Monday, 19 December 2016

Self Employed? How to take time off at Christmas (and why you should).

Christmas is looming, the kids have broken up from school, factories have closed their doors for the new year, teachers are enjoying that lovely break from the children and you? Well, you're self employed. So you're at your desk as you are every other day.

But this doesn't HAVE to be the case. Yes we all know if self employed people do not work they don't get paid but you're a human being. You need a break from work as much as the next person. The dangers of working too much can even be deadly. Did you know a person who works over 55 hours have a week have a 33% increased risk of having a stroke?

You CAN take time off for christmas (and any other time of the year for that matter) you just, as always seems the theme in my blogs, need to be ORGANISED. Check out our top tips for taking some downtime for christmas when you're self employed.

1/ Plan your time off in advance - Simple right? Obviously the big thing for most people is the loss of income during your time off. What this usually means for me is November and December are VERY busy times of the year. I always put more in the diary than usual months and front load the work (working longer hours and a few more hours per evening) to put more in the pot. 

2/ Watch your pennies - Try and be more frugal with your money at this time of year. Less meetings with expensive brand named coffees, less travel time and less fuel costs, less parking fees

3/ Squeeze your time - I mention it above but if you can map your time in advance you need to understand exactly how many hours you have available and how much work you can fit in.

4/ Communicate with your clients - ALWAYS ensure your client knows you are taking the time off WAY in advance. Reassure them and demonstrate to them how you are going to fit your workload in. I submit ALL my holiday dates to clients at the start of the year and how the work will be covered. Everyone knows where they stand and are comfortable that they are still getting a great service.

5/ Cover your work - Whether you do as I generally do and front load the work so it is all done and covered by the time you take your holiday or whether you outsource and handover just make sure everything is covered. This will differ from client to client. Some of my clients shut down themselves so there is no work to be covered. Some are happy to take back in house for the week/s i'm off. 

6/ Save for holidays & contingency's - Every single month I put money into my holiday account. At the start of the year I work out how much I need to cover loss of income that month and put a small amount per month into the contingency pot. This pot is SO useful if you are sick, if there is an emergency or if you plan on taking holiday during the year.

7/ Schedule extra time after your break - I always make a point of booking extra hours and childcare when I return from a break to ensure I have time to get back on top of things when I return without extra stress.

8/ Once you're off, you're off - Ensure you turn out of office on, do a full and complete handover and turn off email notifications. Let your clients know they can, of course, contact you if there is an emergency but if you've done a thorough handover (leave no stone unturned, it'll help you feel ready to take a  break) there really should be no need for contact. It's important to you to really relax so you can return to work invigorated, rested and ready to take on a brand new year!

Taking time off is so important for your mind and well being and often even more so when you are self employed and it can make a huge difference.

For more hints and tips about how to be organised and productive when self employed check out our website 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Top tips for improving your productivity at work

Being organised is THE best thing you can do for your business. Being organised makes us more effective, makes us feel calmer and makes us think more clearly. 

And it is really simple to do if you know how!

Becoming organised ALWAYS comes down to your own efficiency. Essentially we want to know how we do things faster but still thoroughly? I've said it before and i'll say it again but it all comes down to managing your TIME.

Follow our 'top tips for improving your productivity!

1/ Understand your time V workload - So very important this one and absolutely tip number one.There's NO point taking on work that you do not have the time to complete within the time you have available. This is where we get ourselves into trouble and begin to add pressure which will make us LESS productive.

2/ Have a realistic 'To Do' List - At the start of each week take the time to list EVERY single job which needs doing that week. Put those jobs in order of priority. Ask yourself what HAS to be done today and what can wait till the end of the week. Everybody is guilty of procrastinating and 'cherry picking' the jobs you would prefer to do. Even if those jobs are of a lower priority. This is a MISTAKE. Put the jobs in order and then DELIVER them in order. That way you stick to deadline and keep stress levels down. This will really help your productivity.

