Personally Virtual Blog

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about ‘an organised Christmas’, and I thought that this year I’d re-write it with a 2020 twist, to help with some basic Christmas-related admin and try to rouse some festive jolliness a little earlier this year, because who doesn’t need a bit of festive cheer (especially in lockdown number 2)?!

1.)   Consider ditching the Christmas Cards… usually, I’m a big fan of post that isn’t bills, but with some people still being a little wary about what comes through their front door, why not opt for a virtual card and/or a telephone call this year? There are so many great e-card options out there, like https://www.dontsendmeacard.com/ (which donates what you would have spent on physical cards to a wide range of fabulous charities!).  As well as being germ free, you’re also helping the environment by saving trees, and potentially not sending a ‘glitter bomb’ to a friend or family member that they’ll still be finding pieces of in the Spring… There’s a lot of positives to an e-card, particularly if you follow it up with a check-in call – you never really need an excuse to catch up with a friend or family member (or colleague), but a festive call is always welcome and a great way to make sure that the people you care about are okay.

2.)   Get that shopping order in soon! Slots for Christmas deliveries are filling up quickly (even faster than usual, with fewer people wanting to brave the shops in person when they are busy around Christmas), but with more and more businesses going ‘online’ for food deliveries, there’s more choice than ever before when it comes to ordering your Christmas feast online.  If you can’t book a slot with one of the big supermarket chains, get in touch with local farm shops to find out if they can help.  Put a call out on your local Facebook group if you’re struggling to find somewhere, there’s always someone out there with a great local food contact.

3.)   Shop local – if you can! As a small business owner, I can confirm that this year has been tough.  Other business owners I know have gone out of business, or had to put staff on furlough as they have struggled to keep the business going.  As a result, if you can get your gifts from local suppliers, I’m certain that they’ll appreciate it – and you can rest happy in the knowledge that you’ve got great gifts for loved ones AND helped a small business owner a little during a tough year!

4.)   Learn to delegate! In your business, you probably find it relatively simple to hand the tasks you don’t enjoy to other members of your team, or to outsource them entirely – why not do the same at Christmas? You don’t need to be a martyr to the cause and insist on carrying out everything yourself – this year has been a tough one, and if it all feels a little bit too much then you are perfectly within your rights to ask for help. Whether it’s a big family event (dependent on local lockdown restrictions – unannounced at the time of writing) or a small gathering, make the most of sharing your festive season with the people you like, as when you’re enjoying yourself, even peeling vegetables and wrapping presents can be an enjoyable and festive experience, particularly if you’ve got Christmas hits blaring in the background, and some mulled wine (or non-alcoholic punch) on the go for that extra Christmas pzazz.

5.)   Make sure that you take time to relax and refresh – I regularly talk about the importance of self-care for business owners and entrepreneurs, and it’s never seemed quite so important as it has this year!  It’s easy to get caught up in the shopping, the festive events (socially distanced, of course), and the general rushing about, but take some time to pause and enjoy yourself; watch a film you like, have a glass of mulled wine (or two) and open that box of extra special M & S truffles that you’ve been saving for a special occasion. The special occasion is now – enjoy it!

Take care this festive season, whatever form it takes!

13th October, 2020

It’s one thing working from home in the balmy, never ending days of summer (hello daylight and midday breaks in the garden), but working from home in the winter is another kettle of fish entirely…. For a start, the 0.5 hours of daylight can become a little soul destroying, particularly if you don’t actually get to make the most of it because you are eyeball deep in zoom calls.

Having worked from home successfully for a fair few years now, here are my top tips for surviving the British Winter when you work from home.

1.)    Consider adjusting your routine. Consider changing your routing a little during the winter months. You know that millisecond of daylight I mentioned earlier? My recommendation is to try to get out in it for a brisk walk and some fresh air everyday if you can, even if it is raining sideways.  It’s amazing how much better you feel after a little exercise and some mood boosting sunlight.  This can be particularly beneficial if you are suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder and seeking additional support from your GP.  So if you are feeling lower than usual and need a boost, why not try blocking out a chunk of time around midday every day to get out and about? I’ve got two dogs, plus regular additions in the form of foster dogs, so I have an added incentive to go out (as they make it well known when they haven’t received adequate outdoor time!).  If you can’t shift your working day earlier or later to fit in time for a midday walk, you could always invest in a daylight lamp – a desktop lamp designed to replicate sunlight – which could help to positively lift your mood.

