Work Overload: An Increasing Problem

Work, Burnout, Overload, Overloaded, Business, Mental Health

Ahead of World Mental Health day which falls on 10th October this year, I want to raise an issue that is, I think, particularly important to small business owners:  Work Overload.

Work overload results when the demands of the job role exceed the limits of reasonable human endurance.  People are expected to, or try to do, too much, in too little time, with too few resources.  It’s characterized by a combination of factors including:

  • Pressure to work long hours
  • Heavy workloads which cannot reasonably be completed by a normal person within the hours allotted to the tasks.
  • Few breaks, little time off and few or no holidays.
  • Unrelenting, constant and highly pressured working pace.
  • Unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved with the available time and resources
  • Carrying out, or trying to carry out, more than one role at once.

There is a lot written about work overload within large corporate and public sector environments but all of the points above afflict small business owners too.  The pressures which lead to the overload are different but the results are the same.  And those results can be devastating.  Particularly for small business owners who in most cases cannot easily choose to walk away from the business and do something else.   This element of having no choice can make the effects of work overload feel even worse.

When work overload is persistent rather than seasonal or occasional, then our bodies can’t recover, rest and restore balance.  Every role has busy periods but if we know it will be followed by a slack period when we can recover, this makes it possible for us to keep going.  That feeling that the work will just keep coming at you constantly with no respite or let up is true overload.

Do I have Work Overload?

Work overload isn’t just about work quantity but also the type of tasks that you have to deal with.  A busy workload with very clearly defined tasks and boundaries is actually good for your mental wellbeing.  What is destructive to mental wellbeing is a chaotic workload.  Competing priorities, extra tasks with short deadlines, being unsure what the day will throw at you, and trying to do tasks for which you feel unqualified.  Working like this means you cannot plan your day effectively, cannot meet everyone’s expectations and never feel you’ve finished your work.

Technology also adds to the pressure.  Work messages ping onto your phone all evening when you are trying to relax.  Home becomes an extension of work, particularly for staff who work from home and home-based small business owners.  Many articles suggest shutting the door of the home office.  This only works if the phone is trapped in there being ignored.  And how many of us do that?

When work bleeds into our home life the work overload affects our family too.  Couples end up spending more time working than they do with their family.  There are constant pressures to be the perfect parent, and the perfect worker, with Social Media telling everyone they can have it all and it’s easy.  But it’s not is it?  Something has to give and that something is often the couple’s relationship with each other and with their children.

What can you do to avoid work overload?

date night, holding hands, relationshipsMake home life and health a priority

Ensure you do not neglect your social life and any artistic or cultural activities which you value.  Whether you like to go to Rock Concerts, read quietly in a corner, create Airfix models or work in your garden, make sure you find time each week for these activities.  Schedule them into the diary if you can and make sure that you don’t make excuses not to do them.  Don’t neglect Date Nights with your significant other.  It’s important to ensure your relationship remains healthy so you can support each other when you each need it.

Get Enough Sleep.

Make it a habit to always ensure you get adequate sleep.  This has a huge impact on health and wellbeing.  Views vary on what the ideal amount of sleep is, but 6-8 hours is good unless you really are one of those rare people who only need four hours.

Exercise

Just three hours a week spread throughout the week will have a positive effect.  Ideally include both aerobic and strength training but if you aren’t that athletic, even a simple daily walk will help.  And if you choose the walking option, try to look around you as you walk.  It’s easy to plod along, looking at the ground, pondering about work issues.  Instead look at the leaves, the trees, listen for the birds, watch dogs running in the park.  If you are in a built up area, look up at the architecture and sky, or at the plants in people’s gardens.  Concentrate on the air you are breathing, notice how the earth smells in the rain, how the sun feels, or how the cold air is so fresh in the winter.

Relax your mind and body

Meditation can be very helpful in reducing stress on a daily basis.  If you make it a habit for the start and end of the day this can have a really positive impact on stress reduction.   It can also be helpful to take a couple of minutes in the daytime if things are particularly fraught, and just breathe in, and out, slowly whilst thinking of a calm and quiet place.

Frequent three day weekends can be a great idea, particularly for small business owners who struggle to get away from the business for a longer holiday.  When you are feeling overworked it can feel stressful to go away for a longer holiday as you may feel worried about what you are going to get home to.  Long weekends are a great alternative.  Try to do something truly relaxing with your long weekend.  Something that fulfills you but is not goal driven.

Feed your health

Restrict caffeine and alcohol since they produce chemical stressors on the body which can make stress worse.  Ensure you are taking in enough potassium as this affects the adrenal glands which produce the hormones that govern our fight or flight and stress response.  Potassium is found in fruit and vegetables particularly bananas, oranges, raisins, potatoes, mushrooms, cooked broccoli, spinach and soy beans.