3/ See it, do it. -Entrepreneur Steve Olenski recommends implementing the "two-minute rule" to make the most of small windows of time that you have when working. The idea is pretty simple. Essentially if you see a job that you know can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. According to Olenski getting this task out of the way immediately takes LESS time than returning to it later. Perhaps you see something needing to be done whilst on route somewhere else in the office. Some filing perhaps. Or changing the ink in a printer.    You could do those quick jobs now, or leave them for later. If you do them now that is another job knocked off your to do list. If you do that several times a day it reduces everything you need to which frees up your time to get on with the bigger stuff. My productivity has gone up hugely since reading Steve's article.

4/ Quit your meetings! - Ask yourself if you REALLY need to have this meeting. So often we have meetings for meetings sake. There is a weekly meeting penned in the diary because, well there just is. Do you need it? Do you need to travel for it? Can it be done online? Could it be resolved with a quick phone call? Ask yourself how necessary it is. If you really don't need to why not make it a fortnightly meeting. or just a meeting when necessary. It can saves HOURS in your day. Just ask 'is it the best use of my time today'

5/ Map your hours - I've blogged about this before and it helped me to understand and breakdown how much work I have to do on a week by week basis. If, like me, you have multiple clients and multiple contracts it can be tough to try and juggle the work and ensure you are giving each contract the time and dedication it needs. Especially if you don't know exactly how long you're spending on each job. Make sure you map the hours you have available versus the hours you are committed to doing the work. You don't have to stick to it like a rigourous timetable as it is totally moveable but you need to ensure you have enough time available to deliver. It will help you understand your workload on a week by week basis and tackle it with a clear mind.

6/ Take a breakMake sure you take regular breaks throughout your workday. Just a trip to get a drink and taking a short lunch makes us more productive. Give yourself a breather and time away. Your brain needs a rest!

7/ There's always a chance to work - This comes back a little to the two minute 'see it, do it' rule. If you find yourself with downtime. Maybe you're on a train, sat in doctors waiting room, waiting for a meeting to start, waiting for your computer to re-boot. Even boiling the kettle. I always have a quick think if there is anything small I can knock off my list during that time. A quick email reply. A quick phone call. Quickly update your to do list. File your 'done' emails into a folder. Is there anything you can do to reduce the load?

8/ Minimise interuptionsThis is so simple. If you have allotted time to write a proposal or presentation that is what you do during that time. Don't answer a call from another client or colleague. Ignore the blinking email notification. Do the job you have sat down to do. Speaking to another person about something else will put you off the job in hand. That person/email/message will be there is an hour when you can deal with it and assign it the time it deserves. Just make sure you do get back to them!

9/ Track your time - You may think you know how long something takes but have you actually timed it? Are you giving a project or a client longer than you've actually planned for? Or even invoiced for? To ensure you are productive you need to understand how long your tasks are taking you. Only then can you ensure you have given yourself enough time to get a job done.

10/ Stop trying to be perfect! - Big one for me. I used to try almost too hard to get things perfect. Nothing is EVER perfect. Someone somewhere wont like it. Someone somewhere will have a note or an edit. Biggest thing is try not to overthink it. Just sit down and do it. Editing can be done at a later time if you aren't happy but getting something to your boss or your colleague or your client and moving on is really good for productivity. If they want changes they'll say and you can make them but getting it done and dusted and not over thinking and trying to be perfect is a great way to be productive. Nothing like a big penline through a task marked as 'done!'

So there you are. Simple really! If you are still struggling with your workload though we can help! Why not outsource some of it to us! Give us a call 07887552888 or email

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Life Hacks - How to Map Your Time

I was chatting with a colleague recently who was struggling to fit everything in and getting a bit overwhelmed with, well, life in general I suppose. I asked her how she maps her time for the week and she told me she didn't. I was, honestly, really surprised! I thought everyone would map their time in one way or another. 

I showed her my week by week map I use to map out my time and my tasks and she said I should share it in my blog it is! 

*apologies it's slightly larger than the page!

So, essentially, as you can hopefully see each day is broken down by the hour and each day is split into work and family. I then add my codes from the table below.

This allows me to allocate EVERYTHING which needs to be added into my working week. 

I use the calendar to map...

