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.

2017 Review of the Year

Review, 2017, blogging, video, Virtual Assistant, Harrogate

Feels Like The First Time

2017 was the year that JJB Office Services turned one year old and there have been a lot of firsts this year.
First recorded video in June, and more recent, and considerably more nerve-wracking…. My first ever Facebook Live.
I also did my first presentation to a professional audience. I’m not a confident public speaker but I was reasonably happy with my performance and the content was well received. So much so that I’ll be creating a series of blog posts on the subject in the new year at the suggestion of a couple of the audience members.

Although I’ve been blogging about my leisure interests for a number of years I started blogging for business for the first time in 2017 which somehow felt very different.

The top five performing blog posts for 2017 were:

Organisation is at the Heart of Productivity

Is your Email GDPR Compliant?

Running an Effective Meeting

5 Tips for Great Content

Read more in Less Time

By far and away the most popular video was the first one I ever recorded, on GDPR and Email Marketing, which you can watch here:

Computer Love

My tech necessities for 2017 were my transcription software and MS Office. It is tempting to take the Office Suite of products for granted and just talk about shiny new tech. However, without MS Office my job would be literally impossible.

The tech that I’ve really been able to have fun with was Canva (https://www.canva.com) for graphics and photo collages, and Lumen5 for cool videos (https://www.lumen5.com). If you haven’t checked out the Lumen5 videos on my YouTube channel and website then do have a look at them. It’s a great tool to use and the results look so professional.

Goin’ By The Book

Being an avid reader, it is perhaps no surprise that my first year in business included reading a number of business books. My top three from this year were:

  • Business Networking for Dummies by Stefan Thomas.
  • The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.
  • Be A Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell.

With a Little Help From My Friends

This year I learned a huge amount, some from training courses, but by far the largest amount from the small business community, both locally and further afield, who have been hugely generous with their advice and support. Thank you to every one of you. You all know who you are.

Everything I do…. I do it for you.

No review of the year would be complete without mentioning my lovely, lovely clients. All wonderful to work with and I have been privileged to help and support them in their business journey. I have loved every moment of working for each and every one of them and am looking forward to helping them achieve even more in 2018. I must admit I feel incredibly lucky to be doing what I love, working for myself, and being able to really see the difference I’m making.

Santa Claus’ VA Team – Part Two

With the festive season almost upon us, everyone is rushing around to finish the last minute gift shopping and get all the presents wrapped and hidden from those family members who like to prod gifts to try and guess the contents.  Of course, there is also the last food shop to plan as well, making sure you have everything you need for entertaining over the festive period.  Hopefully, this will provide a spot of light relief from all the rushing about.  So sit down, kick off your winter boots, and settle down to Part Two of the Tale of Santa Claus’ VA.

If you thought you were busy trying to get all your work up to date so you can take a few days off over Christmas, just spare a thought for poor old Santa Claus.  He has only 12 hours to complete the tasks for which he is famous, and has to do so come rain, hurricane or snow.  He has to keep his clothes and beard tidy and clean even whilst flying faster than the speed of sound in an open sleigh through all kinds of weather, towed by Reindeer that don’t much like rain and aren’t afraid to mention this a few hundred times during the journey.  He certainly earns his mince pie and whisky that’s for sure.

I reckon that the only way Santa can be ready for his one triumphant and hideously busy night is to have the support of a flexible team of Rock Star VA’s and Freelance Office administrators working to support him throughout the year.  So this post looks at a few more of the tasks that Santa Claus might need completing by a VA or Freelance Administration specialist.

Correspondence VA’s answers all the letters from children, taking careful note of the spreadsheet of naughty children to ensure they don’t promise gifts to those children who don’t deserve them.  The correspondence VA’s have a KPI of one week in which to reply to the letters and use template letters which they amend to show the correct gifts or to state what specific acts of disobedience have led to the child being undeserving of a gift.

Estate Management VA manages the repair and maintenance of all the workshops, offices and of course the sleighs, to ensure they are all well maintained, safe and effective.