2.)    Unlock the thermostat. If you live with someone who can sense you even thinking about turning the heating up and is a firm believer in the ‘put a jumper on’ mentality, it’s worth letting them know that studies have shown that workplace performance increases with temperatures up to between 21 and 22 degrees Celsius, with the highest productivity at around 22 degrees Celcius (according to a study published in 2006 by researchers from the Helsinki University of Technology). So feel free to pop the thermostat to a comfortable level – productivity demands it!

3.)    Embrace the Hygge! Hygge (pronounced Hoo-guh) is the Danish word for cosy contentment, and covers everything from hot chocolate to hand knitted jumpers and festive spiced candles, whatever makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Need inspiration when it comes to making your working space ‘hug’ you this Winter? There are more than 4 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag #hygge, which is a great place to start!

4.)    Actively avoid burnout. Winter can be a germ fest, so do what you can to keep yourself as healthy and happy as possible.  Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, drink plenty of water, eat a balanced diet with plenty of vitamin-packed fruit and vegetables, and try to get out in the fresh air regularly for some exercise.  Yes, I know that eating a whole bar of Galaxy under a duvet on the sofa is much more appealing, but working from home is far easier when you are happy and healthy.  Of course, anyone can come down with a bug, so if you do find yourself under the weather this winter, take my advice and step away from the computer for a day or two! It’s easy to carry on working when you can work from your actual bed, but taking a little time to switch off and recuperate is absolutely essential if you want to avoid burnout and prolonged illness this winter.

How do you cope in the long, dark and damp British Winters when you work from home? I’d love to hear your top tips – feel free to share them on one of my Social Media pages!


Photo by Csaba Balazson Unsplash


A few years ago, I wrote a blog called ‘What would Bear Grylls do?’ (WWBGD?).  It was all about embracing your inner no-nonsense survival expert in day-to-day office life to in order to be more efficient and productive.  At the time, I was talking about ‘pointless’ emails, and the fact that the adventurer was more likely to be found sucking the inside out of grubs than sending an email that featured inane chit-chat, pointless questions or vague answers.  However, I’m sure that even Mr Grylls had to come in out of the wilderness to make some video calls this Spring/Summer, so I started thinking about applying the WWBGD? reasoning to the world of online meetings...

Here are my top meeting tips, according to the WWBGD? criteria:

1.) Have a meeting plan – What do you need to discuss? Are there any issues that need to be resolved or actions that need to be finalised so that work that you are doing can move forward? Make a list (and ask other attendees for their view prior to the meeting too, if appropriate, so that if you’ve forgotten something they can highlight it) and aim to stick to it.  If you’re still working from home, you may not have spoken to another adult human for days, so you might be tempted to have a good catch up, but perhaps that could be scheduled outside of working hours as a ‘virtual vino’ or ‘coffee and chat’? If you can, try to steer focus if the meeting goes wildly off tangent. Obviously, if it’s an important and unforeseen issue, that’s fine, but if the priority for the meeting was to sort out an action plan and it hasn’t happened, you’re just going to need another meeting! And that means less time in the great outdoors, making a shelter out of moss.

2.) Keep to your scheduled time – as closely as possible. And don’t be late! If everyone on the call knows that everything needs to be covered in 30- or 60-minutes, they are less likely to feel compelled to share long and rambling, potentially irrelevant stories! Yes, people might be working from home but that doesn’t mean that the only thing they’ve got planned for the day is a meeting – it’s probably one small item on a 3-foot long to-do list, so keeping things prompt really helps to keep everyone happy! And when it comes to being late, it’s worth doing everything in your power before the event to try and ensure that you aren’t (though I know that sometimes, unforeseen things can happen - rockfalls, flash floods, having to jump out of a helicopter, etc.).  One thing that I highly recommended is to test the tech beforehand! Make sure that you have the latest version of the software installed and that everything is functional prior to the meeting so that you don’t have to update it a minute before the meeting starts. It’s all about that good old scouting motto – ‘Be prepared!’

3.) Mute yourself if appropriate. I imagine Bear as a good listener around a campfire, so I’m sure he’s a good listener on Zoom too. If you’re not speaking, consider muting yourself so that any background noise from your office or home doesn’t distract the other attendees.  Similarly, if there are distractions in the background, try a digital background or turning video off after initially joining. It’s always nice to show the other attendees that you are there and not calling from your bed/bath/a cave in Wales and that you’ve made an effort to get dressed, but if the other attendees are happy for you to switch off video if you are in a distracting environment, it helps to keep focus on the matters at hand.