Clients work - To ensure I have allowed myself enough time to deliver the work I map all work to last letter and always give myself some extra hours to allow for contingency

Business growth and general management- All the things I need to ensure I keep my business in a healthy position. This includes;

  • General admin and invoicing
  • Marketing - Blogging and reading other blogs/keeping on top of any changes 
  • Servicing - Looking after my clients

Personal - I map everything I need to keep on top of in my life including:

  • Children - extra curricular activities, school activities as well as downtime
  • Life admin -doctors appointments, dentists, banking etc
  • Exercise -I like to ensure I allocate hours to exercise weekly and it is so much easier if you plan when that is going to happen
  • RR-which is my time to relax.

The key to a good time map boils down to the following:

Leave no stone unturned! Make sure you map EVERYTHING that needs to be done no matter how small it is. It will help manage stress levels knowing you have everything planned for and the time to do it.

Be realistic - Don't allocate an hour if you know it takes two. It isnt realistic and will throw your plan out of balance

Be flexible - If things need to move, switch don't sweat it. Just decide which item is least important for that week so you can bump it off the weeks plan and move it to the next week

Keep on top of it - Keep the plan open and stick to it. Ensure you do a new plan each week. You will find some weeks you have more time for rest or maybe exercise of time with the children because you have less life admin that week etc. 

Remember YOU are in control!

There are 24 hours in a day and you CAN fit everything in (although I get it means life can be very busy) if you are organised. Just remember to work with a bit of give and take and ensure you balance work hours and life stuff on your plan. My next plan is to colour code and weight work and home stuff to ensure i'm balanced but i'll keep you updated on that one!

If you still struggle with time management and think there are not enough hours in the day why not talk to us about how we can help and OUTSOURCE some of your work to us. We can manage your home life with our PA and Concierge services or support your admin needs with our admin support services. 

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Call us 07887552888

Monday, 6 June 2016

How to maintain a work/life balance.

I've just returned from a fantastic week with my lovely little family in my favourite place ever, Croyde Bay, North Devon. 

We had a great time, we were so lucky with the weather and we had some real 'down time' as a family.

<< < My kids Ella (7) and Jack (2) enjoying the lovely sunshine outside our trailer tent.

We go to Croyde several times a year and I always make sure that, whilst I am there, I am with my family 100% and not at work. 

I think that is SO important and a decision I made very early on in my business. In fact, it was one of the main drivers for setting up on my own so I could maintain a work/life balance.

I love my business but I also love my family so it is important to me that I give them both equal amounts of attention. This can be a tough balancing act BUT it is more than achievable and i'm going to share a few of my tips on how you manage it!

1/ Plan, plan, plan, plan, plan! You cannot possibly start to fit your work and life commitments into one day, one week, one month without knowing EXACTLY what you need to get done. I always begin my listing everything which needs to be done (work commitments and family commitments) and then assign those tasks with how long each task will take. You are then in a position to break that down and plot those tasks into your planner. I literally plan by the hour. Everything from food shops and school runs to any client stuff which needs. Once this is all in front of you in black and white you can make sure you have the right amount of time for each task. Personally I just pop the tasks into an excel spreadsheet by the hour but there are loads of apps which can help with this too.

2/ Do not over commit. The temptation is always there to take on more work. Whether you work for yourself or for a business there will always be the temptation to do more work. More work inevitably means more money. Don't get me wrong. More money is marvelous but not if it throws your work/life balance off. 

3/ Use a time tracker - I always track my time using Toggl for all my accounts. It helps me understand where my time goes and whether I am allocating adequate time for tasks when I do my initial planning. It also helps understand whether you are quoting for a job correctly once you know how long these jobs actually take. 

4/ Build downtime in- You cannot maintain a work/ life balance if you are maxed out and stressed to the hilt. You really need to find a way to unwind so you feel ready to face whatever your day (whether that is work or family) has to throw at you. Some people like a bath, some go for a run, some read a book. I like to exercise and I like to sit down with my husband and watch an hour of TV. Everyone is different but I make sure I build those little things in to my day so I feel like i've wound down.

5/ Try and fix your hours - It really helps to know when your working day starts and ends. Especially if you have young children. Having a clear cut off means you can turn your attention from work to your family. Being able to do this comes down to point 1 - Plan, plan, plan, If you have planned your hours your work should be done!

