Is Your Workplace affecting your Productivity?

Productive Productivity Workplace Productivity

Does your workspace make you feel stressed or distracted?  Do you suspect that you could be more productive than you actually are?

If the answer to these two questions is a resounding “Yes”, then let me ask just one more question:    Is your workspace cluttered?

This may seem irrelevant, after all, plenty of people work in chaos.  However, researchers have found that physical clutter can negatively affect your mood, resilience and ability to work productively and efficiently.  It can become difficult to focus on just one thing when there are many things lying around competing for your attention.  You may even start to feel that things are spiralling out of your control.  There is always something else needing your attention in any business but if most of the attention-seeking things are spread around your office in plain sight, you will possibly begin to feel overwhelmed.  You might be tempted to multi-task although doing so will negatively impact on your productivity.

I guess I paint a bleak picture but never fear, it is relatively straightforward to break the cycle.

Control

First of all, dedicate a small amount of time each day to getting your work area under control.  Put away things you don’t need to work on today, or this week.  Go through everything and ruthlessly chuck out things you don’t need, file things you need to keep but don’t need on your desk.  Organise the things you do need in a way that makes sense for you and your business.   Once you have got things under control, keep them that way by having a daily or weekly tidy up to ensure things don’t get out of hand again.

De-Clutter

Don’t forget your electronic clutter. Set up files that make sense for your business and use them.  Keep your inbox under control.  Unsubscribe if you don’t read that email newsletter.  Delete things that don’t need retention (newsletters, Amazon offer emails, items you’ve answered but don’t need to keep).  File the things you do need to keep.  I have more advice about Inboxes in this blog if this is the area you are struggling with the most.

Lists and Notes

Use a To-Do List and don’t overload it.  I’ve written on this subject here and here and I do tend to bang on about this.  However, a long To-Do list is almost as distracting as a cluttered workspace.  A To-Do List,  marked up with the priorities for each task on the list,  can keep you organised, your work on track and help you to feel in control of your workload. You will be more productive as a result.

If you are a person who tends to write things on bits of paper as you go about your day, try using one notebook for this purpose and always have it with you.  This ensures that you don’t add to the clutter in your workspace by having Post-it notes, and scrappy bits of paper all over the place, competing for your attention.

Capturing routine information throughout the day without reacting to it straight away can also help you to feel more in control of your work.  If you allocate time at the end of the day to go through the things you have captured and put them into your diary or To-Do list as appropriate, you will feel much more in control of your workload.

Once your workspace is more organised your productivity should begin to increase and you should start to feel more in control of your workload too.

If you would like more help to organise your workspace to help you become more productive, get in touch for a chat.

Business Processes: The Blueprint for Success

Business Processes

At the beginning of a new year our thoughts tend to turn toward making improvements in our business which will increase its size and revenue.  Often when a business grows rapidly, information about tasks and processes are held entirely in someone’s head.  If they leave the company this can leave a knowledge gap that can be difficult to fill.  New staff come in and are not sure what the business processes and procedures are and this can lead to problems with motivation, accuracy and speed of learning.  Even if your staffing is relatively stable, people get sick or go on holiday, leaving someone to temporarily carry out their tasks.

As a business grows, written business processes to govern how tasks are carried out, by whom and within what timescale will become increasingly necessary to ensure a consistent quality outcome.  Written processes also give a benchmark against which performance can be measured and a hand over plan when staff move on or change roles.

steps, steps to improve, steps to increase

The first step when documenting a process or task is to break the process down into steps.  Identify who is responsible for each step in the process, what the outcome looks like at each stage and what order tasks should be completed in order to arrive at a consistently high quality outcome using the minimum effort and resources necessary.  Look at the stages of the process and identify any areas where tasks are handed between people. Ensure that these areas are particularly clearly documented and state who is responsible for each area of the outcome.  Add any milestones or targets required for timely completion.

checklist, GDPR checklists

List everything that you think could go wrong.  If appropriate, ask another person if they can see any areas where a failure might occur.

Write it all down but then put it away for a day or two.  When you go back to read it again, try to follow the steps.  Would you add new steps?  Do you understand what you wrote?  Could you express the task more clearly?  Would a diagram, screen shot or better explanation help?  What would you clarify?

business procesesses project planning project management

Ask someone you trust to follow the process as  you have written it.  Can they follow it easily?  Do they understand it clearly or do you explain some elements more clearly?  How do they think it could be improved to make the outcome happen faster or more efficiently?  What input can they give which will help the overall process to move smoothly?

business processes project planning project management

Provide links to all supporting information.  This might be a “How To” guide for a task that forms part of the whole, a manual that governs company process, legislative rules, or a related instruction that is already in place.

Include the locations of any files or forms that must be used.  If your documentation changes infrequently, example forms are fine to include.  However, if you can store the form on-line and publish a link in your process document this will make your documentation more future proof.  If the form is updated, your manual will remain applicable.

Contact details for all the teams involved in the process are also critical.  Using a link to the company contact list is helpful here.  Again, it future proofs your documents, reducing the number of amendments required.

