Personally Virtual Blog

f you work with the same customers, month in month out, it’s incredibly easy to get into a comfortable working routine.  However, comfort doesn’t always correlate with productive and efficient working (unfortunately!); sometimes you need to mix things up a bit in order to revitalise your working habits, and this year I’m trialling ‘Super Chunking’ to do just that.

It sounds a little bit like a euphemism for vomit, or a variety of ice cream, but super chunking is when you combine similar activities that you carry out multiple times a week (or month) into a single session in order to optimise being in that particular ‘zone’.

If you have a business podcast (or work on one on behalf of a client), for example, think about the way that you usually work through the process of creating, publishing and promoting the podcast.  It may be that you record them once a week, then spend an hour later in the week editing the recording, and then spend an hour at another point in the week uploading the audio to a podcasting website or platform and then promoting it across email and social media marketing.  If you only do one job per week like this, it can take a few minutes every time you work on the task before you comfortably remember how to carry out the process – we’ve all had a brain-melt experience when carrying out a task that you’re generally quite familiar with! The idea of ‘super-chunking’ is that you are able to significantly reduce the preparation time (and downtime) that usually comes with spending only a single hour or two on a particular task, by dedicating a whole day, or even numerous days, to the same task.  Why not record all of your podcasts over a few days, then edit them in a single session, then schedule them to your podcasting platform all in one go with the relevant show notes and imagery… It really does work! Earlier this month I carried out this very activity and found that processing and uploading 4 podcasts in one go, rather than four separate sessions, saved a good couple of hours overall from the time I would usually have set aside for this task – an extra couple of hours that I could then use for some all-important self-care time or business development.

Obviously, this doesn’t work with every task that you do – if you are monitoring email inboxes, then this isn’t necessarily work that you can super-chunk! Some tasks are much better suited to a ‘little and often’ approach, particularly if they involve urgent or time-sensitive jobs (like forwarding important emails to relevant personnel to be dealt with quickly), but some technical or creative jobs, like website updates or content writing, work well with this ‘super chunking’ approach.

Are there any tasks that you could super-chunk this year to free up some valuable working hours? It would be great to hear your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn!

Are you someone who thrives on deadlines? I often find that urgent projects or projects with a definitive end date tend to awaken my inner productivity guru; I consider myself an organised person, but when the pressure of an impending deadline hits I find myself able to schedule my days more effectively down to the smallest chunks in order to clear the task quickly and efficiently and to the high standard I demand of myself.  Apparently, I’m not alone in this.  In the book ‘Work Less, Do More: The 14-day productivity makeover’, author Jan Yager claims that deadlines ‘help us by bestowing active status on a project and assigning it a tangible date to which we are committed, rather than allowing the task to fall into an open ended morass’.

Evidence suggests that personal effort into the completion of a task can sometimes reduce if an individual is given a long or open-ended timescale in which to complete it.  This idea is highlighted by Parkinson’s law, which states that ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion’.  Motivation and effort levels appear to reduce as the perceived ‘deadline’ gets further away, a feeling that I can definitely relate too!  Some non-urgent tasks appear on my daily or weekly ‘to-do’ list for months before I finally get round to doing them, and even then they may not be completed in a timely manner.

So what kind of tasks fall victim to the open-ended target deadline? These tasks tend to be primarily personal business projects, or could occasionally be ‘wish list’ tasks from a customer who is happy for you to work on them when you have the opportunity, but doesn’t need them turned around within the usual timescale.  However, despite their lack of urgency, some of these jobs could prove to be incredibly valuable to your business, so I’ve collated a few tips to help you complete those long, lingering tasks before the turn of the next millennium…

1.) Attribute a financial value to your task – if a task is for a client, then work out how many hours it is going to take you and think about the total value of that project to your business; it might be a one-off, but if a client has agreed to investing in your time in order to complete the project, it’s worth setting some time aside to complete it! That few hundred pounds extra in the business bank account could really help out in a quiet month.  If the task if for your own business, determine how additional income this task could bring in; if it’s a lead magnet, how many new customers do you think you could attract with it? If it’s learning a new skill or creating a new product, think about the financial rewards that that could bring to your business in the future.  Once you’ve got a financial value associated with the task, it becomes a lot easier to dedicate what you perceive as ‘non-billable hours’ to it!