6/ Do a time audit - Is there anything sapping your energy? Is there something you dread having to find the time to do every single week? Take the time to do a little audit. 

  • I hated having to do the washing up four billion times a day. I bought a dishwasher which cut that time down and made me happier (it's the little things!) 
  • I also had clients who's accounts were taking FOREVER but not paying anywhere near enough. I had to address this and get this sorted. 
  • I was going out at 1pm to get my son (as he napped in the afternoons so I could work) every day and going back out at 3pm for the school run. This was counter productive so I changed my sons hours till 3 so I now do one trip. Such a little thing has made a massive difference to my day. 
  • I was giving time up for PTA tasks because I felt I should even though I had no time available. I spoke to the chairperson and asked to be responsible for one task every three months instead of the ad-hoc volunteering. That way I could build the task into my plan. I was still helping but there was more structure to my helping. Really take a look at how productive you're being with your time. It'll help!

7/ Get some sleep. Poor sleep means poor productivity. If you are tired you are not going to be as focused or productive as you can be. Try and ensure you get sleep and some early nights where you can.

8/ Outsource! If you are thinking 'okay i've read all this and there are still not enough hours in the day for me to fit everything in' why not look at outsourcing some of your tasks. Whether you need a PA or concierge to take some of your day to day household tasks off you or someone to take on your pile of admin we will be able to help, Why not check out our services.

To find out more about us visit our website or follow us on Twitter

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

How to stay focused working from home

I have been pondering what to write in my most recent blog for a few weeks now when an 'online networking colleague' I know posted in our networking group with blog post suggestions. He said you should answer questions you're asked a lot in your blog as it's information people want to know.This does sound fairly obvious on the face of it so it got me thinking...'What question, relating to what I do, am I asked regularly?'

I'm asked daily/weekly 'What exactly is a Virtual Assistant anyway' but I have blogged about that in the past here but another question i'm always asked is 'How do you stay focused working from home?'
Inevitably, when chatting to people about what I do, people say 'ooh I couldn't work from home, i'd be too distracted' and this can be true for many home workers which is why it is important to set yourself some rules and boundaries to follow. 

With that in mind, here are my top tips for staying focused when working from home!

1/ Be Realistic - I will be totally honest and say this is the first thing you need to ask yourself. Is home working for you? Are you easily distracted? Are you likely to get pulled into jobs in the house or something you want to see on the telly one day? Do you need company? If you answer YES to any of those then you need to seriously think about whether working from home is the right thing for you because the one thing you need is 100% focus every single day.

2/ Set your working hours - If you went into an office every day you would work the hours set by the business. Home working is exactly the same. Now, i'm not saying you can't work longer hours, or even shorter hours if you're organised and the work gets done, what I am saying is assign yourself your work hours and during those times make sure you are working. I don't mean putting a wash on, or cooking the tea or anything which is non-work related, I mean sitting down at your desk and doing your work.

3/ Find your space - I know home workers who are more than happy in the living room with their laptop, you know, on their lap. I know some who work on their bed. Most, though, work from a desk in a dedicated office. Whatever works for you but you must set your work space and your personal space. Personally I have an office which is where I go when it is time to switch off from being at home and switch on to being at work, It's a very short commute but it is still my work space and that is super important.

4/ Don't stay at home! - Sounds daft but getting out of the house during your working week is also really important. Go to meetings, get out to networking groups, meet like minded, fellow home workers for coffee and to bounce ideas around. Working from home can be lonely and it's important you interact with humans as well!

5/ Enjoy your space - Try and work from an area which inspires you. What that looks like will vary but take the time to make your work space somewhere you want to go to. You must be comfortable and happy in your space to allow you to be inspired.

