A Productive Environment

A Productive Environment

In the final part of this series on productivity, I’m looking at the impact of people and the environment on your productivity.  I touched on this in the first part of the series in January.  If you missed it, just go here to catch up.

Whilst discussing personality and its impact on how productive we are, I touched on the issue of noise and silence as well as busy versus quiet environments.  If you are naturally more comfortable or creative in one environment than in the other then you will be more productive.

For some people, of course, you may find that for creative tasks you need a busy environment and for routine tasks a quiet location is best.  Or vice versa.  This is one reason why it can be helpful for employers to provide collaboration areas as well as quiet areas where space allows since this can give employees a choice and thus increase productivity both across the team and individually.

Together or alone?

Problem-solving can also be affected by the environment with some people more likely to come up with innovative solutions within a brainstorming situation whilst for other a bit of silence works best, at least until you have some options to discuss.  Similarly, for some people a meeting stimulates their thoughts and they go back to the desk re-energised and ready to work.  For others, meetings can feel draining and pointless. Of course, this is also affected by the quality of the meeting.

Unfortunately, in many cases, meetings are run badly, the agenda is not adhered to and decisions aren’t made.  At their worst, they become a stadium for the loudest to grandstand whilst those who are quieter feel they cannot contribute.  If your meetings fall into the latter category, check out my blog on this subject for some tips on how to run a really effective meeting that will contribute to productivity rather than stifling it.

The Radio Debate

The amount of noise in the background can be a huge distraction or provide the necessary stimulation to increase your productivity.  As mentioned earlier in the series, often this will be affected by your location on the Extraversion/Introversion scale of the MBTI with introverts tending toward a love of quiet and extroverts tending to be uncomfortable with silence.

You will be most productive in an environment in which you are comfortable and which you don’t find overly distracting.  In many cases, a low background noise is easier to tune out than sudden, unexpected noises and for some people, the frequency of the noise makes a difference to productivity.  The debate about radio on/radio off, as well as arguments over the channel it is tuned to, is an old argument and one that ends up being refereed by the HR department in any number of organisations across the world with depressing frequency.

Space

How much space do you require?  Even this makes a difference to productivity.  Trying to work in a tiny space with everything squished up on a tiny desk when you naturally prefer a more spread out, spacious environment, can affect productivity.  I do think everyone has a need to be able to find the stuff they need, when they need it, in order to be properly productive.  That will look different in each case.

I’ve worked with someone who put every single thing away and worked on one thing at a time.  Not a Post-It note out of place, just one pen, one piece of paper and an entirely clear desk.  I’ve worked with someone whose office furniture, the floor of the office, corridor and kitchen area were all entirely obscured by towering piles of documents, from which, amazingly, he could always produce the exact thing required.  More common is the slightly untidy desk upon which the phone is always in its place, the keyboard and screen are placed correctly and at the right height for comfort and health, and you can reach your coffee mug but aren’t in danger of knocking it over.

Something as simple as having a left-hand curve on your desk when you naturally work better on a right-hand curve can negatively affect productivity.  You need to be able to move easily and have your reference documents on the side you are comfortable with.  Having a desk too close to a wall so your chair can’t move easily backwards, or setting up in a room so small that you feel claustrophobic can also reduce your productivity.

Also, and this is another one that gets refereed by HR quite frequently; room temperature.  Some people are sent off to sleep in a warm room.  Others can’t work when it’s cold.  Your productivity can certainly be affected by temperature and in a shared office, sometimes the only way around this is a bit of compromise and wearing layered clothing that can be adjusted to suit your particular needs.

Enthusiasm

This is a key one for productivity.  We all prefer to do things we like don’t we?  It’s so much easier to be productive when completing tasks we enjoy and are good at.  You will be awesomely productive when doing tasks you love.

Also, it’s not that difficult to be productive when doing a task you like.  Even if you aren’t that great at it yet, you’ll want to learn to do it more efficiently and eventually become proficient, and productive, in that area.