Social Media VA manages Santa Claus and the Elves presence on various platforms and ensures that all posts are positive, brand appropriate, and effective, paying close attention to analytics and ensuring fresh content is posted regularly to maximise engagement.

Organisational VA plans sleigh routes, checks the SatNav on the sleigh, plans the most effective layout for the warehouse to minimise walking, creates filing systems for the letters and assists in the day to day management of the workshops and offices to ensure that all processes run smoothly and in a time-efficient manner.

Events management VA’s organise public appearances by Santa Claus at the North Pole as well as managing the staff Christmas party, the latter taking place in January after the big event has happened.  The office party is a particularly raucous affair as everyone lets off steam after a hugely busy December.  This inevitably leads to HR VA being exceptionally busy throughout January sorting out the usual fall out from office parties ranging from who snogged who, who took a photo of it and put it on Facebook, whose bottom was it on the photocopier, and who threw up in the yucca plant.

Sales and Marketing VA keeps the CRM up to date following Santa’s undercover visits to trade shows across the world. Santa visits selected shows alongside the Research VA as he finds this is the best way to deflect attention from himself.  The beard seems to be a bit of a giveaway and he gets mobbed if he visits alone.

HR VA provides minute taking for Disciplinary meetings because elves can get a bit giddy and inappropriate at times and this has led to a number of complaints ranging from bullying (the elves like to play “Pin the Tail on the Reindeer” on the live reindeer whilst they sleep).  Failure to follow safety rules, including the now famous ChairGate when a chair race around the warehouse had terrible consequences.  Elves have a wicked sense of humour and there have been a number of cases of shoelaces being tied together, whoopee cushions being placed under staff and tools being superglued to the workbenches.

Health and Safety VA  ensures that all the Elves have taken part in the mandatory training for Manual Handling, Working at Height and that the specialist elves have the relevant certification in Workshop Safety.

General Admin VA creates effective filing systems and manages Santa’s diary throughout the year to ensure that he always has a good work-life balance and can return home to Mrs Claus on time every night except, of course, THE night.

Reindeer Diary Management VA arranges the schedule for the reindeer, ensuring they have the right transport, documentation and equipment for their various pre-christmas public appearances around the world.

Research VA attends a variety of trade fairs throughout the world, including the Toy and Gift Fairs in Harrogate, to identify the ideal toys for children throughout the world.  She provides detailed information to Santa Claus presented in folders by type of toy, age of likely recipient, safety record, cost, choice of colour/outfit etc.  Santa Claus will then notify procurement VA to pre-order the items he has chosen.

Training Management VA tracks all the training and development needs of the office staff, elves, reindeer and of course Santa Claus himself.  It is she who updates the master training plan and ensures that everyone completes their mandatory safety training at the correct time.  She also tracks staff CPD courses, carries out annual Training Needs Analyses for all staff and updates Santa Claus on a monthly basis.

Technology VA tracks the latest technology throughout the year, attending all the major technology shows to find out what tech is likely to be requested by children. She reviews everything electronic and computerised, tracking the popularity of computers, laptops, mobile telephones, games consoles and AI devices to ensure the right gadgets can be purchased, in the right quantities, at the right price. This is a particularly difficult job as technology moves so rapidly, the manufacturers cannot always prioritise Santa’s order, or manufacture sufficient numbers to meet Santa’s order,  and unfortunately, this is the reason why some children may not get the latest iPhone for Christmas.

Most of these are tasks that a VA or Freelance Administrator could do for a less exalted personage than Santa Claus, although there may not be much need for a Reindeer Management VA outside the North Pole.  However, if you have an admin task that is taking up time that could be better spent with clients, creating revenue, or being with family and friends, then do get in touch here.

You can see the range of services that I offer here, and if you are thinking of streamlining your admin or outsourcing some of the more time-consuming elements, then go here, to see the ways in which I can help you to create more time and revenue for your business in 2018.

