Heroes of Old: #2 Charles Dickens

Heroes of Old: #2 Charles Dickens

My ‘heroes of old’ series wouldn’t be complete without focusing on some prominent creators of works who were truly prolific. There have been many, but a friend recently told me about the routine of Charles Dickens, who, when writing, only worked in the mornings and always had a 3 hour walk in the afternoon, and it got me thinking about the routines of productive people in general.

Your routine – the way you structure your day-to-day work – is very personal to you. Often developed over many years of trial and error and for most people is dictated by the 9-5 work culture. But even within the confines our office life we can make adaptations to improve our efficiency.

Back to Dickens, research on his routine led me to a brilliant article in the Harvard Business Review reviewing a book by Mason Currey: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Rather than fill the internet with more words I’ll simply appeal to you to read it here. It covers off some of the main trends of creative and productive people without letting you lose hope that your 9-5 is your slave-master, beautiful.

Heroes of Old: #1 Eisenhower

Heroes of Old: #1 Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower

As part of my Summer Rethinking Productivity Theme I am focusing on 3 heroes of old that you wouldn’t normally associate with Productivity. I want to shake things up and help you to see that we don’t just have to listen to Seth Godin and Simon Sinek, the oldies are often the best…and wisest of them all…

This week Dwight D. Eisenhower the 34th president of the United States is in the spot-light. The classically trained project managers among you may recall his coined methodology ‘The Eisenhower Matrix’, a simple and effective tool for prioritising tasks, but before I go on to this, it’s his overall leadership qualities that I wanted to focus on first.

Eisenhower was a great communicator: He led people by clearly communicating what they needed to do and why they needed to do it, whilst trusting them 100% with the ability to know how to do it. Delegating is the underpinning principle of his productivity matrix: Can you delegate well? Can you trust people to do your work for you?

This can be a sticking point for some, perhaps because we are thinking about delegation in the wrong way – rather than thinking “It will be quicker and better if I do this task myself” try thinking “If I trust this person to do this task, they will be empowered and are more likely to believe in our shared mission”. This can be a liberating decision for both you and the person you are delegating to, even if they don’t always get it right, you are able to share the ‘why’ of your business with someone else offering a long term strategy for more productive working.

Eisenhower put it like this: “Character in many ways is everything in leadership. It is made up of many things, but I would say character is really integrity. When you delegate something to a subordinate, for example, it is absolutely your responsibility, and he must understand this. You as a leader must take complete responsibility for what the subordinate does. I once said, as a sort of wisecrack, that leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.”

In summary here are Eisenhower’s best tips on delegating:

  1. Communicate the what and the why of the task very clearly and in a way that everyone in the team can understand
  2. Leave the how to them
  3. Pick up the pieces when things go wrong and never blame them for mistakes
  4. Get excited with them when things go right

So this leads us to his all-famous matrix.

Eisenhower_Matrix
Eisenhower Matrix

You can split all of your tasks into 4 quadrants. The first is the most urgent and important; these are the tasks you do first. The second quadrant is the important but less urgent, here’s where you diarise chunks of time to ensure these things don’t slip off the list. The last two quadrants are for the less important things, the urgent ones need to be delegated, as discussed above, and the less urgent just need to be avoided altogether. Here’s a little video which helps to summarise this too.

I hope you have found this interesting, please comment below if you struggle with delegating yourself or have found some other useful tips to help you delegate.

Let’s Rethink Productivity

Let’s Rethink Productivity

Productivity in its basic form means to produce more. This is a misleading statement for any individual or business because the definition suggests that volume is the aim. Productivity could be better described as producing what is good, better. Matt Perman, author of What’s Best Next, describes it as a focus “not primarily on doing more things in less time but rather in doing the right things in a flexible way”

Right, good, these seem like high ideals: world peace, protecting the abused and marginalised; don’t these ideals often sit outside our remit of work? Matt Perman would like to suggest otherwise: that this is a focus on the right and the good of our own day-to-day work.

Everything can be done well, even the books, the housekeeping, the posting (both traditional and media based). Given infinite time we can do things better and better, normally there is an exact correlation between doing something well and the time we spend over it*. It doesn’t sound like very good productivity advice to say “do everything really well”, we’d never sleep if we genuinely took on this advice.

So here’s the tricky bit: deciding what things are worth doing really well and spending a lot of time over and what things are not worth it. Once we’ve picked the important things, we can focus on them, create a vision around them, and carve out time for them. The less important things can be attacked with an arsenal of productivity tools in order to reduce them: outsourcing, automating, delegating, reducing, action plans, and project support systems: kapow-boom-splat!