If you aren’t that good at the task AND you don’t like doing it, you will procrastinate, put the task off, and when you do get around to doing it, the task will feel as though it is taking forever to complete, you’ll grumble and moan to yourself, take lots of tea breaks and feel unproductive, bored and frustrated.  Those tasks are the ones that you outsource as soon as you are able to afford to do so.  Because for every task you really, really hate, there will be someone out there that cannot wait to get stuck into it.

Hopefully, this series has given you some ideas for areas where you can increase your productivity by making small changes.  However, if you are still struggling with your workload or productivity, remember:

Doing what you are best at  + Outsourcing tasks that don’t bring in money = Peak Productivity.

That’s the secret formula that allows my clients to sleep at night, spend time with family and earn more money.  If you’d like some of that, give me a call.

Your Productive Personality

Your Productive Personality; productivity

Productivity:  the art of getting stuff done.  Or rather, the art of getting the right stuff done.

We’ve all had days where we’ve toiled away and achieved nothing that moves the business forward.  However, understanding your productivity style can really help you to focus on reducing those days to a minimum and tap into your productive personality.

Understanding your personality helps you to create a schedule that works well for you, set priorities in a way that plays to your strengths and personal preferences, and helps you to fit the work to who you are, so your work becomes a seamless and almost effortless activity rather than a fight to fit everything into your day.

Introversion and extroversion have a great impact on your work style.  Introverts working in a very noisy or high-energy environment may lose energy partway through the day, drained by the constant effort of tuning out the unwanted stimulation of chat, background noise and constant interruptions.  This can lead to lack of productivity in the latter part of the day.  Extroverts, on the other hand, could well find themselves thriving in that very busy environment and struggling hugely in a quiet office at home.

The recent increase in home working may, therefore, have an interesting impact on productivity, potentially increasing productivity in introverts (who may well emit a sigh of relief at the silence) whilst decreasing productivity in extroverts who may be driven mad by a quiet environment.  This could lead in turn to some interesting appraisal findings too, with highly productive, highly extrovert staff suddenly suffering a dip in productivity.

Personality Tests

Of course, introversion/extroversion is a scale along which we all fall, and as with most scales, forms a normal bell curve with fewer people lying at the extreme ends of the scale.  Thus, when considering the impact on your productivity, you will find that in some circumstances, busy and noisy might be a boost to your productivity whilst in other circumstances, silence is most certainly golden.

You have to take into account as well that all personality tests measure what they set out to measure.  By which I mean, each test examines particular areas which the creator believed were critical differentiators of personality types. So sometimes the questions are more instructive than the overall ranking you achieve.  If you read a set of personality test results and don’t believe that they reflect who you are, then in all probability, you are right and the test results are wrong.  However, you may well find that some of the questions have raised points that you find useful to consider when deciding where, when and how you are most productive.

The main benefit of personality tests is to help you to consciously think about yourself and how you work, what motivates you, what demotivates you, and what your approach to certain key areas of your life tends to be.  The score is not as important as the insight you gain from the process.

There are a range of personality tests available online, some of which are based on well-known typologies including the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) from which the Introversion/Extroversion scale is taken.  Many of us are familiar with the latter, but the MBTI also includes three other scales and our place on these four scales taken together forms a set of 16 personality types and a great insight into our productive personality too:

Introversion/Extroversion

This scale effectively measures whether you prefer to focus on the outside world or on your own inner world.

Information

This measures how much focus you place on the information you are given and how much meaning or interpretation you add to that basic information.  This is the Sensing/Intuition scale.

Decisions

Examines whether you look at the data on which you plan to make the decision and apply logic or do you look first at the people and circumstances involved in the decision.  This is the Thinking/Feeling scale.

Structure

Investigates whether you like things to be decided quickly or tend to be open to new information and options.  This is the Judging/Perceiving scale.

Your personality type is then expressed as a four letter code, each letter showing your preference in each of the four categories.  Understanding these elements allows you to see how you might alter your daily routine to make best use of your personality strengths, whether that is choosing the right location, providing yourself with extra thinking time by scheduling your daily walk prior to a task which you know you need to mull over, or creating a space in the day for research to ensure you feel confident in the decisions you are making and can implement them confidently and well.