Santa Claus’ VA Team – Part One

VA, Santa Claus' VA, VA work at Christmas, Virtual Assistant, Christmas tasks for VA

With the festive season coming up, I thought this would give a bit of light relief from all the rushing about organising presents, food, office parties, visits to relatives, Christmas tree purchase (and the inevitable argument over where each bauble ought to be placed and how much tinsel is too much tinsel on one four foot tree).

It is a busy time of year for everyone, particularly small businesses and HR consultants (all those fallings out over Christmas party misbehaviour and who ate the last mince pie in the communal fridge).  However, if you thought you were busy trying to get it all done whilst also handling your marketing, accounts, invoicing, admin and day to day work, spare a thought for Santa Claus.  He has to get the main bulk of his annual work done in the dark, in a twelve-hour time slot, whilst keeping his lovely red coat and white beard immaculately clean despite entering homes via the chimney.  He certainly earns his mince pie and whisky that’s for sure.

I reckon that the only way Santa can get all this done is to have a flexible team of Rock Star VA’s and Freelance Office administrators to help him throughout the year.  So this post looks at the kinds of tasks that Santa Claus might need completing by a VA or Freelance Administration specialist.

General Admin VA helps Santa’s Behavioural Review Elves to create and update a spreadsheet which can filter out naughty children, giving reasons why they may not receive any gifts.

Information Management VA keeps the spreadsheet of gifts requested by children fully up to date.  There are always a significant minority of children who change their mind about what they just before Christmas. It is the Information Management VA’s role to inform Procurement, Warehouse, Workshop and Warehouse, on a two-hourly basis, throughout December, of any changes to requirements.  Luckily, if Santa already bought the gift for the child, there is usually another child who does want the gift.   This is a huge task and there is more than one VA dedicated to this task during November and December when the television toy adverts start.

Project management VA’s plan and manage all the deadlines and sub-projects necessary to ensure a smooth-running process on the night.  Using Gantt charts to track every part of the process, they ensure that the time leading up to the big night is well used and that all project milestones are met on time throughout the year.

Warehouse VA’s manage the stock control for gifts and ensure that there is sufficient warehouse space, the shelves are properly labelled, and safe handling rules are published and observed.

Health and Safety VA ensures that PPE and uniforms are provided for all Elves, VA’s and of course for Santa Claus.  Safety boots are specially ordered for elves using the exact Pantone shade of green and even the steel toe caps are green.  Santa Claus has patent leather safety boots and needs two pairs a year.  These are specially made for him and have a lovely sheepskin lining.

Reindeer Management VA ensures that the reindeer are well cared for throughout the year and have the right mix of moss, reindeer food, and water to keep them healthy. She also ensures they follow their allotted fitness regime to ensure they are in peak condition with sufficient stamina to make the long journey on the night.  The reindeer carry out regular practice runs with the weighted sleigh and these are timed to ensure they will be able to meet the strict timings needed to get everything delivered on time.

Procurement and Stock Control VA work together to manage the regular incoming orders for the standard gifts that all children like to receive such as chocolate, sweeties, books and DVDs, and bicycles.  These are ordered in bulk ahead of time, based on previous year’s figures averaged but delivered on a monthly basis throughout the year to allow manufacturers to average out the demand on their machinery throughout the year.  A final order is placed in late November based on the actual quantities requested.  Some items are on a sale or return basis.  Being based at the North Pole, all edible gifts are kept so cold that they can be safely stored for a year without detriment.

Santa’s personal PR VA handles his personal appearances throughout the world, ensuring that his travel schedule is managed effectively to make the best use of his time during the run-up to Christmas.

A team of Mail VA’s handle the letters from children and update the spreadsheet of gifts requested to ensure that there is a clear overview of items required.  The spreadsheet is available to the finance and stock control VA’s via a shared DropBox folder so that they can collaborate to ensure that sufficient gifts of each type are going to be available on the night.

