Personally Virtual Blog

In this mobile phone/smart device age, we’re more connected to our friends, family and work colleagues (and clients!) than ever before.  Whilst this has some positives – most notably convenience and reduced isolation (which has been of particular importance over the past 14 months), it can mean that it’s incredibly difficult to ‘switch off’ from work, particularly when clients can email you at any time of the day or night.

Despite the 24hr a day, 365 day a year connectivity that we now have, I’ve learned that if people do email you at 11pm at night, because it is convenient to them, that they don’t necessarily expect a response, especially if you have established boundaries at the outset of your working relationship (i.e. ‘I don’t respond to emails after 5PM and before 8AM, and also at weekends and on bank holidays’).  Of course, there are occasions when something urgent occurs, but again, these ‘emergency’ situations should be clarified when you first start working together so that both you and your clients share a common understanding of what an emergency actually is and how swiftly action is required (plus have discussed the topic of ‘out of hours’ pay).

Even if you do respond to emails solely in traditional working hours, it can be challenging keeping on top of your inbox whilst also completing all-important client work, so here are my top tips for reducing inbox related stress:

1.) Set yourself a couple of email checking periods per day. Turn off the email notifications on your computer and mobile phone, and try to schedule in one or two periods per day that are dedicated to checking your email.  This means that you don’t feel tempted to respond to an email as soon as it drops into your in-tray, and are able to instead focus more fully on the task at hand.  You could always ask customers to phone rather than email if there is an urgent issue (again, it’s important to pre-define ‘urgent’) or advise them specifically of the daily period you have dedicated to checking emails, to manage their expectations.

2.) Why not consider an auto-responder that advises you aim to respond within X working days? Something as simple as this can sometimes help to further manage customer expectations. Once again, there are always emails that you may want to respond to more urgently, but giving people a maximum time that it will take for you to get back to them can be useful.

3.) Unsubscribe from irrelevant emails – or at least put them in a separate folder so they don’t fill up your inbox! Setting aside 15 or 30 minutes a couple of times a day for email related admin can be helpful, but if you spend 90% of the time deleting irrelevant emails (or clicking though to those tempting ‘special offers’ sent out by ecommerce businesses!), that block of time you allocate is regularly going to creep into your client work time.

4.) Prioritise the relevant emails with flags/folders, etc. (something that identifies the urgent from the less urgent!) – once you’ve got rid of the irrelevant ‘filler’ content in your inbox, you need to prioritise the remaining emails.  Without doing this, you may simply be responding to emails in the order they arrive, without noticing that some are more urgent than others, and some may not need action for another few days/weeks.  This can help you manage your time more effectively and ensure you don’t miss important messages that require a timely response. I love a category system to keep on top of my emails. 

5.) Create templates – do you regularly send out emails that are very similar (i.e client onboarding emails, general ‘check in’ emails, etc.)? If so, why not create templates that you can simply re-use at the click of a button?

6.) Don’t respond out of working hours! Even if you are working evenings or weekends to catch up with work (or to get ahead – we’ve all been there!), it’s helpful if customers don’t realise you are available at non-traditional times (simply to preserve your sanity!). Again, it’s an expectation management type of thing. If you are working late, why not try a tool like Boomerang (https://www.boomeranggmail.com/) to schedule emails completed at 3AM to be automatically sent during your traditional working hours… see? No one has to know you are a secret midnight emailer…

These are a few simple recommendations, but could really help you to feel more in control of your email inbox – something that is incredibly challenging to do when you’ve got 36,000 unread emails in your inbox!


After the year we’ve had, we all deserve as stress-free an existence as possible – there’s enough drama going on in the real world, without drama in your working life too.  For this reason, it’s really important to work with people who can deliver the services that you require in a positive, effective and efficient way.

If you’ve been in business for a while, I’m sure that you’ve had experience of working with contractors, freelancers, or even employed members of staff who aren’t quite the best fit for your business.  It’s perhaps more noticeable in small businesses, where there are minimal staff to shoulder the workload, but it can be a challenge whatever industry you are in, and whatever you do.  Perhaps your colleague lacks confidence or knowledge when it comes to the skillset they need? If they’ve made it clear that they don’t have these skills, and are trying to learn them ‘on the job’ in line with your recommendations and approval, that’s not so much of a problem, but there are some  individuals out there who claim to have extensive skills in a particular area, but are unable to practically demonstrate these skills.  Perhaps your colleague has a different approach to communication than you and the rest of your team do, and comes across as abrupt or aggressive, or doesn’t seem to take their role seriously? When you spend day-in, day-out liaising with these colleagues, it’s not uncommon to have the odd personality clash, and in many cases these behavioural quirks are overshadowed by the positive skills and experience of those team members, but if they aren’t, it’s worth addressing them objectively (and following advice from a HR professional before you take any action, if appropriate) to try to improve the working environment for all members of staff.