How do we decide what’s important? This is as individual as you, but here are a few pointers about things we all share in common:

1. We are people orientated.
Art Markman, author of Smart Thinking says “The interactions we have with other people affect the way we feel about life. Our close relationships keep us grounded and influence both happiness and the sense that we are part of a larger community. Interestingly, even our interactions with people we do not know that well give us a sense that we are part of that larger community”

2. We get a joy out of serving others
There’s a Chinese proverb that says “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” Or put in a more scientific way by Jenny Santi in an article on time.com “Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex.”

3. We cannot ever be truly motivated by money

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A report published in the Harvard business review entitled “Does money really affect Motivation?” shows that “there is less than 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels”

In business ‘your people’ are your customers, even if you don’t have direct contact with them. Orient your goals around serving them and the rest might just start to fall into place. Working with and for people is not efficient, it’s slow and hard work, but also fulfilling and there’s no bigger killer of efficiency than lack of fulfilment.

*Although it can be argued that too much time is also a killer of good work, especially in the realm of creativity.

Emily’s App Rates: Loom

Emily’s App Rates: Loom

We all know you can use video for marketing your business but have you ever thought of it as a productivity tool?  I hate being on camera so, so much.  I have been doing my best to quietly avoid being filmed or having my picture taken for most of my adult life.  Over the last couple of weeks however, I have become reluctantly convinced that one day we might live in a world where we all record videos as quickly and naturally as we send an email.

This revelation hit me while I was training a new team member for one of my clients.  The other person is in a different hemisphere so teaching face to face obviously wasn’t feasible and neither was being on hand to support and answer questions during their working day.

Despite all these challenges, we’ve done an amazingly efficient hand over using a video recording app called Loom.  Loom is a plug in for the Chrome browser which allows you to record quick videos of yourself, your screen or both in just a couple of clicks.

I’ll let the people at Loom explain how it all works; using the power of video of course.

I created a series of short videos demonstrating processes and the software we use.  It was much quicker (and less boring for both of us) than writing step by step instructions and clearer than relying on screenshots.   Each video took around 20 minutes to create.  The videos will also be there to reference every time she needs to perform a task and I’m certain that has reduced the number of follow up questions.

You can use Loom whenever it’s simpler to just say something rather than write it and whenever a visual demonstration would speed things up. Make use of the integration with Gmail to resolve customer service issues by showing the customer what to do.  Use Loom to create a library of videos to demonstrate your products or communicate with your team.  Create a video you can use over and over again or do lots of quick bespoke videos – it’s up to you.  Either way it probably doesn’t take longer than writing it all in an email and it’s a great way to build relationships when you can’t always get face to face or co-ordinate diaries for a call.

Did I mention, I HATE being on camera?  Surprisingly, I’m fine with Loom.  It’s so easy to use I really couldn’t make any more excuses not to.   I can’t quite believe it but I like it.  I would even dare to suggest it’s kind of addictive.

Loom is fairly new to the market so, for now at least, it is totally free.  Try it out here.

Emily’s App Rates: Signable

Emily’s App Rates: Signable

On the list of thing things we wish we didn’t have to do for our business, chasing clients to sign off on the contracts you have agreed is surely only second to chasing unpaid invoices. Pen and ink signatures present barriers.  A walk to the post box, the lack of a stamp, an envelope languishing in an out tray or faffing with the seldom used scanner function on a printer; all these things are standing in the way of getting your contract signed and delivered and you starting your project on time.

It is one of the last areas of work to be digitised effectively, but finally, finally electronic signatures are smashing those barriers!

I use electronic signing software almost every day in my own business and in my client’s businesses.  My favourite service by far is Signable.  Believe me, I’ve tried several.  This is the one I recommend to anyone I’m working with.  It’s incredibly easy to use – I think I had my first contract uploaded and out for signing in about 5 minutes.  You enter the names and email addresses of the signers, upload a document, drag and drop the signing fields onto the document and hit send.   The signers receive an email with a link to the document and step by step prompts to sign.  They will receive automatic reminders if they are dragging their feet. When it’s all done, everyone receives a link to the completed document to download.  It’s so simple and saves so much time and effort.

Unlike other similar services, Signable offer a handy pay as you go option which is good value for businesses that don’t do high volumes of contracts.  If you are doing more than 20 per month there is also a monthly subscription option.

Now I will admit that trying to replicate your signature with a mouse or your finger on a touch screen is still a little on the clumsy side.   My signature has certainly lost some of its panache in electronic form.  It’s not bad though and this is bound to get better as the technology develops further.  Even so, electronic signatures are totally legit.  The Law Society have produced chapter and verse on the subject if you really want to reassure yourself.  There are very few contexts where they wouldn’t be considered appropriate.

