Personally Virtual Blog

Whether you are a self-employed lone worker, are part of a small team or work in a huge office space with hundreds of other employees, there’s one thing for certain – cold and flu season is on its way!

When you do run your own small business, it’s often harder to take time out to rest and recuperate than it might be for some employees (especially those with statutory sick pay and colleagues who can shoulder some of the workload!) due to the fact that time away from work generally means time away from earning money.  I’ve met a number of small business owners who are unable or unwilling to even consider ‘down time’ to recover from illness and injury, choosing instead to work from their beds (even hospital beds) rather than let their customers down.  Unfortunately, this desire to get back to work before we are fully fit and able often results in a.) a longer recovery time or b.) a temporary reduction in the quality of work due to the fact that you are in so much pain/on medication/need to sleep every 3.5 minutes.  As a result, here are my top tips to stay as healthy as possible this Autumn/Winter, and to recover from illness as quickly as possible – trust me, I’m not a Doctor but I am a seasoned self-employed professional!

Take regular breaks – I know it’s easy to forget lunch breaks and to regularly work late into the evening when you’ve got a to-do list as long as the Thames. But work will still be there when you get back, it’s not going anywhere! If you feel you can’t possibly take a break to relax and go for a short walk in the fresh air, it might be worth reviewing your working schedule, adjusting your deadlines (if possible) and booking in regular sessions in your diary to take time away from your desk and get your blood pumping and muscles working! Even a quick brisk walk round the block is good for the body and mind.

Eat regularly – and eat well! I’ve missed many a lunch break and often go for hours without a drink, but I’m making a conscious effort this Autumn/Winter to stay hydrated and to eat a decent lunch and healthy snacks in order to give my body some of the precious nutrients it needs to try and keep me as healthy as possible! I’m not declaring the office a caffeine or sugar-free zone though – everyone has days when a coffee and cake is the ultimate medicine for a challenging day.

Cherish your ‘downtime’ – grab a book, enjoy a bath, watch some trash television or dedicate time to a hobby (or two!).  Stress can manifest itself in a number of different ways in our health and wellbeing, so taking proper breaks from work (and turning off those email and app notifications!) can help you manage your stress levels more effectively.  There is more to life than simply work.

Find someone who can support you – even the strongest, healthiest individuals can find themselves struck down by flu (one of my associates had the flu vaccine last year and was still struck down by a different strain – these things happen sometimes!) or another illness.  As a result, try to set up systems and processes that can be put into place if you are ill – whether that’s a simple out of office that you can put on if you just need a couple of days in bed to recover, or a trusted associate that you can outsource your work to if you need cover for a longer period of time, or just want to spread the load a little when you’re really snowed under.

Listen to your body – if you are feeling exhausted, unwell, or stressed, put yourself on your to-do list.  Take time out and seek professional medical help if required; your clients understand that you are human and not some kind of super cyborg who can work non-stop for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year… Carrying on when your body or mind needs a break ALWAYS results in a longer recovery time than simply stopping for a day or two and giving yourself some TLC. Just remember, when it comes to business priorities, you are your number one asset! Give yourself the same care and attention you give your staff, your associates, and even your hardware! You’ll soon be fighting fit and ready to work effectively and productively again.

What will you be doing this Winter to try and stay as healthy and happy as possible? Do you have any top tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them on my Social Media channels – feel free to get in touch!

Tomorrow’s me is great! She’s going to bill 5 hours work, catch up on her LinkedIn messages, go to the gym and cook a healthy meal. She’s amazing this woman. All because she’s in tomorrow and tomorrow is better.

Are you one of those people who puts things off until later? I largely don’t, certainly not with work but there are times when I do this. The most common example for me, is not filling the car up with fuel until it’s more or less running on fumes. For some bizarre reason, I always think that I’ll do it next time I go out; tomorrow when I’m on my way to a meeting or as I head out for a dog walk. Because I’m busy. And I need to get back to my desk, or to a meeting or to wherever. So tomorrow usually feels like the better option than doing it now. For any number of reasons.

But, what I have now (finally) realised, is that tomorrow, won’t be any better! In fact, tomorrow, may be busier than today. I might be running late for my meeting because of a call or a wardrobe malfunction or any number of reasons. Why should the mystical tomorrow be any better than today? Tomorrow may be worse than today. By adding to my daily stress, a car that absolutely needs to go to the garage before it goes anywhere else, I’ve made the chances of tomorrow being equally as busy much more likely.

I am pushing the busy forward.