DISC Profiling

Another useful testing methodology to identify important elements that make up your productive personality is DISC profiling.  This can be very helpful in providing insight into what motivates you, how you solve problems and what stresses you out.  It is well known as a tool to help you to understand how to communicate with different people and how to work as a team with very different individuals.  However, the insight into your motivation and problem solving is very useful when working out how to improve your productivity.

Consider how the findings from your investigations fit with the current structure of a typical workday and work environment.  If you feel there is a clash, consider how you might alter things to help you harness your productive personality traits so you can work more effectively.  If there is an area where you realise that particular activities or processes enhance your productivity already, how can you make that work even better for you?

If you’d like to find out more about increasing YOUR productivity, keep checking back to read the rest of the series.  In the meantime, if you are struggling with your workload or productivity, remember:

Tailored Approach to workload  + Outsourcing tasks that don’t bring in money = Peak Productivity.

That’s the secret formula that allows my clients to sleep at night, spend time with family and earn more money.  If you’d like some of that, give me a call.

Frog Control in the Office

Once upon a time, on a desk not very far away, A large frog was lurking.

The frog’s owner knew that she needed to eat it, but it was just so big.

It hadn’t been very big when she got it.  In fact, it had seemed manageable.  But like most things, it had grown the longer she had kept it.

She nibbled away at it a couple of times.

Each time, the frog seemed to grow smaller and yet, the very next morning, it had grown again overnight.

This happened several times until the frog grew so large that it took over the desk.

She couldn’t see the desk for the frog.

Her whole day was blighted by the pesky amphibian.

Every day she woke up and she felt that frog, lurking in her office next door.  In the night she was sure she heard it croaking.

Every day she took a nibble at it but the deadline for delivering the frog got shorter, and the creature just got bigger, longer, and, frankly, was beginning to look quite nasty.  She wasn’t at all keen on eating him.  But she’d promised the client she’d deliver, and deliver she must.

The next day, she marched into the office and she got hold of that frog.  She struggled to lift him off the desk.  She struggled to get her mouth around his horrible, scaly leg, but she took a deep breath and bit really, really hard.  She took a really big bite, and she chewed and she chewed.  And then she took another bite.  And another.  And the frog started to look a bit smaller.  She put him down on the desk for a moment to review her progress and realised he had only got two legs now.  He didn’t fill the desk any more.  The sense of achievement outweighed the taste of amphibian.  So, with renewed energy, she bit, and tore and chewed in an effort to get through the task.

But still, the deadline was short and the frog was large.  There was only so much frog that one person could eat in the time available.  So she decided that she had no other option than to find someone who enjoyed eating frogs and delegate some of the work to them.  Quickly she looked up Virtual Assistants on Google and lo, there were several.  Choosing the most qualified in her sector, she quickly engaged her to take control of the parts of the frog she just could not bring herself to eat.

Having delegated part of the task it now seemed much more manageable and she chewed and tore her way through the parts of the frog she still needed to eat whilst her assistant tackled the parts she had been delegated.

Soon the frog was gone.  That last bite tasted almost sweet.   Just in time for the deadline too.

And they both lived happily ever after, working together to deal with the frogs in her business before they became too large to manage.

If you’ve got a frog, try and eat it before it grows too large.

If your frog is already too large, why not delegate some of the work to your local VA.

Jenni: Eating the frogs that others do not have time to digest.  You can contact me here for support with your frog.   HR Support Frogs are a particular speciality.

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.

Accounting For Receipts

Accounting For Receipts

Receipts for business expenditure.  They are small and they often go missing.  Do you know where all yours are?  If you had to complete a tax return tomorrow, could you provide your accountant with a carefully recorded, tidily managed pile of receipts for them to work from?  Or would you have to hand over a shoe box or plastic bag full of documentation that has little or no organisation to it?

As a sole trader, finding time for all the varied tasks required of you in business can be a challenge, particularly if your business is booming and you have no administrative assistance.  However, the time it will take to unravel records which have not been kept up to date will be considerable at tax return time so it is worth having an ongoing system that will avoid you having to spend three days with your receipts spread out across the living room carpet, scratching your head and cursing the cat for walking over the piles you have created.  You could hand the entire thing to your accountant to sort out, but the bill would be quite considerable.  By planning ahead you can avoid all the pain.