Procurement VA’s handle the purchase of gifts on behalf of Santa Claus to ensure that the best value for money is obtained when purchasing in bulk.  They work closely with the Research VA’s and Finance VA’s to provide a fully rounded service.

Research VA identifies toy trends across the year and forecasts likely quantities of each toy so that procurement VA can pre-order items to avoid disappointment.

Reporting VA manages the incoming information and produces weekly management reports for Santa Claus regarding types and quantities of gifts required as well as liaising with Stock Control VA to ensure that demand is not going to outstrip supply.  These two teams of VA’s work closely together to ensure that Santa always has the most up to date management information possible to allow him to make effective purchasing decisions.

Finance VA team manage the payment of bills as well as credit control and budget management, regularly reporting to Santa Claus who reviews the costs to ensure they are within target.

Most of these things are tasks that a VA or Freelance Administrator could do for a less exalted personage than Santa Claus.  I am not sure there is much call for a Reindeer Management VA outside the North Pole.  However, if you have an admin task that is taking up time, time that could be more productively spent with clients, creating revenue, or being with family and friends, then do get in touch here.

Read More In Less Time

read more, time saving, Reading Techniques

Limited Time to Read?  

I spoke to a business owner recently who was struggling with a business book.  She really wanted to read it but like all business owners, she had limited time to read.  She needed ways to get at the key themes of the book quickly and easily so she could read the full text with more understanding.

This is an issue that also arises in respect of complex reports, lengthy guidance documents and a whole host of other documents.  In today’s fast-paced world, getting at the key information quickly and easily is critical so I’ve put together a few ideas to help with this.

Skim It

With any document skimming the contents page first is a great start.  If you are dealing with a report that has an executive summary, read that next as it will cover all of the main points and conclusions quickly and easily.

Unpack It

To gain more information, move on to the introduction and conclusion of the report, or in the case of a book, each chapter.

If you are reading to gather particular information, for example, a report that you need to read ahead of a meeting, or a book from which you are researching a specific issue, then read only those sections that relate to what you need to know.   You can go back and read the rest later if you wish to, or find you need to.  The contents, introduction and conclusions should guide you to the right places.

You can also flick through the book to see if it is helpfully laid out with “Key points” and “action points” type boxes or other ways in which the author has signposted key content.  These make skim reading for understanding very easy as you can find the bits you need to read in more detail very easily whilst also getting a good grasp of the whole book.

Laser Targeted Searching

If it is a book and you really do only need to know about one very specific thing, then go directly to the index at the back, note down all the pages that relate to that thing, and read only those pages.

Views and Reviews

If these tips don’t speed things up enough for you, or you are still struggling and would welcome the views of other people on the book to see what they made of it, then try an internet search for the book precis or review.  Often this will bring up enough information to get you back into the book and reading actively or it may answer your query entirely.

If you are not sure whether a particular book will include the information you need to know, you can look on book review sites to find out more about the contents, how easy the book is to read and how useful people have found it.  Good sites for this include Amazon and Good Reads.  On Amazon you can sometimes look inside the book.  This often includes the contents page, allowing you to find out whether the book really will include the information you need.

Did you see the Movie?

If you are not a reader but really want to learn more from business books, there are YouTube videos which provide animated precis of key business books.  Really great if you are visual learner.

A Quick Word in your Ear

Finally, for those people who love to learn on the go, there is Blinkist, which for a small fee, allows you to download a fifteen minute precis of thousands of business and other non-fiction books so you can listen as you run, drive or go about your daily routine.

And if you still don’t have time to search for the content or information you need, get in touch, I’d be happy to help.

Running An Effective Meeting

Running An Effective Meeting

According to HR Grapevine, workplace meetings are causing anxiety to employees.  Direct Blinds carried out research which shows that just over 48% of UK employees feel anxious about meetings.  In addition, most of us have had that sinking feeling as we have realised that today is THAT meeting.  The one where everyone rambles on inconsequentially for hours.  The one that is used by certain staff to grandstand and by others to moan. The one-hour meeting that takes two hours.  The meeting that results in no action points.  The meeting from which you exit no wiser than you entered.