I am already sabotaging my future self. The future self that today I am thinking of as solving all my problems!  Chances are, she’s not going be Wonder Woman after all because she is the result of my very poor choices yesterday!

There are so many ways that we do this by assuming that our future selves are going to somehow make better decisions, have more time and be generally more with it. Some days that may be the case, but I am by and large the same person, with the same life, from one day to the next. So why do I think tomorrow is different? 

Well, it’s a known phenomenon that has been studied called Optimism Bias. It’s mostly why we get out of bed and crack on with another day – but also stops us doing perhaps more sensible long-term things like putting away some savings or cutting down on the wine for our health because bad stuff happens to other people, not us. Read more here.

So, optimism about our future lives aside, let’s go with the more likely supposition that tomorrow will be much like today.  What if you could make life easier for your future self now so that you are really grateful to yourself tomorrow? How lovely are you to yourself?

There are loads of ways to do this, but let’s start with the premise that tomorrow you are short of time. And think of some things that “today’s you” could do, to get ahead of that.

  1. Before you go to bed spend 5 minutes doing a quick blitz of the house to get it tidy.
  2. Organise tomorrow’s stuff today - be that breakfast bowls and a mug with a teabag, your work bag and papers or your clothes.
  3. Before you leave the office, create your list of things to do the next day (I like to schedule time rather than have a list because again, I get overambitious about what can be achieved. At least focusing on available time, I have a hope of being more realistic.)
  4. Rather than not start a piece of work or a task because you’ve only got 5 or 10 minutes, start it. You’d be surprised what you can get done and when you come back to it, you’ll be delighted that you aren’t staring at a blank bit of paper.
  5. Think about your future self when making decisions. Put them first! Just by moving the focus slightly and saying “would my future self be happier if…” you can make the right call in the moment. Which is usually doing something you don’t really want to do now but that you probably should do, be that going to the gym, replying to that email or putting that expense receipt in the right place.

It’s really important to be good to yourself.  But it might be more important to be good to your future self.

In a town local to me, work has just finished on a public space in front of a large new commercial and residential development.  It looks much nicer than the car park that was there previously and as I walked across it recently I realised that the footpaths are filled with motivational sayings – you know the sort, ‘Reach for the Moon and if you fail you’ll end up amongst the stars!’ and that kind of thing. I appreciate the sentiment (but not the spelling and grammatical errors that the footpath proof-reader clearly overlooked), but I don’t think it had the desired effect on me; I didn’t feel motivated or challenged by the words – indeed, I feel as though I’m constantly bombarded in my personal and professional life by vacuous motivational or inspirational sayings that realistically aren’t going to provide any value in my personal and professional development.

As a result, I purposefully went on a search for some advice that I think is valuable, and came across a couple of gems from Thomas Edison (he of incandescent lightbulb fame – though he acquired 1093 other patents too):

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-it-iveness; third, common sense”

From my first-hand experience, running a successful business cannot be directly attributed to fairy dust and positive vibes (though I’m sure they do help).  Making mistakes and, more importantly, recognising them and learning from them is a huge part of professional growth.  As is the ability to stick with something even when things aren’t necessarily going to plan.

But do motivational quotes really work? According to an article by Gwen Moran for Fast Company (source:, they do!

“Humans are aspirational. We want to look up to role models and leaders and follow what they ask…Leaders and their words– inspirational quotes– affect us on a primal level.” Scott Sobel, Founder of Media and Communications Strategies, Inc., Washington DC.

Do you have any inspirational quotes or motivational sayings that particularly resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts (and recommendations!).

11th September, 2019

September… stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favourite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”

Stephen King

September often feels like a new start. Not quite the New Year/new me/new beginning of January 1st (jam packed with totally unattainable diet and fitness-based resolutions) but a definite opportunity to take renewed action in our lives and to kick-start the engine again after an extended summer break.

It’s reminiscent of a new term at a new school, with new uniforms, fresh stationery and organised school bags (without long lost bananas that have become host to brand new life forms)…  and it’s not just the ‘back to school’ feeling that signals change; September marks the start of Autumn and a transition into cooler, shorter days.  These periods of transition are a great time to stop for a moment and reflect on the year to date. What has been successful in 2019 so far? What really didn’t work out as you had anticipated? What would you have done differently? What goals have you met? Which goals are you still working towards (and are you on track to meet them in a timely manner)? Perhaps the goalposts have changed and you need to adjust your plans accordingly? Businesses aren’t static entities – they grow and change constantly, though progress isn’t always a straight line. By taking time out to re-assess and re-evaluate your business goals regularly throughout the year, you can make sure that you are still working towards the ‘ideal business’ that works for you and fits in with your unique needs; you don’t have to have a 100-strong workforce, to be regularly invoicing 6-figures per month, or to have won an armful of shiny business awards in the first 9 months of 2019 for it to have been a success – it’s all relative and ultimately, as long as your business is turning over enough to sustain your financial needs (or is working towards it!) then you are on the right track.