Have a System

You don’t need a complicated system when you are first starting out.  A set of well labelled envelopes for the receipts and an Excel spreadsheet for the accounts themselves will do for many smaller businesses.

Every transaction has its own unique reference number and this should be written on the receipt and the accounts spreadsheet so they can be matched up easily.  Any transactions that will go through the bank are treated in this way.

Keeping it Together

Keep all receipts for credit card transactions together in one plastic envelope, ideally in date order.  Then, when the bill comes in, you can number every line on the bill sequentially.  It is then possible to match the receipts to the items on the bill, recording the relevant number on the receipt itself.  I find that it is credit card receipts that tend to go walkabouts, and by reconciling the bill in this way every month, you can more easily search out the errant receipt before it goes into hiding and, like Lord Lucan, is never seen again.

The settled credit card bill and its lovely set of numbered receipts can be placed in an envelope with the date marked on it, and filed with the rest of the receipts for that month.  Obviously when you have paid the credit card the transaction is entered on the accounting spreadsheet so the bank account remains correctly balanced.

Don’t forget your petrol receipts if you are accounting for these.  One client keeps these in the car in a small folder and then hands them to me every couple of months for recording.  If you get in the habit of putting the receipts in the same place each time this can make a real difference and massively reduce those awful “dig through every possible drawer to find that receipt” moments.

Finally there are those pesky online bills.  Don’t forget to enter these to your spreadsheet and either save them with a clear reference number (in line with your chosen naming process above) on a memory stick that you can send to your accountant, or print, add the reference number, and then file in the relevant envelope.

Still Need a Hand with those Receipts?

If you struggled to get the supporting information for your tax bill organised for the last tax year and vowed never to go through that again, why not get in touch?  I can help you to set up a process that works for you so that your accountant doesn’t hide from you during tax return season.

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.

Planning a Successful Project: Five Great Tips

successful project project planning project support successful projects admin projects project support project tips

Planning a successful project involves managing a number of moving parts, ensuring that everything fits together to create a beautifully engineered whole which runs smoothly along to a well-managed conclusion.  These five tips will help you to ensure your next project does exactly that.

Have a breakdown

No, not a nervous breakdown.  A breakdown of the project.  Break the whole thing into component parts.  This will allow you to work out timings for each discrete section as well as identifying which parts are dependent on each other.  You can then start to look at the order in which you will tackle the elements of the project as well as who will be responsible for each area and which tasks are dependent on each other.

Knowing which parts are dependent on each other is critical to designing an effective and successful project plan which delivers maximum productivity with minimum delay.

Plan for Failures

By which I don’t mean plan to fail, but rather examine your project for weak points, problem areas and dependencies that might trip you up.  If you have examined the areas where you think there could be a problem and have contingency plans available to mitigate the risk of failures in these areas, you will feel more in control of your project.

Order, Order

Task sequencing and expected task duration are key to a well-run, successful project plan.  There is absolutely no point engaging the kitchen fitter for Tuesday 10th if the electrician isn’t due to finish the rewiring of the room until Thursday 12th and the plumber won’t finish the pipework until Friday 13th.

By constantly monitoring the project, and the order in which you need or want tasks to happen, you can also see clearly when things start to go off track and take corrective action to bring the project back onto track.  This might involve changing the order in which tasks are completed.  Perhaps prioritising a particular area of the project to ensure it completes to time and does not delay other parts of the project which are dependent upon its successful completion.

Communication

Keeping up to date with everything that is happening on every strand of the project is crucial to success.  Making sure you know if something is delayed, has hit a problem, or is on target to complete more quickly than expected.  Ensuing people have the information they need to solve any problems.  Putting people in touch with each other when their work has dependencies.  Negotiating day to day changes to the project plan to take account of issues arising whilst still ensuring you can deliver the full project to time and budget.