4.) Stay safe out there… Just as Bear has a team on standby to help protect him should things take a turn for the worse, there are plenty of things that you can do to protect your online meeting!  For example, if you use a unique room ID and password for your scheduled meetings, and only share with the people who need it (not widely online!), you help reduce the risk of being ‘Zoom Bombed’, when random strange and often malicious individuals hijack your call and harass attendees. Another step you could take is to consider disabling screen sharing if you are the host.

5.) And finally… do you actually need to have a meeting? Could everything you need to discuss be covered in an email? Does everyone you’ve invited NEED to be there? I bet that Bear would much rather be out dangling off a precipice or fishing with his teeth than being on an unnecessary Zoom call, so this question, above all others, highlights the importance of the WWBGD approach to online meetings.





On my calendar, there are two different sorts of events; the first is the ‘let’s pencil it in’ event – mentioned briefly by a friend or family member and pencilled in the diary as a ‘save the date’.  The other sort of event is written in pen, possibly underlined or in capitals, and maybe even highlighted, and such events will only be missed in the event of fire, flood or plague. A fellow VA I know crossed the Solent earlier this year (on a ferry, not swimming) in the middle of Storm Dennis, because the event she was heading for was IN THE DIARY. I’ve been known to venture into London in a blizzard for a business event that had been in the diary for months, and a few (read: a lot) of cancelled trains weren’t going to stop me!

My point is this – what kind of dark magic do calendars hold that makes us so unwilling to move against them? And how can we harness this power to boost the effectiveness of our to-do lists and help us finally complete those few lingering, miserable tasks that are always half-heartedly scribbled at the bottom of your to-do list that you know you are never going to get round to…

Why not combine the two? Calendar and to-do list, hand in hand – the perfect productivity marriage!  I’m not talking year-to-view calendar here, you need a day or week-to view calendar for maximum effect (if you’re going for a paper calendar, it obviously doesn’t matter quite so much if you’re working on Google Calendar or equivalent).  My recommendation is to start planning a week in advance, as the likelihood is that your schedule will need tweaking a little if you over/underestimate the amount of time required for specific tasks at first.

So what should you include in your calendar?

-       Start and finish time: I know that this sounds a little silly, but putting in place firm work/life boundaries can be a useful way of signalling to yourself that it’s nearly time to ‘switch off’.  Downtime is incredibly important to help ensure you’re firing on all cylinders and that your creativity is at its peak – things that help you to be as effective and efficient as possible.  There are obviously days when you’ll have to work longer, and days when you might feel like finishing early to get away from the office, but having general start and finish times can be helpful.

-       Breaks – including lunch: How many of us sit down to a task and then, 6 hours later, realise we haven’t eaten/drunk/moved/used the bathroom? Staying hydrated, eating nutritious meals/snacks, taking a break from the screen regularly to rest your eyes and stretch your body – all of these things are required to keep you physically well, and although I can completely understand how easily it is to overlook them, it becomes much harder when it’s written in pen (and underlined and highlighted).

-       Fitness/wellbeing activities – the whole ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ thing is real. Everyone needs the opportunity to get out in nature for a walk, book a complementary therapy treatment, pop down to the gym/swimming pool, etc. Why not try putting it in the diary as a non-negotiable rather than have it on a weekly wish list?

-       Family/Friends only time – you can make time for your dentist appointment, to take the car in for it’s MOT, and to see the bank manager for a financial review, so why not make time for things that are actually fun? In this post-lockdown world, so many of us have realised the often overlooked importance of time with loved ones for our mental and physical health and wellbeing, so make sure it’s on the calendar. In pen.

-       Chores that need to be done – if you’ve got a set time for specific chores, it does make it slightly less likely that you will sit down to some challenging client work that requires intense focus and maximum brain power and suddenly decide to mow the lawn or paint the bathroom. Why not try setting aside a little time every day specifically for your must-do chores?

-       Client work time – I like to chunk up my working day into pomodoros: chunks of 25 minute activities followed by a 5-minute break (with a slightly longer 15-minute break after I have finished 4 pomodoros).  This kind of chunking allows me to maintain focus and energy when it comes to particular tasks – it may end up taking 5 or 6 pomodoros (or more) to complete some tasks, but they seem much more manageable if I’ve only got 25 minutes of intensive working to look forward to, rather than hours upon hours of relentless activity.  With client work, you can either just label your customer specific work time generically as ‘client work’, or if you are planning on a week-by-week basis you can incorporate specific tasks that you hope to complete each day that fit into the allotted time. It’s important to note that some things can take longer than expected and may push other tasks back, so allow for some flexibility in this – and above all, be realistic!