Think of September as an annual check in. Buy the new stationary, the notepads and #AllThePens. Take a moment to think about both the positives and negatives of the year so far and try to build on the good stuff for the last few months of the year.  That being said, it’s important to pace yourself so the chances of burning out from an unsustainable energy surge are minimised. Understand what is manageable and set achievable and realistic goals for the final quarter of 2019 and be sure to acknowledge both the little successes as well as the big wins – trust me, running a business is a challenge and every positive deserves to be celebrated. 

Just remember, keep those business goals;

*Specific - no hugely non-specific ‘I want world peace’ type goals without providing a little more detail.

*Measurable - make sure that your goal is easy to measure so that you can tell whether you are on track to meet it, or not!

*Achievable - though aiming for consistent 7-figure turnover weeks might be your ultimate aim, it might not be an achievable goal for you at the moment if you don’t have the marketing budget and business systems and processes in place to support that at the moment.

*Realistic – again, building your next office on the moon may be a wonderful dream, but how likely is that to actually happen before Christmas?

*Timely – give yourself a deadline to either achieve your business goal or to review again; quarterly reviews work really well, from my experience!

Autumn is a valuable season within our businesses. Let’s make it count!

Whether you’ve got children off for the Summer break or are jetting off to sunnier climes over the next few weeks, July and August are synonymous with holidays – possibly because in a good old British Summer you are generally allowed at least three days of fabulous weather (between back-to-back days of hail, wind, rain and possibly snow).  As a result, my ‘holiday top tips!’ blog should be useful for most of you, even if you are stay-cationing or nipping off for a long weekend in the country.

For as stress-free a break as possible, here are my top 5 recommendations:

1.)   Notify your customers in advance of your holiday – if possible, I generally recommend giving customers a month’s notice of a holiday, particularly if it’s over a week.  The vast majority of my customers can be maintained and supported by a trusted associate, should the customer request or require it, and in many cases work can also be completed prior to going away.  It’s worth giving customers plenty of notice though as you can guarantee that if you don’t, a hundred pieces of ‘urgent’ work will drop into your in-tray on your last day in the office…

2.)   Have an emergency contact in place (ideally, not you as the first point of call) – it’s always helpful to have a trusted team member available for any ‘urgent’ customer enquiries that come in.  Please note that ‘urgent’ from the perspective of the customer isn’t necessarily ‘urgent’ from anyone else’s perspective, so having a team member available to separate the ‘legitimately urgent’ from the ‘really can wait until you are back in the office' queries, you can rest assured that your holiday isn’t going to be interrupted unless absolutely necessary.

3.)   Turn your ‘out of office’ on from the morning of your last day at work – this acts as a great reminder to customers who may have forgotten you were going away (despite regular notifications!) and had been considering trying to sneak ‘a quick job’ in before you went away… trust me, ‘a quick job’ never quite turns out to be as quick or as simple as the customer believes.

4.)   Set your ‘out of office’ to turn off one day after you arrive back at work and keep the diary clear on that day – despite your ‘out of office’ notification, it’s likely that you’ll come back to approximately half a million emails; if you’re dealing with customer enquiries from the second you sit down at your desk too, it’s going to take months to work through your in-tray and establish your to-do list for your first week back at work.  Give yourself a clear day (or morning) to read and file your emails and prioritise work and the positive mood that you’ve brought back from your holiday is far more likely to last!

5.)   Turn off notifications when you are away – if you use business management tools (like Slack, Asana or Todoist, for example) on your phone, or receive work emails to your mobile device, consider switching off notifications for these.  It’s all too easy to think ‘I’ll just check that!’ and end up, three hours later, embroiled in some minor customer issue that could have either been rectified without you or could be addressed upon your return.  Alternatively, you could always leave your phone in your hotel/B&B/tent and ignore it completely? I might have to give that a go this Summer holiday…

It’s so important to take some time out to relax and recharge your batteries every now and then, so make sure that your business is adequately prepared for your holiday so that you can really step away from work and come back re-envigorated and at the top of your productivity game.

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