A Slimmer Inbox Fast

Inbox, Inbox Management, GMail

 

One of my regularly requested services is In Box taming because they can so easily, and quickly, get out of control.  Even VA’s aren’t immune to multiplying emails when things get busy, so we understand how the inbox can quickly get to a point where it feels difficult to manage.  Being able to find and move multiple emails into a designated folder location within Gmail whilst also removing them from the InBox so that it is slimmer and easier to negotiate is a really great trick to have in your toolbox.  It’s also a trick you can use for deleting multiple emails.

Labels are the equivalent of a folder and are a great way to ensure the emails you do want to keep are safely stored.  By default, emails usually have a label of InBox, (even if you add new labels) and removing that Inbox label so the email goes to its allocated folder and ceases to lurk in the Inbox isn’t super obvious.  You would think you’d remove it under Labels on the ribbon bar, but you don’t.

The first step is to create a Folder/Label for your emails to be stored in.  Name it something easy and clear such as Client X.

GMail, GMail Tips, GMail Labels, Organised Inbox

The option for labels is on the top ribbon bar.  As you can see, you can create a new label.  Click this and an option to name the label will come up together with the option to nest the label under another to create a file hierarchy.  So one option is to create a folder labelled Clients and perhaps nest a folder label for Client X under this.

Now you have your label you can go and find all your emails relating to Client X.  There are several ways to search for emails. The most obvious, though not the quickest, is to search in the search box.  This can bring up emails you don’t want as it draws in emails that mention the person as well as emails to and from them.  Useful in certain circumstances but not necessarily ideal when you are trying to streamline an inbox.

If you have conversation view selected your emails will be organised to an extent though you may still have multiple conversations running with the same person.

To quickly find all emails on the same subject, right-click on an email and then select ‘Find emails with this subject’. Gmail will now show you both the received and sent emails with the same topic.

You use a similar method to find emails from the same sender.   Just right-click on the email and select “Find Emails From…”  Be aware that choosing the sender will only show received emails so your replies won’t get drawn into the search results.  Good for newsletters or informative emails that you want to keep, not so good for conversation threads.

GMail Tips, GMail, GMail Labels, GMail find multiple messages

 

Once you have your search results, tick the box just above the emails on the left side and this will highlight and tick all the emails you’ve found. You can then go to Labels and add the correct label to the emails or right click to get the menu shown below and choose “Label As”.  If there are some emails you don’t want to move to that label, just untick those before you choose your label and they won’t be labelled.

Now for the magic bit; evicting them from your Inbox.  The label “InBox” doesn’t show on the list of labels so you can’t just remove the label that way.  Instead, keeping the relevant emails ticked, go up to your email menu bar, choose Archive and your inbox label is magically removed, streamlining your inbox in one click.  Or, right-click and choose Archive from the menu as shown above.  Clever or what?

For those of you dealing with a seriously overweight inbox, it can be helpful to temporarily instruct Gmail to show 50 items so that you can examine and move as many messages as possible in one go.  To do this, click the three dots on the section of inbox you are trying to thin out (usually the Everything Else section) and you can choose the number of items it will show.

For very obese inboxes you may well need to do multiple searches for the same information to get all the items into the right folder and delete the antiques leaving only the collectables behind.

You can use a similar approach if you want to put your Gmail on a strict diet.  Find your target emails, highlight all, untick anything you actually want to keep, then instead of labelling the messages, delete them.  Once you’ve deleted a few screens worth, don’t forget to go into the Trash can and empty that out to permanently delete things, otherwise they may well hang about longer than you’d like them to, taking up storage space you could use for other things.  Particularly important if you deal with sensitive information as I sometimes do.  You want that information completely gone, not lurking in the trash can.