It doesn’t have to be this way though.  Meetings can, and should, be an effective use of time.  Here are some tips to make sure your meeting is not the one that your staff are dreading attending.

Purpose

Meetings should have a purpose beyond allowing the lazy to sleep and the malcontents to trumpet.  They don’t need to be called just because there is always a meeting on Thursday.  They should have a clear aim and a purpose and there should be a goal and a measurable outcome for each point on the agenda.  And yes, there should be an agenda.  And minutes so that everyone can recall what was said and who has agreed to action each task.  Ideally, the minutes should be taken by someone who is not participating in the meeting since it is not possible to present to the meeting whilst also writing notes.  It is worth asking someone with experience of the task to take minutes to ensure that all the key points are properly recorded.   If you do not have someone within your organisation who can carry out the task for you, there are freelance PA’s and VA’s, including myself, who can provide this service for you.  Contact me to find out more.

Suitable reasons for calling a meeting include:

Disseminate information to many people at once.

Review progress on a joint project

Plan tasks involving multiple teams

Consult staff or teams about an issue that will impact all of them.

Team building activities.

Information gathering.

But wait, before you call a meeting for information gathering purposes, is it necessary?  Do you really need to have a meeting or would it be more appropriate to gain the information you need via a phone call?  Could you request the information via email?  Would a quick face to face with one key member of each team get you the information you need?

You still need to get everyone together to discuss the issue?  Then call a meeting.

I really do need to hold a meeting. 

Great.  So you are going to hold a useful meeting that won’t waste time.  Key to achieving this is to invite only people who need to be there.  If someone only needs to provide a small piece of information, could they brief another attendee who can then bring up that point on their behalf?  This means only one person from that team needs to attend.

What about the person whose specialist knowledge is critical to one agenda item?  If they don’t need to sit through the entire meeting, can that item be discussed early in the meeting, allowing the person to leave at the coffee break?

Preparation

Please send around an agenda so people know what is going to be discussed.  Include supporting paperwork with the agenda.  In general, the more supporting paperwork you have, the earlier you should send out the agenda and meeting pack.   A good meeting requires well-prepared delegates. Sending the agenda and a forty page discussion document one hour before the meeting is setting yourself up for an unproductive meeting.

Timing

Please be clear about how long the meeting will take and then stick to that timing.  Many executives will be attending a number of meetings each day.  If your meeting over-runs, this will either impact subsequent meetings (in which case you will probably have an annoyed administrator on your case) or the individual will need to leave, possibly at a critical point in the discussion.

Don’t be tempted to allow “a bit of extra time in case things over-run”.  If there is time to fill, it will get filled, not usually efficiently.

Please stick to the agenda.  It is up to the chairperson to move the discussion along at the right speed to ensure all items are discussed.  If a discussion looks as though it is going to run and run, the chairperson should suggest that this is discussed in detail at another time by those who have the greatest involvement or scheduled for further discussion at a future meeting following further information gathering.

Purpose

At all times the Chairperson should be mindful of the aim of the meeting and ensure that all discussion contributes to that aim.  If the discussion veers off into another area, it should be brought back to the matter in hand.

Any Other Business

The “Any Other Business” section of the agenda can cause Chairperson’s hearts to sink.  This tends to be the point in the meeting where the chairperson needs to be particularly ruthless in controlling the meeting otherwise this section could end up longer than the main meeting.

Any Other Business is designed to cover items which arose in the time period between the agenda being sent out and the meeting happening.  It is NOT the place for grandstanding, raising grievances, frustrations or complaints, scoring points over other teams, or ambushing the meeting with an idea which you have already been told cannot be progressed in the hope that raising it in front of higher management will somehow allow you to get the idea agreed.

Addressing the meeting.

