Holiday Planning for Small Business Owners

Holiday planning for small business owners

For the small business owner, the summer holidays can bring challenges.  It also brings with it an interesting dilemma:  do you or don’t you book a holiday. 

The sun is out and your thoughts turn to holiday planning.  You want to take the family away for a break.  You need to relax and unwind.  You are tired.  You’ve read all those articles about burnout and stress and the importance of a good work-life balance.   So, spurred on by your family, who are eager to see you for more than five minutes a day, you book the holiday.  Then the worrying starts.

How will you manage to find time to actually take the holiday.  And enjoy it without worrying when you do get there.  There is just so much still to do.

Planning ahead is the key to a relaxed and relaxing holiday.

holiday small business planning

I’ve booked my holiday

As soon as you have booked your holiday, work back from the date of your holiday and create a list of your commitments, tasks and deadlines.

Move meetings and renegotiate deadlines that fall within, or two days either side of your holiday.

Plan to meet project milestones early so that they are completed before you go on holiday and are not in the back of your mind, niggling at you, whilst you are on holiday. Or agree to move the milestones so they fall after you return from holiday if that is possible.

Let clients know about your holiday dates in plenty of time.  That way they will know when you will be unavailable.  You can discuss alternative deadlines for tasks and agree on a plan that will work for you both.

Schedule your marketing ahead of the holiday.  Write some extra blog posts or social media posts as you think of them during the year and keep them in reserve.  Bring them out and dust them off, tidy them up a little perhaps, and then schedule them to go out whilst you are sunning yourself on the beach.  This will keep your business front of mind with your clients.

Book your pet’s holidays too.  Book the pet sitter or kennels.  Arrange for a family member or neighbour to pop in to feed and check on caged animals if you aren’t sending them away on holiday to a pet care centre.

With one month to go before your Holiday

Write a list of things that still need to be done before the holiday.  Just list the things you have to complete, deadlines that must be met and the tasks that you have left to do that will impact on your paid work.  Leave the “nice to have” stuff for after your holiday.  For more information about harnessing the power of lists to plan your activities, go here.

If you haven’t already done it, schedule your marketing items so you aren’t trying to do that at the last minute.

Keep your diary clear for two days before and two days after your holiday.  This will feel strange but if a super urgent task comes in at the last minute it gives you wiggle room to deal with it without stress.   It also gives you time to pack and get organised for the holiday itself.

The two days after the holiday allows you to come back to work, deal with things that have come in during the holiday, clear down your inbox and get back into the swing of work in a measured manner.  Knowing you will have space to do that on your

return will mean you don’t spend the last three days of your holiday panicking about what you are going back to.

Plan the domestic things into the diary so they don’t end up being a mad rush the day before the holiday.  Fridge emptying. Suitcase packing.  Foreign currency purchase.  Find your passport.  Arrange a time to take the pets to the kennels.  Buy a new bikini and some sunscreen.  Get your prescriptions filled.

Just Before the Holiday.

Ask your VA to keep an eye on your inbox and social media, reply to any routine enquiries, and send a daily update of any items that need your urgent attention.

Finish your last minute tasks.  Use your two spare days if you need to but ideally try to keep that last spare day for actual holiday preparation.

Delegate the tasks you want your VA or your team to do in your absence.

If you have a team, check everyone knows what they are responsible for.  Do they all have the information they need to complete the tasks you have delegated to them?  Are they clear about deadlines that must be met, calls that are expected, and work which remains outstanding?

Set the out of office reply to your Email telling people you are away.  Explain who will answer emails in your absence, or, detail your return date.

Set an out of office message on your phone.

On Holiday

Yay.  You’ve done it.  You’ve got away.  Hopefully, you are feeling relaxed and calm as you step into the car to drive to Norfolk for that narrowboat trip.  Or you are feeling free as a bird as you fly off to sunny Spain.

One final suggestion.  A digital detox is always a good idea during a break.  Don’t check your email and social media constantly.  Plan to check once a day.  If you’ve left staff running your business, or your VA is keeping tabs on things, agree a time when they will email you an update so you don’t feel compelled to check every five minutes to see if it has arrived yet.

If it makes you feel more secure, agree on a method which a trusted staff member or your VA can use to contact you in an emergency.  I use WhatsApp with my clients if they are abroad and text them when they are in the UK.