In the workplace

There are some steps you can take to control your workload so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. These include:

  • Setting aside blocks of time for work and for appointments, and putting this in the diary so you have a shape to your day and know when you are working and can plan tasks that will fit the time you have available.  As mentioned earlier, it can be useful to block out time for relaxation too… it gives a goal and an end point when things are fraught and is something to look forward to.
  • Discouraging people from just “dropping by”.  The latter can be a real problem for home-based workers as friends seem to think you will be able to just stop what you are doing and have coffee with them whenever it takes their fancy.
  • Learn how to say no really diplomatically.  Someone once told me that the epitome of diplomacy was the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that the person really enjoyed the journey.    It is OK to say No.  No one ever died from being told No.
  • Leave your phone in another room whilst you are working, turn off the notifications or put it on silent.
  • Prioritise emails and correspondence.  Try to avoid the knee jerk response of “ooh, email… must answer now”.  Look at it dispassionately.  Do you really need to reply to that now?  Will it wait?
  • Break large tasks and projects into smaller bits and tackle them one at a time.  It’s easier and less overwhelming.  I’ve recently written blog posts about successful project planning here and here which you may find useful.
  • Learn to delegate.  No one can do everything.  I do lots of things myself but I have an absolutely lovely lady who does my accounts.  This was the first thing I ever outsourced because I knew that the time saved and the reduction in stress would be completely worth it.  If you aren’t sure what to delegate or how to do it, I wrote a blog post here.  However, in essence it recommends that you either automate or outsource the tasks you hate, are not good at, or those that take forever to complete.

And if the things you hate to do are admin related, you can get in touch with me here.  Let’s have a chat about the things that are causing you stress, eating into your time and stopping you from increasing your business revenue.

Schedule Directly To Facebook Business Page

How to schedule posts to your facebook business page; Facebook Scheduling; Social Media Tips

Did you know that you can schedule posts directly on your Facebook Business Page?  Facebook have, I think, made this feature a little less obvious recently, but it is still there and it’s a useful thing to know about.  It can be used in place of scheduling software, or in addition to it.  I tend to use it in addition to my regular scheduling software.  It’s great for scheduling things to pages you manage though doesn’t seem to be available on the main timeline, just on pages.

To start, go into Facebook to write your post as normal.

Add a photo by clicking on the photo/video button on the left below the coloured background choices.

Facebook Facebook Scheduling Social Media Scheduling Social Media Tips

Posts tend to perform better with photos than without them and posts with videos perform even better, though that’s a subject for another day.

Facebook now gives you quite a wide choice of photo options.  For a normal post, just choose the top option “Upload photos/Video”.

Facebook, Facebook Scheduling, Social Media Tips, Facebook Tips

Photos will be resized automatically to the correct size for Facebook.  This works better when Facebook shrinks your larger image.  Very small images will pixelate and look bad when Facebook sizes them up.    I am deliberately not giving actual photo sizes here because Facebook changes things regularly.  A quick Google search will tell you what the right size is this month.  I tend to use 800 x 800 which is the generic Social Media template size on Canva.

Social Media, Facebook Scheduling, Social Media Tips

Here you can see I’ve added a photo to my post.  This is one of the photos I created in Canva so it is 800 x 800 pixels.  At this point you are ready to post or to schedule your post.  Except, Facebook doesn’t appear to have an option to schedule does it?  You have this huge “Share Now” button and no evidence of a scheduling option anywhere at all.

However, if you go to the News Feed button you can see “Post options”.  Click the blue wording and you will get the option to Share.  The word Now has a down arrow next to it.   I’ve highlighted it in the photo below.

It does make it look as though if you click the word “Now” it will set off and share your post, but it doesn’t.  Click the down arrow next to “Now” and you will get a drop down that will give you the options to schedule, backdate or save as a draft.  It defaults to Now but you just click the one you want to use.

When you click on Schedule you will get this scheduling box on the screen.  Just choose your date using the drop down calendar and alter the time to suit your post.

Social Media, Social Media Scheduling Social Media tips

Click the nice blue “Schedule” button and your post will go off into the wings to wait quietly for its moment in the spotlight.

You can schedule quite a few posts using this method. I’ve done 25 at one sitting without a problem but it does seem to work only on pages, not on the main timeline.

I hope you found this helpful but if you still feel uncomfortable with scheduling to Facebook, or just don’t have the time or patience to post regularly, then please get in touch with me here and I’d be happy to help.

Successful Project Planning: Five Key Features

Project planning successful projects project support project support

Project Planning involves managing a number of interconnected elements, ensuring all the strands fit together into a seamless whole and result in the outcome you were intending.  Although it might seem complicated to manage the many elements of a project, if you keep these five things in mind you will be well on the way to a successful project that comes in on, or below, budget.  And as a Yorkshire Gal, bringing things in under budget is always my preferred option.