A service like Signable will undoubtedly save you time but it also may help you close more deals and plan your work load and cash flow too.  Removing barriers which potentially hold up your contracts means your clients will sign sooner.   That’s less chasing for you and more certainty for your business.

Emily’s App Rates: YouCanBook.Me

Emily’s App Rates: YouCanBook.Me

So, last time I talked about how you should go about choosing productivity apps.  This week I want to give you a real world example of how the right tool can make impressive savings in both time and money.

One of my clients runs an extremely busy consultancy.  Her job requires her to have a lot of meetings.  Usually one to one meetings with people who are just as busy as she is.  She was missing vital opportunities while emails became buried in her inbox so she started working with a virtual assistant – me!  I was spending roughly 25% of the time I spent working for her business organising her diary.   A few months ago however, she started using YouCanBook.Me and overnight it reduced the hours I spend on her diary to virtually zero!

YouCanBook.Me is brilliant scheduling app that works with Google or iCloud calendars.   When someone wants to meet with you, you simply send them a link and they can view and choose a meeting slot.  YouCanBook.Me synchs with your calendar so it always shows up to date availability.  But the really impressive thing is that by setting up a few simple rules YouCanBook.Me can automatically add in things like travel time around appointments and different durations for different types of meetings so you won’t accidentally over book yourself.  Giving people this self service option to book meetings is far more efficient than that frustrating email back and forth and it’s easy for both parties to change the meeting time if something comes up in the meantime.  I’m impressed with the interface which not only looks totally professional but is customisable and a joy to work with.  If you run the type of business that involves paid for sessions or classes then YouCanBook.Me also integrates with Stripe so you can make bookings and take payments in a single online transaction via your own website – something which in the past would have involved some pretty costly investment in web development.

Setting up a YouCanBook.Me basic account is free.  That will give you enough features to start booking meetings right away.  If you want further customisation or to accommodate lots of different meeting types (eg. Calls, meetings, classes etc) then you’ll want to upgrade to the paid version which costs £7 per month.   I was spending about 2 hours a week working on the diary, so YouCanBook.Me basically saved the equivalent of its annual cost in the first two weeks we were using it. How much time are you spending on organising your meetings?  How much is your time worth? How much could you save?

Take a look for yourself at https://youcanbook.me/.

Emily Dover, PA Me Ltd.

Emily’s App Rates: An Introduction

Emily’s App Rates: An Introduction

When you start a business your workflows and ways of managing information usually grow organically – a spreadsheet here, a series of Post-its there, a wall planner or a white board maybe. As a Virtual Assistant, I often begin working for those businesses at a critical point – when they are starting to feel too big for one person to manage alone. This is a perfect moment to take a step back and evaluate the way they work and where they can harness the of power technology to save time and make their business more productive and easier to run. Whether you run a business or are in a regular nine-to-five, there are hundreds of apps which can help you be more efficient and more productive. In my next couple of posts, I’m going to be talking about some of the best but before I do that I wanted to consider how you go about choosing the perfect apps for you.

Productivity apps broadly focus on the following areas:

1) Email, calendar, contacts
2) Notes and information storing
3) Task management
4) Collaboration, project management, Communication
5) Time management/focus
6) Social Media management

Talk to friends and other people in your industry. What do they use? You’ll be surprised how willing people are to wax lyrical about something that has genuinely saved them time and effort.

Just because something works for someone else doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you however. Think specifically about the sources of stress in your working life (e.g. I can’t sort actions from the millions of emails languishing in my inbox) and look for something which will address it. Take advantage of free trials or free versions of new apps – if something doesn’t feel quite right or isn’t actually saving you time don’t be afraid to look for something else. If you are trying to mould you working style to fit with the limitations of a particular app rather than the other way around you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Finally, the best things in life are often free but not always. I can understand that the costs of some apps can be off putting. Consider how much time you are saving – the cost benefit. Think about what you are worth for each hour of work you do for your client. Say your rate is £40 per hour and an app which cost £25 per month saves you 2 hours per week. That’s an additional 8 hours per month you could be spending on paid work i.e. (8x £40) – £25 = £295. Potentially, you’ve made an extra £295 per month.

Talk to people about the apps they use and don’t be afraid to shop around. If one thing doesn’t work for you try not to get discouraged – there are developers building apps for all sorts of different personality types, industries and ways of working. Lastly don’t lose sight of the cost benefit of each of the apps you choose. In my next couple of blog posts I’ll be giving you some examples of awesome apps which my clients and I use to save us time. In the meantime, do tell us about the apps that you love and why.

Emily Dover, PA Me Ltd.