Enjoy your holiday, secure in the knowledge that you have planned things so that the business will survive for a week without you.  Have fun.  Make memories.  Sleep a lot.  Eat and drink well.  Relax.  Don’t think about work.  It will be there waiting patiently for you on your return.  None the worse for your absence.  And when you do return you will feel relaxed.  Refreshed.  Productive.  Enthusiastic.

So, what are you waiting for?  Book that holiday.  You won’t regret it.

If you’d like to learn more about how a VA can support you before, during and after your holiday, please get in touch here.

Really Effective Email Management

email management, inbox management, email tips and techniques

Does your email inbox contain every email you have ever received?  Do you struggle with email volume and despair of finding a really effective strategy for managing your ever-growing Inbox?  

Have you started a system of folders to manage your Inbox and then given up in frustration because you can’t remember which file you put things into?  Can you actually find what you are looking for within 30 seconds of starting a search? Or do you spend hours combing through your Inbox looking for that email you were sure you had the other day?

If these scenarios resonate with you then these simple tips will help you to get your Inbox under control and keep it that way.

Unsubscribe from things you never read.  All emails should have an unsubscribe button on them.

Move the things that are informative, and you think you might want to read later, to a separate folder.  You can do this automatically in both Outlook and Gmail by setting up rules for things like company notices and reports from your analytics software.  You can then review the folder you send it to once a week and move anything you want to keep to the correct permanent folder.

Create folders that make sense to you and when your work has been completed on that email, file it in the correct folder right away.  It honestly does save time if you put things where they belong in the first place.

Have an “Action” folder into which you put all the items you need to deal with.  You can then go to that one folder once a day and deal with it all at once, moving the completed emails to their final location in your folder system. You do have to be very disciplined about getting into the habit of checking the folder daily as it can have an element of “out of sight, out of mind” about it.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

Only review your email inbox at set times during the day.  Three times a day is absolutely fine.  If something is “hair on fire urgent”, the client will ring you up.

Use the Getting Things Done approach to guide your initial review.  If the email will take you less than 2 minutes to read and action, just do it there and then.   If it needs a more considered response, flag it or colour code it and deal with it at the time you have set aside for this task every day.  If the email opens up some sort of can of worms or needs a really detailed response, and will be time-consuming to deal with, perhaps taking 20 minutes or more, I usually add the task to my To Do list so that it becomes a task of its own.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

Colour coding and stars are not just for the classroom.  You can colour code emails in both Outlook and Gmail to show the priority you have allocated to them during your initial review.  This allows you to deal with emails quickly and in the right order of priority when you do sit down to tackle them.

Using an agreed colour coding system is also a great way to work collaboratively with a shared inbox so that two people don’t end up answering the same email.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

I like to do a bit of work on my emails after lunch if it fits with my schedule.  Most people have a dip in energy levels after lunch so a spot of routine email answering is a great use of that time.

If you get distracted by those notifications that ping up every time an email comes in, and you find you can’t ignore them, you can disable the notifications entirely or choose settings that work for you.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

If you have tried these tips and are still struggling, why not outsource your Inbox management?  Whether you need support with routine emails, assistance with streamlining your systems, or a full-scale intervention to bring calm to a chaotic Inbox, there is help at hand.

To access advice and support, and regain control of your wayward Inbox, get in touch for a free consultation.

Favourite Business Tools: Lumen5 Video

Lumen5, Video, Business Video, Favourite Business Tools

The video is a necessity in business but lots of people are worried about using it.  How do you use video properly?  What should you wear?  Where should you sit?   Will the dog start barking just as you get into the flow of what you have to say?  Will you forget what you had to say?  Will the phone or doorbell ring?  Should you do the video in the car?  In the house?  In the garden?  In someone else’s house because they aren’t a small business owner and they have time to clean up once a week or so?

Lumen5 allows you to cut through all that and create engaging videos that showcase your business and knowledge simply and effectively.

In true Blue Peter style, here is one I made earlier, based on this blog post.  At this point, you can read the blog that follows or watch the Lumen5 video.  Clearly, I’d love it if you do both since the blog has a little more detail.  But the video is quicker at 37 seconds.

Write the content you want to share.  Make sure the sentences are short and the information succinct and to the point.  You don’t have much room on each slide so make it count.

Think about the type of look you want your video to have and the types of images you want to portray under your text.

Go to Lumen5 and upload the text.  Lumen5 will suggest suitable slide images photos, camera, media but you can replace these with images from their huge image bank which includes some pretty cool videos as well as stills.