Flexibility

Have a plan, but don’t treat the plan as though it is a fixed thing.  Most plans tend not to survive contact with the enemy and the key to bringing in a project to time and budget is flexibility.  Treat your plan like a framework.  Move things about within it so that time and resources, including human resources, are used to best advantage.

Dealing with Roadblocks

If you come to a road block in your project planning it is worth taking some time to step away, think things through, and consider re-jigging the plan before you press on.  Sometimes you will decide that pressing on is the right thing to do, particularly if there is no way to get around the road block. However, before you decide to press on, are you sure there is no way around that road block?  An old boss of mine used to tell me, “If you come to a wall, walk along a bit.  You might find you can go around it, rather than forcing your way through it.”  Sometimes, brainstorming some ideas with your team, or just leaving the problem for a few hours, can result in an innovative solution coming to you which will allow you to go around rather than pushing on through and is often a better solution than the original one.

Wiggle Room

When planning a project of any kind, remember to take account of contingencies and build in some wiggle room for delays and problems.  Wiggle room allows you to deliver problem projects bang on target, and routine projects early.  And what client doesn’t love, and provide glowing testimonials about, companies who deliver well within the timescale?

Blast Off

Remember:  “Never launch into a project with aggressive randomness.  Always take time to examine the project parameters first.”  This is a direct quote from a tutor I studied with a good few years ago.  It made me laugh then and it makes me laugh now.

How many times have you had an idea and then set off to implement it, without examining what will be needed?  For example:  you get up one morning, look at the bathroom ceiling and decide it needs painting.  You rush off to the DIY shop and buy paint.  When you get home and go into the garage to get the painting tools you find five litres of white emulsion you forgot you had bought, a broken roller tray, brushes with clumped together bristles and a rather sad, bald looking roller.  So, you trot off to the DIY shop again.  You buy a roller sleeve but decide to save money by not buying the cage and handle because you already have that.  You get some brushes and the roller tray and return the white paint from that morning.  When you get home the roller doesn’t fit the handle and you have to go back to get a new handle after all.  One initial trip to the garage to check on stocks and equipment, and perhaps a decision to take the roller handle with you to the shop, would have saved petrol, time, frustration and money.

Cost Control

Cost control is always a critical part of project planning and it can spiral out of control if it’s not managed.  DIY projects tend to be particularly prone to costing way more than you expect and taking twice as long as you expected.  This is because things always go wrong when we do things which we are not experienced in, or qualified to carry out.

Sometimes, it is cheaper and easier to outsource tasks.  Often it takes less time for an experienced person to complete tasks.  They will have the ability to apply tips and tricks learned over a number of years.  I’m not that good at DIY projects.  I am, however, brilliant at administration projects with a lot of experience of project planning and a number of tips and tricks in my arsenal that can save my clients time.  Here you can read about just one of the projects I’ve successfully completed for clients.

If you have an admin project you are looking to complete and you want it to come in to time, and budget, why not get in touch with me.  I can take on projects of all sizes from getting individual inboxes under control to the creation of processes and procedures ready for a small business to be scaled.

Holiday Planning for Small Business Owners

Holiday planning for small business owners

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

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

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

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

holiday small business planning

I’ve booked my holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

With one month to go before your Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Before the Holiday.

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

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

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

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

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

Set an out of office message on your phone.

On Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really Effective Email Management

email management, inbox management, email tips and techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

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

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

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

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

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

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

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

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

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

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

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

7 Steps to Better Email

Email Email Tips Help with Email

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

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

A clear layout

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

question. why, what, where, when, how

Who needs a copy?

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

 Why are you Emailing me?

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

Reply all.

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

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

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

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

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

War and Peace 

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

 Same But Different

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

Simple Steps to Increase Productivity

increase productivity; simple steps to increase productivity

Filing. 

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

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

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

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

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

Key Considerations

key to success; key to admin success

Key things to consider when designing your filing system:

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

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

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

Filing System

filing, file folders, filing processes, filing tips

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget your Email System

email, email organisation

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

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

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

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.

4 Reasons to Outsource Your Data Input

data input tips typing copy-typingWe live in an increasingly connected world.  Information is king and a deluge of data arrives every time you pick up your smartphone, look at your computer, or turn on your television.  Businesses handle an increasingly large and diverse quantity of data on a daily basis.  To harness the power of the information you generally need some level of data input support to organise the raw data into a form which can be used to drive your business forward.

 1.   Time is Money

You can ask one of your team to do the data input.  You can even spread the task across the whole team.  However, this takes each team member away from their key business role.  Since time is money, this may delay completion of important, revenue producing tasks and affect your profit margins. Additionally, asking highly paid staff to carry out routine work can make the work very costly on a per hour basis.

2.    Accuracy

Accuracy is totally critical to ensuring your data is reliable and can be used confidently.  Data input tasks need to be completed by someone whose attention to detail and precision is absolutely top notch.   Incorrect data is more than just a nuisance, it can create major problems.  Incorrect contact details may mean your clients do not receive critical information.  Inaccurate costing information can lead to overspending on your projects.  Errors in metrics which you are relying upon to steer your business forward can have a massive impact on your business forecasting.  Business data needs to be reliable.   You don’t have time to double check work to ensure it is correct.

3.    Speed

Fast typing speeds are important, though not at the expense of accuracy.  Using a specialist who can provide both accuracy and speed makes sense.  Information produced will be reliable and able to be used straight away, saving the business money as well as time.

4.    Motivation and Productivity

You can ask your staff to do the data input alongside their main role.  However, frequent requests for staff to complete routine admin and data input when this is not part of their role can reduce staff morale.  Such requests can lead to resentment, lack of motivation and feelings of being undervalued.  At best this could lead to a reduction in productivity, at worst staff may vote with their feet, leaving you with a costly recruitment and onboarding campaign to manage.

For all of these reasons, outsourcing your data entry to an expert makes sound business sense.

What kinds of Data Input can be Outsourced?

Just about any bulk data input can be outsourced.  Contact information is frequently outsourced since it is very time-consuming to collate and keep up to date.  This is one reason why the input of business cards and contact information into Excel for upload into CRM or telemarketing systems is one of my popular services.

If you are considering outsourcing your next data input task, please get in touch with me and I’d be pleased to help.

10 Simple Tips for Proof Checking Success

proof checking success 10-simple-tips accuracy

Whether it is your business cards, website, flyers or blog, proof checking errors can give a poor impression of your business.

It is actually quite hard to proof check. A number of psychological experiments have been carried out which show that we tend to see what we expect to see. One well-known example is this one.

psychology proof checking failure optical illusion

This effect seems to be worse if you try to check something you created yourself. You will almost certainly read what you think is there because you know what you are trying to say. Your brain will compensate and skip over the error.  One way to reduce this effect is to let some time elapse before trying to proof the copy.

To ensure your business documentation always shows you and your company to the very best advantage, here are a few tips for checking your work more effectively

1.  A spell checker

This is a great starting point, but cannot be totally relied upon since it won’t take account of context. As a result, you can find yourself “Barley able to continue yourself at the thought of attending the concert”. 

2.  Grammarly

This is a free web based tool that will check all of your online work. It doesn’t work with offline tasks but is marvellous for blogs and websites. I have it installed and find its suggestions very helpful at times.

3.  Read Aloud

Reading it out loud as well as silently is a great way to check whether the words flow well.  You will also find ultra-long sentences as you will run out of breath part way through reading out your sentence.  Reading aloud also assures you that the text makes sense, is well phrased, and points haven’t been missed out.

4.  Print it Out

By all means, proof check on the screen first to identify glaring errors.  However, proof checking on a screen is quite difficult and it is easy to overlook mistakes. Since mistakes are much easier to locate on a hard copy document you will get a more accurate outcome if you proof check the hard copy document.

5.  Multiple Checks

Don’t try to find every proof checking mistake at once. Read the document once to find spelling errors. Then read the document again to search for grammatical errors. Read it a third time to find missing or additional spaces, and so on.

6.  Phone a Friend

If possible, ask someone to help you. Take turns reading the document out loud to each other whilst the other person follows the text to try and catch any proof checking errors. This method is brilliant for proofing numerical information because numbers seem to be easily transposed.

7.  It’s the small things that matter

Don’t overlook the little words. “Or” and “of” are often used in place of each other in error.

8.  Vary your Route

When checking tables, it can be easier to read down columns to check information, especially if you would normally read across the rows when using the data.  Some people also like to read the document backwards, particularly when looking for spelling errors since the sense of the information is disrupted and you are less likely to skip over something because your brain has “filled in the blanks”.

9.  It’s not just the words

Check your photos, illustrations and figures are the right way up, captioned correctly and any captions or numbers match the text.  Any numbered lists should be checked to ensure the numbers are sequential.  If you are using references and footnotes, ensure that everything is correctly cross-referenced, and accurately numbered.

10.  Fresh Eyes

Sometimes all that is needed to catch that last little error is a fresh pair of eyes. Because our brains are programmed to see what we expect to see, it can be very difficult to spot errors if you are too close to the project.  Someone who has had no input into the document may find proof checking errors which you have overlooked.

If you want to ensure your business documents are as accurate as possible and would like to avail yourself of my fresh eyes, please get in touch with me here.