2.) Block out time in the diary, and stick to it! If the task doesn’t need to be completed all in one go, set some time aside regularly to complete the project.  If it would be easier to complete in a couple of sittings, clear a couple of days in the diary for the task.  Obviously, if urgent client work or an emergency situation prevents you from being able to stick to these times, don’t feel too guilty, but try to stick to them and get the work partially or fully completed within these windows to get it off your ‘to-do’ list once and for all!

3.) Put a deadline in the diary – even if you don’t necessarily need one! Set yourself an end date for the project, even if it isn’t driven by anything (it could be a random date pulled out of a hat!).  A couple of years ago, I set myself a goal to write a book; it didn’t need to be completed by a specific date, but I felt compelled to set myself a relatively short deadline to complete it so that I didn’t fall victim to the apathy that can so often be associated with never-ending, non-urgent projects.

So if you’ve got a project that keeps being re-scheduled in your calendar, Todoist or Asana, why not sit down today and set a tangible target date for the work? It’s always nice to be able to finally tick something off the list, so why not make 2019 the year when you get those dream projects completed (or at least started!)?

22nd November, 2018

So… how is your Christmas planning going? From my experience, people tend to fall into one of two camps; firstly, we’ve got the people who tend to have finished their Christmas shopping (and wrapping) by early summer, and have their Christmas tree, colour coordinated decorations, and tangle free lights ready to ‘deck the halls’ on December 1st.  And then we’ve got the ‘last minute-rs’, adamant that they’ll be able to pick up their hastily written present list amidst the madness and panic of Christmas eve shoppers, and end up wrestling for a goose or partridge (no turkeys left!) with a fellow shopper in the hauntingly empty poultry aisle in Aldi.

If you fall into the latter category, do not fear – all is not lost! I’ve got some simple organisational tips from business that can help make Christmas a walk in the park!

1.) Treat Christmas like a project: When you’ve got a big upcoming project at work that you are in charge of, do you leave everything until the very last minute? For the majority of successful entrepreneurs and business owners, this just isn’t feasible (primarily for their own sanity!).  With business related projects, most project managers map out the lifetime and development of project, setting deadlines so that important jobs can be completed and reviewed in a timely manner.  Why not treat Christmas in the same way? You could set yourself targets for completing Christmas shopping, for writing (and posting!) cards, and for ordering and collecting your Christmas food.  Just don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t stick to deadlines in a way that is quite as regimented as you might for your business – if your shopping and/or wrapping aren’t completed by your set due dates, it isn’t the end of the world!

2.) Create a gift list online using a tool like Trello or a simple spreadsheet. If you are collecting gift related bits and pieces throughout the year as you see them in the shops or online, it’s all too easy to lose them ‘in a safe place’ or end up with three different gifts for the same close friend and nothing for the family member who is notoriously difficult to buy for! If you are contemplating re-gifting items that you have previously received but have spent the last 12 months unopened and gathering dust, it’s always nice to have a note somewhere of who originally gifted you that item too… there’s nothing that says ‘Merry Christmas’ quite like the return of a gift that you have clearly not enjoyed a year later – unless the recipient would find that incredibly amusing! Making a list of the people you need to buy for and the gifts that you have collected can help you to keep track of spending and present allocation this festive season. 

3.) Hate shopping? Outsource it to the lovely people at Tesco/Asda/Ocado** (**Delete as applicable) and get them to do it for you, so you don’t even have to step foot in the madness of a supermarket in the week before Christmas.  Late December timeslots for delivery are notoriously hard to get hold of last minute, so book it now and fill your trolley with special offer gin and worry about the rest of the list a little closer to the big event!