Change out the photos and change the colour of the text or the highlighting.

Once you are happy with the images and text, go ahead and pick the music that you think will best represent your brand or message.

I tend to use the same music for all my videos, simply because I like this particular piece and it feels right for my brand.

I use the free version of the package which means that the Lumen5 Logo shows at the end.  I love Lumen5 and have no problem with that bit of advertising being in there.  It’s only fair given how much value I feel I get from the package.   However, for $49 a month, you can upgrade and have a choice of fonts, lose the Lumen5 branding and add your own watermark to the video.

Once your video looks the way you want it to, you can upload your video to wherever you host your company videos.  I have a YouTube channel here but you can use your own preferred platform.  You can also share on Facebook and Twitter as well.

As you can see from my channel, I’ve used this a fair bit for videos, and even have one embedded into my website home page, here.

These videos are straightforward to make and I think they look really professional.  You can use them for advertising, or for information purposes, and the sky’s the limit in terms of creativity since you can also upload your own images to make the whole video even more bespoke.

You can access Lumen5 here:  https://lumen5.com/

For those of you who aren’t feeling very creative, or don’t have the time to tap into your creative side, I offer a Lumen5 video creation service.  Just get in touch to find out more here.

Time-Efficient Meetings: The Agenda

Agenda, Meeting Agenda, Meeting support, Meeting documents

We have all sat in one of those meetings.  The meeting where you have to pinch yourself to keep awake.  The meeting which takes three hours from your day and you are no wiser at the end than you were at the beginning.   

It doesn’t have to be like that though.  Meetings can be very useful. If they have a purpose, are tightly controlled and ruthlessly keep to the agenda.  You do have an agenda don’t you?  You really should.  And everyone needs to know about it.  It can’t just be in your head.  People need to know what is going to be discussed so that they can arrive properly prepared to make the most of the meeting time.

Time Allocation

time for business; need more time;

Adding a time allocation to each agenda item to guide people as to how much time they have available for each discussion item can be really helpful in keeping meetings strictly within the timescale set for them.  The chairperson usually sets the timings, although they may be guided by the individuals raising the items.  For example, someone might be presenting a new process for the company and their time slot will be dictated by the length of their presentation.

Preparation

The agenda needs to be sent out by the administrator or minute-taker in plenty of time to allow delegates to prepare properly and arrive at the meeting with the correct information to share.  If you have lots of supporting papers, the agenda and papers must go out about a week ahead of the meeting.

Agenda Planning

Sometisupporting documents; paperwork; administration support, agendames you will need to invite a person who has specialist expertise.  If they are only needed to discuss one agenda item, why not consider placing the item first on the agenda and allowing the person to leave after they have presented?  Or just before the coffee break section so that they can leave during the break.

Any Other Business

If you are going to keep the Any Other Business section on the agenda then this part should be particularly tightly controlled by the Chairperson.

This section of the meeting is often abused by delegates who want to raise issues and grievances that would be better dealt with outside the confines of the meeting.

The purpose of Any Other Business is to cover items which arose in the time period between the agenda being sent out and the meeting happening.  Usually, this would be urgent issues or matters that arose which have a direct bearing on one of the items already on the agenda.

One option for keeping the Any Other Business section on the agenda but still ensuring that it remains under strict control is to add an agenda point entitled Proposals for Any Other Business at the start of the meeting, just after the apologies section.  This allows the Chairman to ask whether anyone will wish to raise items in Any Other Business.  Only items raised during this section of the meeting can then be discussed during Any Other Business itself.  The Chairperson can then veto the raising of issues that won’t add to the meeting aims.  It also means that everyone can work out how long the Any Other Business section might take, consider points they might wish to raise during the discussion and feel confident that the meeting will finish on time and not drag on and on.

Administration Support

professional support, note-taking, minute taking, writing, agendaAdministration support can really add value to a meeting. A professional administrator will not only manage and efficiently circulate the agenda, but also manage attendance and assist the Chairperson in keeping the meeting on track by reminding them of timings, asking for clarification of action points and accurately recording all the details necessary to allow delegates to recall and complete their actions effectively during the time following the meeting.

If you are looking for professional support to ensure your meetings stay on track and really deliver value, you can contact me here to discuss your requirements.

If you are looking for further support with running an effective meeting, this blog post should be useful.

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.