Productivity Starts with You

Productivity; Productive; Tips for productivity

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

Review your activity regularly.

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

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

Baby steps are better than no steps at all

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

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

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

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

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

Say No more often.

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

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

Get some sleep, have some downtime

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

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

Deadlines

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

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

Focus, Focus, Focus

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

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

Keep your To Do List short

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

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

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

Notice what wastes your time

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

Disorganisation and mess are the enemies of productivity

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

Choosing a Voice Recorder for your Business

Voice Recorder; transcription;

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

Can’t I just use my Smart Phone?

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

Dedicated Recorders and how to choose one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Ways to Harness the Power of a Voice Recorder

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

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

 Content Creation

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

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

Process Planning

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

Business planning

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

GDPR

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

Focus groups.

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

HR consultants.

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

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

Reminders.

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

Authors and Researchers.

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

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

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

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

Eight Key Time Management Tips

time management tips; eight key tips for time management

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

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

Plan

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

Set time limits on tasks

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

Prioritise your tasks

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

Urgent and important tasks should be done first.

Less urgent but important tasks get done next.

Less important tasks which are urgent come third.

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

Set Deadlines

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

Goals and Outcomes

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

Review

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

Don’t book tasks back to back

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

Delegate

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

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

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

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.