4.) Know anyone who is lucky enough to have a birthday in December or early January? Admittedly, they are probably used to having friends and family members forget their birthday, or do a ‘two for one’ Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday gift/card, but if you’d really like to get in their good books this year why not pre-order a card and gift and ensure that it gets delivered directly to them to ensure it doesn’t get lost amidst the festive cheer in your own house.  It doesn’t matter if it’s ridiculously early – simply add a ‘Don’t open until X of December/January’ note to the package and get ordering! If the usual festive state of affairs for you is an armful of hastily grabbed miscellaneous items from a local petrol station, imaging the brownie points you’ll get from remembering a December birthday!

5.) Delegate, delegate, 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, particularly if you’ve got a house full of willing volunteers over the festive period! Fuel them with mulled wine, festive music and copious snacks and you can get your friends and family members to help with anything! Christmas is a time to spend with the people you like, and when you’re enjoying yourself, even peeling vegetables and wrapping presents can be an enjoyable and festive experience.

Unlike the work that you carry out for your business, Christmas doesn’t need to be perfect.  But even if you’re never going to be an organisational ninja over the festive season, a little bit of preparation can go a long way and help contribute to a week of reduced stress – because, let’s face it, no-one in their right mind enjoys a supermarket shop on Christmas eve… *shudders at the thought*

22nd November, 2018

I’m not sure whether you’ve noticed, but it’s November. NOVEMBER! Christmas is rushing towards us at terrifying speed and 2019 is just around the corner, and the shops are packed to the rafters with… 2019 Diaries and Planners (and Christmas decorations, obviously).

As an avid stationery fan, it’s a dangerous time of year.  The promise of the crisp, clean pages of a brand new planner often proves far too tempting, and it’s difficult to refrain from buying more than one!

So why are planners so popular? There are a number of reasons why people like to use a diary or planner for their personal or professional lives – here are a few:

Productivity – Whether you run your own business or are an employee, the likelihood is that you have a multitude of tasks that you need to carry out on a daily basis to ensure that your job is carried out efficiently and effectively.  If you have a particular and specific role in your business, it can be relatively straightforward to keep track of these tasks as you fall into a daily routine, but if you run a small business, it could be that you are the marketing team, the sales team, the finance and HR departments, etc., so keeping track of the plethora of day-to-day tasks required to keep your business afloat can be a little trickier! If you find that you are missing important tasks, or just aren’t able to find time in your week for things that are lower down on your priority list (i.e. social media marketing, networking, etc.), blocking them out in your diary and building them into your weekly or monthly routine can help you to find precious minutes for these activities, and help you to achieve the variety of goals you set for your business.

Time Management – Do tasks that should take you 5 minutes take you hours to complete? Do clients call and ask you for a ‘quick job’ that in reality is anything but? Keeping track of the time you are spending on particular tasks can help to ensure that you are charging (and being paid!) an appropriate amount for the work that you carry out.  It’s okay to go above and beyond occasionally, but it’s just not cost-effective to dedicate huge swathes of time to elements of your work that provide very little in the way of financial compensation.

Organisation – constantly missing appointments? Double booking events or not leaving yourself appropriate travel time between meetings and/or events? WRITE THEM DOWN as soon as they are booked, it’s as simple as that! Whether you’re popping them into an online calendar or collating everything in a paper diary, as long as you’ve got all of your events in one place it’s much easier to stay on top of your pre-planned activities and reduce the amount of time you are running around like a lunatic from one event to another.

Stress release – struggling to sleep at night thanks to the 101 tasks circling around in your head like deranged sheep? Many planners have space for you to make lists of the tasks that you need to do, a simple process that can help make your monstrosity of a mental to-do list seem a lot more manageable! Attributing levels of priority to the tasks, as well as the amount of time you estimate each task will take and making note of any deadlines imposed (either by you or the client) can help you to re-gain control when it first appears as though work is controlling you!