-       Email answering time – the constant ‘pinging’ of alerts from emails and apps can be incredibly distracting when you’re trying to concentrate on a specific task, so formalising a specific time each day (perhaps 11AM or 4PM?) to review and respond to emails could help you to avoid the black hole of your inbox. It can also help to set boundaries with clients, who won’t then expect you to respond immediately and will know that if it’s urgent then it’s probably best to phone instead!

-       Planning time – though you might not want to book in some time every week for business related planning, why not schedule in a morning/afternoon a quarter to review your business and what’s going well (and what’s not going quite so well!).  Make it an event by going to a nice coffee shop or café and carrying out your review there, away from all of the distractions of your office.

-       Marketing time – Why not schedule in an hour a week (in pen!) for social media marketing and/or blog writing? It could really help keep your marketing consistent, as for many people this is one of those tasks that is often right at the bottom of their weekly to-do list, and as such is often missed or overlooked.

Apparently, making a formal plan like this can really help to reduce stress levels (even if you don’t actually ever complete the tasks!).  Florida State University Researchers showed that the Zeigarnik effect—the stressful conscious and unconscious thoughts caused by unfinished tasks—could be overcome simply by making a plan to accomplish a task. So rip up your to-do list and formalise your planning, in pen, in your calendar. It really could help boost your productivity and help with your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, which is always a bonus.


Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/12/12/throw-out-your-to-do-list-fix-your-calendar-double-your-productivity/#3837a2949f26

Are you outsourcing some of your business tasks to a VA? VAs can provide excellent retained or ad-hoc support to your business, but there are a few things that you might want to consider to ensure that your business is adequately protected, whoever you decide to work with!

Insurance – professional indemnity insurance is a must-have for any professional service-based business, as it helps to ensure that in the unlikely event that something goes wrong for your business as a direct result of the working relationship you have with your VA or Freelancer (and you suffer financial loss as a result of this), you can potentially receive compensation for this issue.  It’s important to ensure that your VA has appropriate insurance in place – we’re not saying something WILL go wrong, but it’s always best to ensure that they, and you, are covered if the unthinkable happens and something does go wrong.

Contracts – Although it’s easy to just want to jump straight into working with each other (saving you valuable working hours ASAP), it’s important to make sure that a contract is drawn up to highlight the expectations you have got for your VA/Freelancer, and what they can expect from you. Hourly/Project Rate, Timescales for Work, intellectual property, etc. – all of these issues (and more) can be covered with a good quality contract that helps to build a solid framework for your working relationship from the outset.

GDPR– if your VA is handling personal data (i.e. customer information) on your behalf, you need to ensure that they are doing it safely and responsibly so that the data is protected and the potential for a ‘leak’ is minimised as much as possible.  If you haven’t already reviewed your business systems and processes for GDPR, now’s the time! Check whether the tools you are using (i.e. Email Marketing Platforms, Online Course Platforms, Virtual Meeting Platforms, etc.) are GDPR compliant, what data you collect and where this data is stored – and who has access to it all! Sharing passwords/logins with only specific team members, encrypting data and ensuring you have an up to date data privacy policy (and are registered with the ICO as a Data Controller) can all help you to work towards greater GDPR compliance. To find out more about GDPR, visit the Information Commissioner’s Office website: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/

Ownership of platforms/accounts – I’ve unfortunately seen too many instances of Freelancers setting up accounts on various platforms/tools on behalf of the business they are working for, and then leaving (with the login details!). If you want a new tool set up or a new website or domain, make sure these are set up in your business name so that you have access to them.  Setting up a generic website for you VA (i.e. support@ or info@ your business address) can also help to ensure that you are able to deal with any enquiries or issues after your working relationship has ended, and can pass on the email address to new team members if required.

Lastpass – an extension to the point above! Even if the login for a particular piece of software or application is in your name, it’s best not to share the password directly with your team! https://www.lastpass.com/ is a great password ‘locker’ tool that allows you to share passwords and access to online tools without team members ever seeing the password. You can also revoke/share access quickly and easily if required, making it a great tool if you only want to share access temporarily.

Outsourcing work can really help you to work more productively and efficiently, particularly if you are working with an experienced and professional VA (or team!).  Don’t feel embarrassed to ask about insurance or contracts – any responsible business owner will be happy to share details of their set-up with you, and answer any questions that you have about working safely and appropriately together.


Copyright © Kathy Soulsby. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy