcribe the information, but they may well be able to help you with some of the items on the list.  This will create more time for you to tackle the things on the list that only you can do.  Your To Do list will shorten instantly when your VA takes some of the routine tasks and admin items off your shoulders.

Authors and Researchers.

Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, a voice recorder can be your friend.  You can record ideas, chapters or even entire books if you choose, and send it all out to be transcribed.

If you are researching a subject it can be helpful to voice record ideas (quietly if you are in the library) from any sources you have consulted.  It’s also a very convenient way to keep track of your bibliography to ensure you don’t forget anything.  Just record each source on a single, dedicated audio file and send it out to your VA or transcription expert when you are ready.  They will transcribe it into your chosen layout as well, saving you endless hours messing about with the tab key and swearing a lot.

If your research involves interviewing people, you can use the voice recorder rather than taking notes, allowing you to fully concentrate on the person whom you are interviewing.  Your VA can then transcribe it all for you to review at your leisure.

If you are keen to try out the wonders of the voice recorder, keep your eye out for my next blog post, which will help you to choose a suitable recorder for your needs.

Eight Key Time Management Tips

time management tips; eight key tips for time management

Many business owners will have spent the latter part of 2017 pondering on the changes and improvements they would like to make in their businesses during 2018. 

The ending of one year and the start of another makes us consider new beginnings.  We create new plans, make new year resolutions and set out with good intentions to do things like go to the gym every week, eat more vegetables, meditate daily, stop biting our nails, and the biggie, improve our time management.  Achieving more in less time is the goal.  These eight great time management tips will help you achieve that goal.

Plan

A plan goes a long way toward the achievement of more in less time.  Yes, it takes time to plan things.  But it takes up less time than the alternative; flapping about like a wet hen, being reactive rather than proactive and not being quite sure whether the task you are engaged in will actually move you toward your overall goal.

Set time limits on tasks

It is very helpful to set a time limit on tasks and to stick to them.  If you start noting time limits next to the tasks that are on your To Do list, you can easily see whether you’ve allowed enough time to complete everything.  If you can’t complete all the tasks then move the least important tasks to another day.  Aim for a realistic number of tasks, and realistic timings, on your list.  You will find you feel more in control of your time management if you are completing tasks regularly.

Prioritise your tasks

The golden rule of prioritising tasks is to ask yourself “Is this task the very best use of my time right now? “

Urgent and important tasks should be done first.

Less urgent but important tasks get done next.

Less important tasks which are urgent come third.

Non-urgent and less important tasks get done last or noted and moved to another day.

Set Deadlines

I don’t just mean external deadlines either.  It is useful to set yourself deadlines for tasks because if you don’t then there is no feeling of urgency, and the task just gets moved down the list and never gets tackled.  This is another reason why setting time limits on tasks is a good idea.

Goals and Outcomes

All tasks should contribute to a larger goal or outcome, moving you nearer to achieving it.  If the task does not do this, or you are unsure which goal the task applies to, then it is worth examining whether or not the task really does need to be done at the current time. If you feel it is a goal for the future then note it down in a central location so that you can easily find it.  I will be talking more about this in future blog posts.

Review

Regularly review your plan, to do list and progress.  Your plan is a road map to your destination.  It is tempting to look at your plan and see the things you have not yet done.  However, it is important to take the time to look at the things that you DID achieve and celebrate that progress.   I learned this one the hard way I must admit, and it is only recently that I have started to look back at my list for the week and really see the things I’ve done rather than the things that have not been done.  Celebrating the successes makes you realise that you have achieved more than you thought.

Don’t book tasks back to back

Remember to leave time between tasks to have a break.  A break can make you more productive.  Those few minutes between tasks are really valuable and a key part of your time management strategy.  Your mind needs time to switch between tasks anyway, so you may as well have a cup of tea, chat with a colleague, look out the window, or empty the washing machine, whilst your brain is performing the switch.  As I have a dog, I let her out in the garden every couple of hours and will sometimes go out onto the lawn or sit on the step with my coffee for a couple of minutes. A few deep breaths of Yorkshire air allow me to go back to my work refreshed and ready to tackle the next task.

Delegate

Never overlook the important place which delegation can play in time management.  If you delegate a task either partially or completely, you’ve saved yourself time instantly.  Ideal tasks to delegate include routine admin, tasks you really dislike and tasks you aren’t that good at.  You will instantly see an increase in the amount of time you have available to spend on revenue building, strategy and planning.  If you delegate to someone whose hourly rate is less than your own, such as a VA, you will also gain a monetary advantage since the work will cost less than it would if you did it yourself.  To find out more about how I could help you to free up more time in your day, please get in touch here.

I hope that these tips will be helpful for you as you plan your business tasks for the new year.  But remember, it takes a while to learn a new habit properly.  Something simple, such a remembering to drink more water, might take about 21 days to become fully embedded in your life.  However, complex habits which involve a need to override years of conditioning and routine can take longer to master.

It can be tempting to try to change lots of things at once, particularly at the start of a new year.  However, this can be confusing and may lead to failure and frustration.  It is much better to choose one of these tips, the one that resonates the most with you and which you really think you can get to grips with, and concentrate on that one change.  If you can really embed the change into your daily routine before choosing the second change to tackle then you are likely to be more successful.