When selecting in-house staff, interviews and probation periods prove invaluable when trying to establish whether a team member is going to be a good fit and successful plug the skills gap you specifically need assistance with.  The same is possible with freelancers and outsourced team members too.  Here at Personally Virtual, for example, I have grown a team of trusted business support professionals that I know can provide a high level of support and professionalism.  I have seen their references/testimonials, checked that they have the necessary insurances and systems in place to work safely and effectively, and have liaised with them all personally to ensure that they understand and share the same values that I do – to provide consistently high quality services in a professional, efficient and effective manner, despite working remotely from the wide range of businesses that we support, both large and small.  From experience, I strongly recommend that if you are considering outsourcing work to an external individual, that you make sure that you clearly identify the support that you need and the skillset that you expect before you advertise for a role, and don’t be afraid to ask potential candidates for references/testimonials and evidence of insurance and accreditation, etc. if appropriate (for example, Anti-Money Laundering or ICO registration).  It’s also worth talking with a potential candidate personally to find out more about whether they could be an appropriate fit for your existing team.  Another benefit of working with outsourced staff is that you can consider starting with a short-term contract (for example, a set number of hours or a month, etc.) as a 'trial period' before moving on to regular, retained support – why not speak to them about the way that they work and the contracts that they work to in order to find out what would work best for both you and them?

As I said, life is challenging enough without having to face additional stress in your work life too, so if you are considering bringing in a new member of staff – either in-house or outsourced – it’s worth carefully considering the skills, experience and characteristics that you are looking for so that you can find an effective, efficient and friendly individual to help you further develop and grow your business.


The birds are singing, the daffodils are waving in the breeze, the sun is shining (momentarily)… Spring is most definitely in the air! If you are feeling a spring in your step this March, perhaps it’s a good time for a Spring clean – not just for the house and/or garden, but for your business life too. Here are my top ‘Spring Clean Your Business’ tips:

1.)   Spring Clean your contacts list: Whether you’ve got email marketing software that holds contact details for your previous/existing customer and contacts, or you’ve simply got a spreadsheet or address book with contact details in it, it’s worth reviewing your list.  If you’re regularly emailing people, are there any ‘bounced’ emails? Has anyone unsubscribed from your list? Has anyone not opened anything from you for the last 6 years? Why not have a good clean up and focus on the people who really want to hear from you? Spam complaints and unopened messages can have an impact on your email engagement statistics and skew the results, so opt for a quality over quantity approach and clear out the contacts who have drifted away. It’s positive from a GDPR perspective too, as you’re not holding on to more personal data than you need to or continuing to market to people who don’t want to receive content from you anymore. Even if you’ve only got a spreadsheet, make sure it’s up to date and that you’re only holding on to information that is specifically required for each customer.

2.)   Spring Clean Your Office: Paperwork can build up over time (even when you try to be a ‘paper-free’ office!), as can expense receipts, invoices, discarded pens, etc. Why not take a couple of hours out this month to clear out your office and file anything that needs to be filed. It always feels much nicer sitting down to work in a clean, clear environment – even if it’s only a few days before the paper starts to mount up again.

3.)   Spring Clean Your Task List: Time to refresh the daily to do list! Why not make a note of the things that you’d really like to achieve this year, not just the things you need to do, and include them all in your daily/weekly/monthly to-do list so that you can make these wish-list items a reality? In addition, why not consider the possibility of outsourcing some of your recurring, long outstanding or unloved tasks to someone who actually likes them? There are so many business support professionals out there who could help (including us!), and could help you free up some valuable hours in your working month for either the tasks that only you can do OR something from your wish-list.

4.)   Spring Clean Your Goals: Have you got professional or personal development goals? If you regularly review your business, you may have quarterly, bi-annual or yearly goals that you set, but things can (and do!) change so quickly at the moment that it’s important to ensure they are still appropriate for you. Don’t forget to ensure that your goals are SMART – that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely – so that you can maintain focus and successfully work towards achieving these goals over the coming months.  If they aren’t SMART, you’ll be setting generic, pie-in-the-sky goals that may or may not ever happen, making it difficult to keep motivation levels up and feel positive about making personal and professional progressions.

Will you be having a business Spring Clean this March? If you would like to refresh your business goals or outsource tasks, etc., don’t forget that we’re here to help you, this Spring and beyond! Get in touch today – telephone: +44 7805 390651 or email: Kathy@personallyvirtual.co.uk

 

 

Working from the dining room table on a wooden dining chair? Sat for long periods of time at a low desk that you have to hunch over? Even if you’ve been working from home for a long period of time, there’s a possibility that your existing office set up isn’t hugely beneficial to your posture and overall wellbeing. For many, supportive office chairs, ergonomic keyboards, foot supports and screens at an appropriate height are a luxury and not a priority – it’s the billable hours that are most important, right? I’m afraid not.  Long periods of time sat in an uncomfortable and unsupported position can result in long term pain and discomfort, which in turn can hamper your productivity.