If you must use jargon or acronyms, please explain it in a footnote.  It is particularly important to avoid these in induction manuals since your new team member will think they’ve landed in outer space without knowing the language.

Before a process is released into the world it should ideally be tested to identify any missing steps or incorrect information.   If you can, ask a representative of all the teams involved to look at the process to make sure it will work at every step in the process.

All business processes are live documents and should be subject to regular review, particularly when there have been major changes in the organisational structure.

An outsider can often view business processes more clearly than those who are within the organisation.  They come in with a fresh eye and new questions that you might not have thought of.  It can be a challenge to “see the wood for the trees” when you are so close to the action.  A new perspective can also help clarify priorities for change where there seem to be a lot of issues to resolve at once.  If this is an area you are struggling with, then do get in touch.  I have experience in setting up and improving processes and would be glad to help.

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 Tips for Great Content

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

Creativity Can’t be Coerced

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

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

Begin in the Middle

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

Don’t be a Butterfly

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

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

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

Be Human.  Be You.

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

Tell a Tale

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

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

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.

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

help assistance virtual assistance assistant lap top transcription writing

So, you are thinking about hiring an assistant.  At least, I am guessing that is why you landed here on my blog.  But you find yourself a bit torn.  A bit unsure.  You know you need some help.  You know you have been spending way too long on your admin.  There have been those comments from family about never seeing you.  And you are always tired.  The admin is starting to feel like a total chore, and it’s getting in the way of your “real” work.  And yet.  You still aren’t sure.  It’s a surprisingly emotive thing, hiring an assistant, isn’t it?

Some common concerns are listed below, together with some ideas that may help you to decide if the time has come to invite an assistant into your business, and if so, how best to do that so that your business gains great value from your investment in an assistant.

1.  Letting Go

Do you feel you should do it all yourself? Or feel you are the only person that can do it right? Yet you still have that sneaky feeling that you do need some help?  If so, you are not alone.  To see if you are ready to take on an assistant, try looking at the areas where you do not feel you have the high-level expertise or the inclination for the task and consider whether you could outsource these areas first.  It is often easier to let go of tasks you dislike or find difficult.

For example, If you aren’t particularly organised, then managing your business documentation may well be a time-consuming chore that in the hands of an expert could take half the time.

2.  How do I know I can Trust my new Assistant?

Are you concerned about letting someone into the business?  Being able to let go of tasks does require trust, but you can build that trust with your assistant by being very clear about what you require of them.  I won’t lie to you.  Trust will take time to develop, but if you are clear about what you need to be done then your assistant will be able to provide the right result in the timescale requested.  I offer a test task to any clients who request it and always suggest something routine which won’t impact on the business itself but will save you some time.  Tasks such as data input of business cards to Excel, transcription, minute-taking or copy-typing are all popular starter or test tasks which can help you assess whether your potential assistant will be discreet, accurate, meet deadlines, and communicate with you effectively.

3.  What tasks can I Outsource?

Well, pretty much anything that needs doing which is not illegal or immoral.   One of the greatest advantages to using a freelance staff is the ability to access a wide range of specialist expertise on a per hour or per project basis.  There are assistants for most tasks, from general VA’s who tackle varied tasks, through to specialist VA’s who tackle areas as diverse as Pinterest, Medical Transcription, HR, Social Media, Marketing, Events and Website Builds.  Whatever you need, there is a VA for it.

4.  Surely a Freelance will be awfully expensive?

If your assistant charges out at less per hour than you do, then you will make money by handing over work to them.  Virtual Assistants vary in cost depending on experience and expertise but remember that your time is money, and every hour you spend on admin is an hour when you aren’t working with your clients.  And of course, there are none of the overheads such as tax, National Insurance, Pension, Holiday pay and so forth to stump up for.  When your VA tells you their hourly rate, that is all included.  There is very little admin involved in working with a VA as well.  Just an invoice at the agreed time, so no messy payroll issues to manage.

5.  How do I know if my assistant will be reliable?

A good Virtual Assistant will be reliable because their business depends on it. We are business owners too, and we understand the critical importance of reliability.  Nevertheless, it is prudent to ask around amongst your business contacts to find out which Virtual Assistants have proven reliable for them.  In addition, most Virtual Assistants will include a testimonial section on their website which will give you an idea not only of their reliability but also of the type of work they have done in the past and their skill set.

6.  How do I find an assistant I will be comfortable working with?  

I won’t lie to you.  It takes time for an assistant to fully integrate into your business and for the relationship to develop to the point where support is completely seamless.  If you have never had an assistant before, it may take you some time to adjust too.  But with clear communication between you, a good assistant will soon understand your way of working and provide the support you need.  Naturally, you will meet with the potential VA’s you are considering, either in person or via Skype/Facetime and during those discussions will gain a fuller understanding of their personality and whether you feel it will complement yours and they will be someone you would be comfortable working with.

Every assistant/business owner relationship is different and both you and your assistant will, if you work at it, create a way that works for you both which supports your business in the way you need.  A good assistant will adjust to how you want to work because we want to make things as easy as possible for you. After all, that’s why we do what we do.

If you feel you may be ready for an assistant, then please get in touch.  You can contact me via any of the methods listed here.