Creativity – how often do you have a brilliant idea in the shower, or on the train, or in the middle of the night? Admittedly, in the cold light of day some of these ‘eureka!’ moments aren’t quite as ground-breaking as you anticipated, but collating your ideas in a central location can help you to keep track of them before they evaporate into the ether.  Even if you’re not verbalising abstract ideas, the very process of doodling or sketching in a dedicated planner or notebook can help to promote creativity and aid in relaxation too, and who wouldn’t want that?

A personal or business record – want to see how far you have come personally or professionally? Want to keep track of what you have done and the things that you have achieved? Keeping a brief diary describing what you have done each day makes it much easier to remember.  If you find it easy to forget the positive work that you are doing, keeping an account of all the things that you have achieved can help shine a light on your achievements in the darker moments of business; why not keep track of one thing (at least!) each day that you have completed and are proud of?

Planners and diaries can make an incredibly positive difference to your life, but though it’s easy to get swept away by the sheer volume of planners on the market, you don’t actually need an all-singing, all-dancing planner with separate sections (and stickers) for ‘The twenty wines to try in 2019’ and a reference section that provides a list of all of the holidays celebrated in Ancient Egypt.  A plain exercise book or simple ‘week to view’ A5 calendar can prove just as effective, particularly once you know exactly what you want to keep track of in the new year!  And if the thought of lengthy, ‘Dear Diary…’ entries leaves you feeling more like an uncomfortable teenager than a business professional, why not try keeping a bullet journal? Create daily and weekly bullet points of things that you want to achieve, things that are on your business ‘wish’ list, and things that you have completed on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.  It’s a great and simple entry point for the diary keeping novice, and there really are few things comparable to the joy felt when you can vigorously cross an activity off of your to-do list!

It’s really easy when you are thinking about time to dismiss anything under a certain amount as not really enough time to do anything. I work on the clock for clients so I have a very clear view of what can be done in five, ten, fifteen or thirty minutes because I am recording it. But I am still very guilty of dismissing small amounts of time.

Of course, it depends on how much time, where you are and what is currently on your mind but as I sit at my desk now, I thought, “I’m going out in an hour and I need to get ready. I only have half an hour. That’s not nearly enough time to do anything useful. I might as well go and have a gin and tonic.” (can I just point out it is currently 6 PM on a Saturday, not 10 AM on a Tuesday morning before everyone calls The Priory to book me in!).  Half an hour doesn’t feel like enough time to finish a blog. But it is certainly enough time to start one, isn’t it? It is also plenty to time to do some client work, to upload my expense receipts, sort out last month’s mileage and many other things. None of which I have done!

Having a spare ten minutes I’m even less likely to think that’s sufficient time to start anything. But again, I bet I could get my receipts done, I’m pretty quick and I don’t let a huge backlog accumulate so we’re probably only talking about four items or so.

Based on this, I have started tagging my task list (Todoist) with a “Spare Five Minutes”. That will show me at a glance if I have things I can do in five minutes.  There is also a mental list of things we all have that never make it to a task list – replying to a text from a friend, putting the bins out, paying a bill and so on.  Another tag I use quite often is “To Read”. If I find an article I want to read, I’ll add it to Todoist with the tag and when I arrive early somewhere or I’m waiting for something I can go straight to something interesting.

Whenever you think “Oh, there’s not enough time to…” the tendency is to then fritter away that chunk of time. But if you add up all those chunks over a week, that is a lot of time that you’ve let slip by when it could have been put to good use. If you want to increase your efficiency, make use of these wasted moments. Find something that will only take ten minutes or make a start on a bigger project knowing that you’ll be very pleased with yourself when you have less to do later.

I use small chunks of time the other way around to motivate myself – either with the Pomodoro Technique or the most basic of all “just clean as much of the kitchen as you can during the ad break”. When it is a small amount it time it’s much easier to commit to something you aren’t really feeling inspired by!

And, if you really can’t face doing any work in those little chunks, you can still use it constructively. Meditate for five minutes, text a friend and say hello or go and have a chat with someone on the team.

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