Choose the Right People

Engaging people with the right set of skills to complete tasks well, to time and budget, is a critical element of successful project control.  If you have to re-do an element of the project this will generally take three times as long as planned.  Poor work is done, discovered, undone and then re-done correctly.

Time is money and if you want a task carried out correctly and efficiently then outsourcing the work to an expert is one of the best investments you can make.  It will take them less time, it will be done correctly, and it will be right first time.

Being careful to engage the correct people for the job at the start of a project will help you to bring that project in on time and within budget.  An expert will have a very accurate idea of how long a task will take, what might go wrong, have a plan to control risk, and the skills and resources necessary to complete the task to a high standard.

successful project project support project planning project management

It just so happens that I am rather good at admin and organisational projects.  If you want to see how good, have a look at this blog, and read what others say about my project skills here.

If you do have an admin project you are looking to complete, I would love to chat to you so please do get in touch.  I can take on any size of project from Inboxes that are threatening to explode, through offices that need some organisation to make them work efficiently, all the way up to putting processes and procedures into place to support a business that is looking to scale up.

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.

Simple Steps to Increase Productivity

increase productivity; simple steps to increase productivity

Filing. 

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

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

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

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

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

Key Considerations

key to success; key to admin success

Key things to consider when designing your filing system:

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

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

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

Filing System

filing, file folders, filing processes, filing tips

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget your Email System

email, email organisation

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

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

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

Three Steps Will Increase Your Productivity

increase productivity, three steps to increase productivity

This is the third in the series of posts about the organisational methods outlined in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”.  This post examines the importance that review, update and reflection play in the system.  If you missed the previous two posts, you can read them here and here.

When I first started with the Getting Things Done system I had to really force myself to review my lists regularly and to stick to what was in my diary.  You do need to regularly review both in order to make the system work.  No matter how good your system is, if you don’t visit it and reflect on its contents, it won’t be functional.  No diary can ensure you are where you are supposed to be if you don’t actually look at it after all.

Review

review tasks, review lists, listing and reviewing tasksSome people like to review and update the lists daily, having a mini-brain dump/mind sweep session as their last task before finishing work.  Others do it once a week, often on a Friday night, or on a Sunday.

If you find you are adding the same thing to your To Do list each week, or regularly moving a task to a fresh list without dealing with it, then ask yourself why that is.

Is it outside your skill set?  Is it not as urgent as you first thought?  Is it too large a task? Does it need to be broken down a bit to make it manageable?  Do you hate doing the task?  Do you need to outsource it to ensure it gets done?  Do you really need to do it at all, or can it be removed from the list?

By keeping on top of the list, adding to it, reviewing it and reflecting on it, your mind is aware that you have the tasks under control and isn’t wasting energy racing around in circles trying to remind you about things and making you feel stressed.

Once a week, review your list of tasks completed and still to do, and the brain dump list, and make your plan for the week.  Sunday evening is a great time to do this part.  You will hopefully be fresh, rested, have a clear head and be starting to consider the week ahead.  Preparing on Sunday allows you to start on Monday with purpose and know what your goals for the day and week will be.

Keeping the systems up to date and reviewing the tasks regularly takes practice but it can produce some great rewards.

“Do it, Defer it, Delegate it”

delegate, delegate tasks, delegate workDavid Allen suggests using the “Do it, Defer It, Delegate it” approach.

If a task will take less than two minutes to complete you should just do it right away rather than adding it to a list.

If it will take more than two minutes then you should defer it, that is, document it on a list, and, if appropriate, add it to the diary or planner, so that it can be done at the most suitable time.

Finally, for those tasks which are very time-consuming, are not your area of expertise, or you absolutely hate doing, you should delegate the task to someone who has the time and expertise to do it well on your behalf.  If you hate the task then you will either put it off, do it badly, or it will take you much longer than it should.  All of which will have a negative effect on your productivity and impact on your work-life balance.

If the thought of cross-checking and updating that spreadsheet sends you to sleep.  If your paperwork backlog makes you want to poke out your own eyes with frustration.  If you’d rather handle a live snake than fill in those forms, then the answer is simple.  Delegate those tasks.  If you have a task or two that you aren’t that keen on doing, why not get in touch with me here.