If you are presenting to the meeting, keep it short and to the point.  No grandstanding, waffling or blinding people with science or acronyms, please.  A short point, well presented will carry more authority than a lengthy and slightly waffly answer.  Your point will also be much easier to minute, allowing your pearls of wisdom to be properly recorded for posterity and allowing everyone who receives the minutes to clearly recall what your argument was and what actions they might need to take to assist you to move your project forward.  Speak as clearly and concisely as you can.  And if you don’t have anything useful to say… just keep quiet.  It is never necessary to speak for the sake of letting others hear your voice.

And on that note, I will end this post.

5 Spells to Streamline your Time Management

spells halloween time-management time management, save time, VA, admin help

Soon it will be Halloween.  Then it will be Bonfire Night.  Then we are on the countdown to Christmas.  There are costumes and candy to buy for Halloween, Fireworks to purchase, bonfire night parties to arrange, then the Christmas planning is upon us.  The thoughtful gifts, the stocking fillers, and creating a cake early enough to allow it to be fed an entire bottle of brandy without it turning to mush.  The latter is not only possible, but it is also delicious.   The list goes on and on.

Time, always at a premium, doesn’t stretch to accommodate all the extra tasks you need to complete at home or in the business.   We all sit down some nights and wish we had a magic wand that would allow us to stretch time so we could get more done in a day.   Most of us don’t have a magic wand but these time management tips can help you to make the most of the time you do have available.

Multi-Tasking: Please Don’t.

Although it is tempting to tackle several things at once to get things done quicker, your brain is not set up to work that way.  It works best if you allow it to concentrate on just one task or group of tasks.  By minimising your brain’s need to keep switching tasks, you feel more in control and your brain works more efficiently, allowing you to get more done.

Avoid Interruptions

Interrupting your work to read notifications breaks your train of thought.  Daniel Leviton, author of “The Organised Mind” calls the desire to read notifications and Emails “The Novelty Bias”.   It can take several minutes to recover focus following trivial interruptions and over a whole day, those tiny interruptions can add up to quite a bit of lost time.

If you struggle to ignore notifications there are apps that will block access to Social Media for set periods of time so that you won’t be tempted.  Or, do as I do, leave your phone downstairs when you are working upstairs.

Is it the right time?

If you set aside particular times of day to work on tasks this can really add to your productivity.  Working on complicated or creative tasks when you are feeling fresh will ensure they get done more quickly.  Most of us experience a post-lunch dip in energy and this can be a really good time to check Emails and do routine housekeeping tasks in the office.  Knowing your optimum time for creativity and making the most of this time is a great way to make the most of your time.

Planning:  It’s not just for Project Managers

Have a goal in mind for each week and create a plan for each day.  If you plan out your week and list the key tasks you will complete each day in order to achieve your end goal, this is a great way to ensure you are making progress and stay on track.  Each task on your list should move you nearer to the goal you have in mind, whether that is planning an office party or gaining more business.

Having an accountability partner can be helpful as well.  They can ensure you stay on target by challenging you to complete the tasks you have set yourself that week or month.  Choose someone who will have the confidence to give you a kick if you aren’t meeting the goals you set yourself.

Environment

Whilst some people undoubtedly work well in a messy environment, I’ve seldom met anyone who worked well in a disorganised one.  Those who work with messy desks always have a hidden method of organisation that is not apparent to the casual observer.  They can always lay hands on the thing they need, and that’s the key.  Nothing wastes time like a fruitless search for the pen you had a minute ago, the stapler you know you had last week, or that critical document that you didn’t file away.  The document is probably somewhere in the pile of documents in the corner of the office. Unless it is somewhere else of course.  If this is something you struggle with, you can read tips on how to alter your environment to aid improve both time management and productivity  here:

witch broomstick help admin help time management

Finally, if you are struggling to cast these spells effectively, why not call in an expert?

If you need some heavy duty spells cast over your admin, working with a VA might be the answer.

If you would like me to fly to your rescue, then you can contact me here.