Don’t worry though, there are simple things that you can do to make your office a healthy and happy space:

Invest in a supportive office chair that provides adequate support for your lower back – this is an absolute must! Yes, a stool or dining chair may be convenient (and cheap), but if you work from home long-term, a good quality, supportive office chair is an important investment.  The Evening Standard recently wrote an article on affordable, quality office chairs - you can find it here if you’d like to learn more: https://www.standard.co.uk/shopping/esbest/home-garden/best-ergonomic-office-chairs-home-a4469786.html 

Raise your screen to eye level – looking down (or up!) at your computer screen can cause neck and back discomfort.  If you can invest in a large screen for your computer, I would strongly recommend it to ensure that both your eyes and neck aren’t overly strained by looking down at a small laptop.  Alternatively, why not raise your screen up on a box or specialist stand? If you’ve got a laptop, you can purchase separate keyboards that you can keep at desk level to help ensure that you aren’t over stretching your arms by raising your machine!

Don’t over reach for your keyboard, mouse, phone, etc. – keep everything close and in front of you! Twisting and over-reaching for long periods of time can cause pain and discomfort. Keep your keyboard in front of you and your mouse close to tackle this.

Try anti-glare glasses – if you are on your computer, or looking at screens for long periods of time throughout the day, why not consider some anti-glare and blue-light blocking glasses (or lenses, if you are already a glasses wearer)? This can help reduce eye strain and help to tackle the negative impact of blue-light on your brain, which can interfere with sleep[1] and have an impact on your mental wellbeing.

Take regular breaks – 5 minutes break in every hour is an absolute must if you have a sedentary job.  Yes, if you’re in the flow of work, it may feel like an unwelcome distraction, but it’s really important when it comes to your physical and mental wellbeing.  In addition to this, make sure that you take a lunch break, and if you can, go for a short walk too. It’s essential to keep moving throughout the day to reduce the negative impact that long periods of sitting down can have on the body.

I recently purchased a sit/stand desk and I can't tell you how much difference it's made - not only to my back but also my energy levels. 

The NHS website has some further useful tips – you can find them here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/

If you’ve got a few minutes to spare today, why not take a look at your desk set up and see what can be done to help make it a healthier and happier space for you.

 


11th January, 2021

I don’t know about you, but 2021 has had its ups and downs already! With lockdown 3.0 in force, the usual January ‘New Year, New You’ clamour to be more successful AND productive AND organised, and customers returning to work after the festive break, there’s quite a bit going on!  Generally, the thought of a fresh planner and a quarterly planning session is something to be enjoyed, but this year – with regulations seemingly changing every three and a half minutes – it is difficult to raise those excitement levels at the thought of getting prepared! So I’ve pulled together some ideas to help you focus and work productively, but in a way that acknowledges that madness of the moment!

1. Be kind to yourself – The last thing you need on top of external stresses is the guilt of not working hard enough or achieving enough. Productivity guilt is a real issue, arising when “we link our behaviour, our performance, our productivity, with our self-worth,” according to Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D, LCSW. When feelings of guilt slip into your thoughts, take a step back; focus on the things you have achieved and take a few moments to do something for you – a quick walk in the fresh air, a cup of coffee and a biscuit… Try to acknowledge that these feelings aren’t helpful at increasing productivity or efficiency, and that the only way that will really happen is if you feel positive and motivated enough to achieve.  For more information about tackling productivity guild, visit the Psych Central link below.

2. Be realistic about what can be achieved on a daily/weekly basis – Who hasn’t got a to-do list that’s at least 50 items long at the moment? The point is, even if your list of tasks is as long as your desk, it’s important to note that there are only so many things you can physically complete in a day. In addition to this, there’s always the odd urgent task that sneaks in via your emails, or a task that takes longer than you anticipated to carry out. As a result, try and factor in some time every day that doesn’t have a specific task associated with it – some ‘just in case’ time! Even If you don’t need it for today’s work, there is something magical about completing tasks that were on your list for tomorrow, so treat yourself to the satisfaction of getting ahead!

3. Have a business task ‘wishlist’ – During the last lockdown, I had a jar full of ‘wishlist’ items; some important business tasks, some household related, and some self-care related.  Whenever I had a gap in my schedule, I pulled out one of these tasks (each individually written on a strip of paper), and set about completing whatever was on the paper.  These were all short tasks that would take no more than 60 minutes to complete, but helped to keep my motivation levels up, as I never knew whether I was going to get a treat or end up filing for an hour!

4. Keep on top of the important stuff – invoicing, paying bills, keeping your financial records up to date, re-registering with the ICO and checking your insurance is up to date, etc. These are the important things that keep our businesses running. It’s easy to lose motivation and focus sometimes, and let these slide a little, but it’s so important to set aside time for these so that you’re not suddenly hit with an unexpected bill, or have to rush to complete your self assessment. No one needs additional stress at the moment, so why not try the little and often approach? It could help to manage your stress levels over the coming months.

5.   Lean on your support network – if not for work, then for a brief check-in. If you’ve got colleagues or friends working remotely, why not book in for a 15 minute check in chat (or a virtual coffee if you’ve got a little more time to spare)? We all have wobbly moments, and that’s perfectly understandable, so keeping the lines of communication open can help to share the burden. A problem shared is a problem halved, and all that!

Take care and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to over-achieve this month. These are challenging times, and the odd not-quite-so productive day is understandable!

source: https://psychcentral.com/blog/reducing-your-guilt-about-not-being-productive


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