In the past, I’ve recommended apps that can unsubscribe you from newsletters and so forth to try to keep the level of incoming mail to a manageable level. However, there have been issues with at least one of these services selling personal data so now I recommend unsubscribing yourself from things manually, as they come up in your inbox.  Yes, it takes longer, but at least you don’t get zillions of offers of stuff you don’t need from companies you’d not want to use, who purchased your data so they can spam your inbox with rubbish.

A further option for newsletters and other interesting information is to have a folder into which you can move emails that might be needed in the future.  However, for some people, including me, this renders the information “out of sight, out of mind” and they rarely, if ever, visit the folder to retrieve the information, so this is one to treat with care and a realistic understanding of your own working practices.

Hopefully, this will help you to slim down your Gmail inbox to manageable proportions and once you have it under control you might find some useful tips here on keeping it slim and efficient.

Alternatively, if you are one of those people whose inbox is so huge that it contains every email you’ve ever received or sent, and you just can’t see where to start, why not call in an expert VA to get that bad boy sorted and under control, and set up some systems that will work for you, so you can keep it to a healthy weight in future.  Click here to contact me to discuss your requirements.

 

Elves in the Workplace: The Role of Elven Resources

He speeds through the sky in his sleigh, delivering gifts to every good little boy and girl in the world. He’s done it for so many years that he makes it look effortless.  But have you ever stopped to consider how much organisation lies behind the magic of Santa Claus and his amazing Christmas Eve exploits?

Naturally, Santa Claus uses VA’s throughout the year;  it’s the most flexible and cost-effective way to ensure everything is organised properly and happens on schedule.  He has a team of them and you can read about how they support him here and here.  These helpful souls ensure that everything from the sleigh maintenance to the warehouse stock control are kept rigorously under control.

In most cases, Santa needs only two or three of each type of VA.  The exception to this is his Elven Resources Support.  In common with many business owners, Santa Claus uses external Elven Resources Consultants and HR VA’s to help him to ensure he remains on the right side of the law, acts in a fair and reasonable way toward his staff of Elves, recruits effectively and without bias, and of course provides a safe, fair and inclusive environment.  Despite the speed at which he drives that sleigh, Santa is basically a law-abiding gentleman and in addition, he is deeply compassionate and really cares for his team of Elves and reindeer.  Even when those same Elves are testing his patience to its limits.

Elves, Elven Resources, Christmas Elves, Elf-On-The-Shelf

Santa’s Elven Resources Support staff is quite numerous.  The reason for this is simple;  Elves are, how shall we put it politely?  A bit giddy.  All the time.  But especially in the run-up to Christmas.  Elves can test the patience of the most saintly person and even Santa Claus is not immune to frustration when faced with a deputation of Elves complaining about an Elf cooking fish in the warehouse microwave and stinking up the room.

Every year the ER department and an increasingly irascible Santa are forced to add new and sometimes very specific, clauses into the ever-expanding Staff Handbook and the Elf and Safety Handbook.  Clauses which have been added in 2019 include:

“Elves that pin other Elves slippers (or any other part of an Elf or an Elf’s clothing) to any inanimate object will be disciplined”.

“Shaving rude words into the Reindeer’s fur whilst they sleep will not be tolerated”

“Do NOT tie, stick or pin anything to the Reindeer, especially not other Elves”

“Do not place fake dog turds on the conveyor belt”

“Elves may not ride on the conveyor belt”

“Joyriding in the sleigh is a disciplinary offence”

“Do not pin “Kick Me Hard” notices to the back of Santa’s jacket.

Elves, Elven Resources, Elf-On-The-Shelf

And so it goes on.  And every year, partly to assuage their frustration, the Elven Resources Department creates an informal top ten of the most interesting and original disciplinary cases they’ve dealt with.  Because when it comes to Elves, you just never know what they are going to do next.

And here, for your delectation, are the top ten for 2019

10 – the Elf that tied Rudolph’s legs together whilst he slept and then videoed poor Rudolph waking up and falling over.

9 – The Elf that broke wind in the cafeteria and tried to light it, causing damage to himself and the floor when he dropped the match and it set fire to his slippers and the carpet.

8 – The Elves that had a fistfight over whether one of them had let the other Elf’s chair down half a inch whilst the Elf in question was out at lunch.

7- The elves that sneaked into the Jewellery warehouse and were caught on CCTV getting very friendly indeed.

6 – The elf that sneaked into the cafeteria and put vodka into the water carafes so that all the Elves got drunk and had to be sent home.

5 – the Admin Elf who didn’t know how to process orders.  Rather than ask, he hid the orders in the cupboard.  Something that was only discovered when Stock Control VA realised that the 14 million LOL dolls she’d ordered had not arrived, and had subsequently sold out across the world, causing a large number of children to be disappointed on Christmas Day.

4- The elf that claimed his mother had died four times this year in order to gain extra time off.

3- The elf with a bad back who posted a video of herself on Facebook, waterskiing in the Bahamas during her sick leave.

2- The Elf that shaved the word Poop into Blitzens’ fur whilst she slept.

1 – The Elf that got drunk at the office party, stripped naked and streaked around the room. When Santa Claus intervened, the Elf threw up on Santa Claus’ boots.

As you can imagine, with all these Elf-y amusements going on, there is a great need for HR VA’s who can keep a straight face and take rapid notes in grievance hearings and disciplinaries.  Elves talk as fast as they move, so speed is of the essence in capturing the key points of the discussion and writing them up clearly and rapidly after the meeting.  To read more about the importance of note-taking in such meetings, go here.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, do check out some of my other Christmas posts, including this one, which is also HR Related.  Of course, you may prefer to check out my more serious, and probably more useful, posts also.  And if you are looking for a VA with HR experience, or just a VA with a sense of humour and a love of organisation, get in touch.  You can contact me here.

Cast a Spelling on You

spelling, grammar, accuracy, copywriting, copy, words, language

Incorrect spelling, poor grammar and lack of punctuation can make the difference between success and failure in business.

Maybe that’s a tad overstated but it certainly doesn’t make your business look great. When I see business documentation which is littered with errors it makes me wonder about their attention to detail and, depending on the sector, their professionalism.

Not everyone finds it easy to get these areas correct.  Dyslexia, in particular, has a profound impact on how well you can express yourself in writing.  However, there are tools available that can help you to ensure your written material is clear, accurate and gives the right professional impression.

My absolute favourite is Grammarly.  I have this running all the time keeping an eye on my grammar and spelling.  I spend much of my day writing and, like everyone else, I have a mental block about some things.  I have a particular issue with commas.  I tend to add them where they do not belong.  Also, my natural writing style tends toward long, compound sentences and I have to work quite hard to keep my sentence length down.

The Advantages of Grammarly

Grammarly provides both a free and paid version of their service.  If you don’t write as a profession then the free version is perfect.  It automatically finds grammar, spelling, punctuation and style mistakes.  There is a free browser extension for Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge which allows Grammarly to help you write well on the web.  If you use Gmail, the browser extension will assist you with your emails as well.

It is also available for Microsoft Windows.  With the Windows version, just open Grammarly using the button it installs on your ribbon and a window opens to the right of the screen.  Grammarly’s suggestions appear in the window and are underlined in the text.

One really cool feature is the weekly review of your writing activity.  This is a fascinating insight into your writing.  Comparing the weekly reports allows you to see how your writing has improved over time.

The reports are a bit addictive.  I’m a bit of a geek with words.  Having a report arrive in my InBox telling me how many words I’ve written that week and how accurate I have been, is quite exciting.  I am always amazed at just how much I write.  Last week it was 28,200 words.  Since I started using Grammarly in 2017 it has checked 1,850,226 words for me!! Most weeks I have used more unique words than 99% of Grammarly users and been more productive than 97% of Grammarly users.  I am quite proud of those figures.

Why not check out Grammarly if you want to ensure your marketing, blogs and social media posts are accurate and well written.  You can find out more, and sign up for a free account, here.

And, if you are fine with the grammar and spelling but just don’t know what to write, get in touch.  I’d be pleased to help.  As you can see from the figures, I do quite like writing.

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.

The 12 days of C-HR-istmas

As we count down to Christmas, for those who celebrate it, I do like to provide a little light relief.  Last year it was Santa’s VA which you can read about here and here.  This year it’s the 12 days of C-HR -istmas.  A short, light-hearted gallop through some of the issues that HR might find itself involved with.  Naturally names, where used, have been changed.

Doughnuts, treats, On the first day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The man who loved doughnuts way, way too much.  In a very physical way.

date night, holding hands, relationships HROn the second day of Christmas HR dealt with:

John and Daisy being exceptionally friendly in the stationery cupboard.  If only they’d locked the door.  If only Doris from Accounts had not chosen that moment to break her stapler and go in search of a new one.

Fight, office fight, HR issuesOn the third day of Christmas HR dealt with;

A fist-fight between Russ and John in the middle of the cafeteria.  Russ had thought that he was happily married until he heard that his wife, Daisy, had been found in the stationery cupboard with John.

Office party. HR ChallengeOn the  fourth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The fall out from the office party:  four vomiting sales personnel, three complaints about inappropriate behaviour, two photocopied bottoms, one MD with a black eye, and the junior staff member who launched the unprovoked attack on the MD.

Fish office complaints HROn the fifth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

A deputation of 5 staff complaining about Tim cooking fish in the office microwave and stinking up the office.

sleep, bed, relaxation, health, HR challengeOn the sixth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The woman who rang in to ask how many sick days she had and could she take one today as she was really tired and didn’t want to come to work.

On the seventh day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The person who thought it would be amusing to add pornographic images to their Health and Safety Powerpoint presentation.

dancing, party, On the eighth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

The person who was really unwell with flu and couldn’t make it into work but had managed to find the strength to drag himself to the local nightclub where he was seen by several co-workers dancing with energy and enthusiasm.

drinking, alcohol, HR challengeOn the ninth day of Christmas, HR dealt with;

The woman whose carafe of water had something more interesting than water in it.

On the tenth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

The man who thought it would be amusing to give a box of chocolate willies to a young female co-worker as a secret santa gift.

office chair, office politics, office complaints, HROn the eleventh day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

8 people who all arrived mob handed to complain that Alice the temp had sat on Tarquin’s office chair and altered the height of it even though the team had all told her not to do so.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

Bob and Sadie.  Bob made himself a cup of tea in Sadie’s mug, which apparently had Sadie’s name on it and everyone knew it was Sadie’s mug.  Sadie wanted HR to issue a statement banning people from using other people’s mugs.  Bob just wanted a cup of tea.

If you are an HR Consultant and need someone to take notes of meetings, or provide general or HR specific administrative  support you can get in touch with me here.

Are YOU Outsourcing these five tasks?

Outsourcing Virtual Assistant VA Admin Support

Following on from my post about the intangible value that outsourcing to a VA can bring to your business I thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the specific value-added tasks a VA can complete for you.  If you missed the first blog, you can read it here.

A VA is the “Can you just…” person for your business.  We deal with the things that don’t need your expertise.  The routine admin tasks that take time.  The day to day support tasks.  The last minute research and so much more.

Most of us have a large amount of very varied experience in a range of areas and you’d be surprised what we can help you with. It is our transferable skills that make us effective.   The detail of the task can be different for each client but the benefits are the same; a better return on investment for your precious and limited time.

The work I do is very varied but there are five key tasks that I carry out for almost all my clients.  Unsurprisingly, these are tasks that are time consuming but do not directly contribute to income generation.

Diary and Meeting Management

Ensuring you are where you should be, in plenty of time. Managing the often time-consuming back and forth involved in setting up meetings between very busy people.  Ensuring best use of time by laying out diaries in a way that ensures enough time allocated for client work.  Booking meetings into the diary in a way that makes best use of your limited time.

In-Box Management

Managing your Emails and flagging up the important items.  Dealing with the routine rubbish. Highlighting interesting opportunities that might align with your brand.  Politely responding to approaches that you aren’t ready to consider yet but might want to look at in the future.  Corralling newsletters into a separate area to read later and keeping things tidy so emails can be found when needed.

Social Media

Social media and marketing is a necessity for a small business and outsourcing it is easy.   I provide support with the more time consuming elements of this.  Writing content.  Sourcing articles to share, creating graphics and making videos from blog posts so content can be reused effectively.  Scheduling posts based on an agreed content schedule.  Researching for blog posts.  Help and support with marketing tasks and ideas.

Data Input

This is a popular service.  I can type up most documents you might need but data input is much more than that.  I can input into popular CRM systems, Excel, and any bespoke software that you are using for any purpose.   If you need information added to a system, I can do that for you.  Quickly, accurately and effectively. Data input can be time consuming, particularly if you aren’t a touch typist so outsourcing this can save you a lot of time.

My most popular ad hoc service is input of business cards into CRM systems or Excel.  I often perform this one for new clients so they can get a feel for how accurate and responsive I am.  It’s a good one to choose if you’ve never worked with someone virtually before as it gives a good feel for how the process works and how responsive the service can be.

General Admin Tasks

Returning calls and emails, correspondence, stuffing envelopes, chasing up missing information, mailing out documents, tidying offices, filing and generally getting stuff under control when it’s gotten out of control.    Just to show you how bespoke outsourcing can get, one client has me handle all the vouchers that go through their business.  Another uses me only for proof checking.

Although my specialism is HR support, I work with a number of businesses who need a variety of general tasks carried out.   If you are ready to make more money and have more time to spend with your family, you can get in touch with me here for a chat.

Note Taking: Investigation, Grievance and Disciplinary

Note Taking; Grievance; Disciplinary; Investigation; Hearings; HR Support

When things go Wrong

No matter how careful, or how caring, you are, things can occasionally go awry in the workplace.  Issues arise which need to be investigated, people raise grievances which need to be heard and unfortunately, not everyone complies with the company rules, no matter how many times you ask them to sign the Staff Handbook.  If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it is necessary to deal with the investigation, grievance or disciplinary quickly and thoroughly, and to keep good records throughout the process.

In the case of investigations it is necessary to take witness statements and if the matter progresses to a disciplinary meeting these statements will be critical.  The disciplinary itself must be carried out in accordance with good practice.  You can read more about this here on the ACAS site where you can download a number of very useful documents.

Whenever something goes awry, accurate and effective note-taking and evidence recording forms a critical part of the resolution process.

Confidential and Discreet

It can feel quite personal when these things arise, particularly if the issue involves a breach of trust, or could impact negatively on the business you have spent so long building and nurturing.   It is certainly a challenging time for any business.  One thing you absolutely do not need is gossip or discussion of the issue within the workplace.  This will potentially create problems further down the line, allow the individual to raise issues relating to lack of confidentiality and of course, gossip can de-stabilise your team.  Issues must be dealt with rapidly but effectively.  It’s never good to rush these things and certainly you should never miss out a step, but everyone involved will be keen to get the matter resolved effectively so a timely progression through the steps is always the best approach.

Impartial and Experienced

Whether you are an employer or an HR Consultant, having an independent person to take the notes in disciplinary or grievance meetings can be hugely beneficial.  They will be totally impartial and will have no pre-existing knowledge of the company or team so will not have any bias or make any assumptions which could affect their note-taking.

In a small organisation it can be difficult to find someone who is both an experienced note taker, capable of taking the notes accurately, and is also unknown to the person involved.  In situations of this kind it is critically important that what happens in the room, stays in the room, no matter what the size of the organisation.  However, in smaller organisations there have been cases where the information left the room because the note taker was inexperienced and was unaware that they should not discuss the case they had just noted.

Trust

Often in situations of this kind feelings are running high.  The person involved will be upset. They may feel distrustful, angry or betrayed.  It’s very important that everyone in the room is able to be trusted by the individual involved and it can help if the person taking the notes is not from within the organisation.  It is clear the note taker will have no preconceived views about anyone or anything which is mentioned and this can help the individual to feel they can speak freely.

In this type of situation, explanations can become frantic, emotional and difficult to follow at times.  It can take a level of confidence and experience for a note-taker to ask the individual to stop, and to wait whilst they catch up, and then for that note taker to calmly read back the notes and ask whether all the key points have been included.  It also helps if your note taker has an HR background as it is easier for them to accurately pick out the important points from the irrelevant and note only the key issues.   Notes must be taken long-hand to enable them to be reviewed by all parties at the end of the meeting and, if appropriate, initialled to show agreement.

Sometimes being in a room with the people whom the individual feels had not listened previously, and being able to fully explain their concerns and issues, can be enough to allow the issue to be resolved.  And if there is a set of really good notes as an outcome of the meeting, the formality of this can be appreciated by the individual.  If matters cannot be resolved quickly and the next stage of the process is required, then the notes will be a critical part of the process at that stage.

Practical and Effective

When chairing the meeting, you need to feel confident that the notes will be full enough to rely upon throughout any stages that might follow, and  certain that they include all the relevant details (and none of the irrelevant ones).  Having someone with HR knowledge to take the notes can be invaluable for ensuring this.

Of course you can also record the meeting and in this case, the recording can be transcribed, allowing a full record of the proceedings to be made.  Even if you choose not to have the recording transcribed, it can useful  for cross-checking facts in the notes if that proves necessary at a later stage.

Minute-Taking-Service

For the HR Consultant, having a dedicated note taker rather than trying to multi-task can be a huge benefit.  It can be very difficult to chair the meeting, ask the right questions, and note the answers in meetings where feelings are running high and people may be shouting, crying or arguing.  This is particularly true in disciplinary hearings.  Trying to both take notes and consider the evidence and information being provided can be hugely challenging in some meetings.

Writing up the notes of meetings needs to be done very promptly following a meeting of this kind.  The individual and the company will both need a resolution to the situation quickly.  It can be a challenge for the HR Consultant to get everything written up in a timely way and often involves working late into the night.  I have returned notes with a 24 hour turnaround for cases in the past.  This ensures you have the information you need to make a decision quickly and accurately.  This can be particularly important if the person involved is suspended from work for a potential disciplinary offence.

Naturally the note-takers hourly rate is less than that of an HR Consultant so there are cost savings when you consider how long it can take to type up the notes.

If you are an HR Consultant or a small company and you are looking for support in this area of your business, you can contact me here for a no obligation chat. 

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.

Social Media: Are you missing a trick?

Social Media Tips Tricks consistent posting schedule

Any half decent laxative advert will tell you that regularity is important for your health.  Regularity is also important for your business health too and the  health of your business can be maintained by ensuring your social media posts are regular.  Here are just a few of the many reasons why posting regular, good quality content can help your business to thrive.

Front of mind.

Front of mind is absolutely the best place to be as a business owner.  All marketing and networking activity is basically about achieving this aim.  In a highly connected world with a lot of noise, staying front of mind can be challenging and regularity is critically important to success.

It’s all about being the person or company that someone thinks about when they are ready to purchase.  Being where your clients are within the online world is important and then if you keep popping up with interesting content that they want to read and offers or advice that solves their problem, then when they are ready to purchase, you have a hope of being recalled to mind and contacted to see if your business can help.

Consistency and an attractive offer that solves a problem are the keys here.