5 Tips for Great Content

Content, Content-Creation, writing, blogging, blogger, content-marketing

Creativity Can’t be Coerced

It is important to understand when you are at your most creative.  For some people, this might be late at night, for others, first thing in the morning.  You will have your best chance of creating great content if you play to your strengths and write, or plan, at a time when you are feeling at your most creative.

I am sure some people can decide to sit down every third Tuesday between 10 am and 1pm, write for three hours and be very creative indeed.   But for others, inspiration cannot be coerced in that way and will come from interaction with people and ideas.  Ideas that resonate with you, challenge existing beliefs, or create an emotional reaction, these are the things which are likely to spark creativity.  Many ideas come whilst you are doing something else.  This is why I am seldom far from a notebook and pen.  Keeping a folder of content ideas can be helpful.  I keep a folder to which I add notes and ideas as they occur to me.  I find this useful for kick-starting the creative process when I am ready to write.

Begin in the Middle

Blank white paper and brand new Word documents can kill inspiration.  I start with an idea from my inspiration folder and run with it to see where it takes me.   Starting from a note, draft or idea fools my brain into thinking I’ve started already, so I don’t get that blank page paralysis.  It can be helpful to just start writing somewhere.  Have an idea where you are going of course, but there is no law that says you have to start at the very beginning.  This post formed the middle section of a post about something else entirely.   The trick is to just get your thoughts onto paper.  You can tidy them up later.  I’ve found that telling myself the document is a draft that I can tweak and tidy up reduces the pressure to create startlingly amazing content in one draft.

Don’t be a Butterfly

Commentators in the fields of both Psychology and Time Management tell us that concentrating on one task, or set of related tasks, is highly efficient.  Switching between different types of task breaks concentration.  Once concentration is lost it can take a while to get it back again.  We’ve all had that situation where we are in the midst of drafting the most impressive document ever and there is an interruption.  A colleague has a question.  The phone or doorbell rings.  We go back to the task and find we can’t remember what we were going to write next.

Setting aside a time to concentrate fully on content creation, without interruptions, is therefore worthwhile.  You will get more done and ultimately be able to create more content if you can minimise distractions during the time you are writing.

Getting all your thoughts out onto paper in one single session can be a great way to create pieces of related content.  The draft might be very rough at the end of your writing session but you can set aside time later to review and polish the content for publication.  It is easier to see the areas that need improvement if you leave the draft to sit for a few days without looking at it.  You bring a fresh eye to it and can see where the text can be improved. If your writing has accidentally gone off on a different track part way through, then you can remove that part and keep it as a draft to be incorporated into another piece of related content.  Often it is easier, and quicker, to write this second piece of content because you have already partly thought through your argument and know the direction you want to take it in.

Be Human.  Be You.

Writing is just speech in written form.  Just be you.  Make your content flow as though you are talking to the reader.  The more you write, the more your unique voice will make itself known in your writing.   If you find that difficult on paper or on the computer screen, you could try recording your content using your phone’s voice recorder app. Just chat away and then either transcribe it yourself, send the recording to your VA or use a specialist transcription company.  I offer transcription as part of my package of services so if this would be helpful to you, please get in touch .

Tell a Tale

People love a story.  If you can make a narrative flow then you will draw your reader into your world and allow them to learn more about you and your subject.  It can be a challenge to make a story out of everything, and some subjects may not lend themselves to this approach. However, at the very least there should be a progression in the argument which takes the reader on a journey and draws them in, making them want to know more about the subject matter.  A logical progression in a narrative makes the reader want to learn more.  In more factual content, breaking up the text into sections will increase readability.

There are some great content creators out there who have the knack of creating memorable content.  Often they are doing this by using their own unique voice in their content, or by telling stories in a way that is memorable and effective.  Whilst you don’t want to be copying others, you want to create your own voice, it can be helpful to look closely at the structure of content which you find attractive and examine the methods the author has used to draw in their audience.  This can help you to hone and improve your own work as well as work out how you can use your unique voice to create content that others will want to emulate.