People may think the business is closed, or not doing well, if you don’t post regularly.

Trust

Know, Like and Trust is critically important in business.  People buy from those they feel they have a connection with, share values with, and those they feel they can trust.  You earn that trust in real life by adding value, demonstrating that you know what you are talking about in your chosen field, helping people with problems and being present for people when they need your support or advice.

Letting people see your values, the things that are important to you, all of this makes your business human, and allows people to create a connection with you and see if you are likely to be the type of person they might want to learn to like and trust.  The type of business they think they might want to work with.

social media blog chat communicate like share

Be Sociable

It is SOCIAL media.  A place to be social.  Don’t just post but also interact.  Keep an eye on your posts and reply quickly and effectively to anything people post.  The way you address questions and complaints is critically important and replying to comments, keeping the chat going, is a great way to show the human side of your business, be social and build a rapport with people.  It’s not just about selling, or even solely about adding value, though value is important.   It is also about starting, and maintaining, the chat.  It may not always be chat about business related issues, but the person with whom you chat about dogs may recommend you to someone who needs your services because they feel they know you and can trust you.

Medical and religious reasons excepted, it’s quite rare, and a bit difficult, to just stop talking to people in real life for several days, weeks or months.  As a minimum you might say “Hello” to people in the street, thank the salesperson, answer the phone, or ask a question.  Why would you suddenly stop talking on Social Media?  Why would you stop the chat?  Chat is good.  Chat builds trust.

SEO

If you update your content regularly and it drives traffic back to your website then you are getting more eyes on your carefully created website.  A website  which tells people who you are, what you do, who you do it for, how well you do it, why you do it, and what makes you stand out from others in your sector.   They may have gone there to look at your latest blog post which you helpfully linked to on Social Media.  But they will hopefully wander around your site once they land there, because people are in fact incredibly nosy.

Social Media itself pretty much relies on the human love of being nosy.  We like to see what others are up to.  You can check out all sorts of people and places without anyone asking you “What are you staring at?”  If you take the opportunity to post regular content that drives people to the place where you want them to stand and stare, roam about and learn a bit more about you, how cool is that?

Because Social Media moves so quickly, posting regularly is the best way to get seen.  Regular posts have more hope of being seen and clicked upon.

Consistency

You want to be seen as someone who is reliable and consistent.   If you pick up and put down your social media, you don’t look consistent.  Or reliable.  And we all want reliable from our business partners.  If there are huge gaps in your social media posting history, people stop thinking about you, or your brand, and start wondering about the reason for the gap.  As I said, we are basically nosy and you don’t really want people speculating about unwelcome reasons for your lack of posts.

tricks social media tricks

Tricks and Tips

So, if you are not posting regularly, are you missing a trick?  Or are you already convinced of the need to do this but worried that you don’t have the time to spend on the task with everything else you need to do?  Well, you can schedule ahead and this can be massively helpful as you can write a lot of content in one go and schedule it to go out when you need it to.

There are a number of schedulers available, I like to use Hootsuite, which has a limited free service.  I also use Tweetdeck for Twitter, also free, and like to schedule direct to business pages on Facebook.  This is free and I have a blog post on how to do this if you aren’t sure.  There are also other schedulers including MeetEdgar, Buffer and Hubspot all of which are highly popular.

There is another really effective scheduler.  It’s not free but it really cuts down the time you need to spend on Social Media Scheduling.  A VA can schedule your content for you and, unlike the schedulers mentioned above, can also source photos, and create Canva graphics or simple Lumen5 videos for your business, saving you the task of doing it.

It just so happens that I am a VA.  But of course you know that.

And it just so happens that I offer this as a service.  You guessed that part though didn’t you?

You can contact me here if you would like to know more about this service, or any of my other regular, reliable and time saving services.

Alternatively, you can just roam around the site.  I promise not to ask you if you are staring at  me.