6/ Take a break - If you were in an office you would, most likely, take a lunch break, Even if it is just ten minutes to grab a coffee or pop to a shop you would get away from your desk. There is a temptation when home working to stay at your desk all day. I recommend not. Take a proper lunch. Go for a walk, go in the garden, do some jobs, go in another room and have lunch. Just take some time out (make sure you set a limit so you don;t get carried away!) and get away from your desk so you are refreshed ready for more work/world domination

7/ Dress for you the job you want - When I first started working from home the novelty to be able to work in my onesie was overwhelming but I found it genuinely affected my concentration and ability to focus. Onesies mean sofa, and TV and downtime. They mean comfort. They don't mean focus and smash out some top quality work for your clients. You wouldn't go to a meeting in a onesie so make sure you dress for success and dress as you would if you were going into an office every day. You'll be surprised the difference it makes.

8/ Communicate with others - Make sure you don't spend your life just at a keyboard. Pick up the phone, use Skype/Facetime and talk to people. It makes your work day more varied and allows you to focus on other people which will help your general focus levels.

9/ Have a plan - Never start your day/week without a plan. Use a calendar and a list (I like paper but there are loads of project management apps you can use) and have your day and week mapped out. If you don't know how your week is going to pan out you cannot begin to have focus.

10/ Find your people - Knowing and talking to others in the same boat is really key for focus and support. The guy I mentioned who suggested ways to come up with blog ideas is another business owner who is a member of an online forum set up by a company I admire hugely Spaghetti Agency Jo and Todd set up a group online to let people ask questions and bounce ideas around, I find this support invaluable. In an office you can just 'run ideas past people' or have a quick brainstorm. Home working is often just you so finding like minded people you can chat to is really helpful for your focus and your overall sanity!

Being focused when you work from home can be tough but if you are determined, organised and hard working it can also be a piece of cake. Personally I get way more done at home without the distractions of an office and so can generally get more work into my day but everyone is different. 

Follow the tips above and you'll find home working a breeze but, if it's an area you struggle with, we might be able to help. 

For more about how a Virtual Assistant could help you and your business check out our Services

Visit and follow us on Twitter @intelligentvacoThanks for reading!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

How to balance the needs and workload of multiple clients

Time management is a difficult thing to master whether you are trying to manage your own projects or those of your clients but it is probably THE most important thing to get right in your worklife ESPECIALLY when you are dealing with the business of managing your clients workloads.

I run an outsourcing company helping other businesses with their workload so when a client outsources work to you, whether it is a one off project or an ongoing contract, they are doing so to free up some of their own time to work on other things. They are trusting you with their business, with their brand and they are trusting you to deliver. 

When you are managing multiple contracts for multiple clients it is important to be extremely efficient. Each client is equally important and totally unique. You need to find the time to deliver every tiny component at every level. Sound difficult? It can be tricky but there are some simple tricks to help you along the way.

Know your limits - There is absolutely NO point taking on more work than you can handle. That is 100% lesson number one. The quality of your work will just be compromised if you take on more work than you have time. The temptation is always there to take on more work but never take it if your current clients would suffer.

Communicate - The key to managing the expectations of your clients is constant communication. Understand WHEN they need things by so you can plan and always tell your client if there is anything that might affect work not being completed. Keep the dialogue open and always check they are happy. ASK if there is anything more you can do and ensure you give regular feedback on the contracts progress. A client should NEVER chase you for information.

Look Ahead - I always start the week looking ahead for the next few weeks to understand if there is anything at all which might affect the teams ability to deliver. This way you can plan for any contingencies and have a back up.

Transparency - Always track your hours and ensure your clients can have access to that. They need to understand what you are doing for them and how long it is taking. If you see something affecting the time you can spend on the work you must always be honest and let them know as there will always be a solution.

Block your hours - I use a simple spreadsheet to block hours of work for the clients in so I can easily see that I have the time available to deliver each contract. It also helps to understand if there is the space for additional work and makes it easy to plan and future-proof and book blocks of work in further down the line

Roll with the punches - Some weeks are going to be busier than others. Some clients more demanding than others. Some weeks just might not be as good as others. You still need to maintain that professionalism and consistency at all times. You run a business and you are responsible for it and that means you just have to suck it up and get on with running the best business you can.

Don't push it! - You really have got to enjoy what you do or feel you can add something special for the client. If it is not 100% your area, don't take it. If you don't get excited by the potential of the contract, don't pitch for it. You cannot offer 100% to a client and take on the work if you don't love it. There will be plenty more contracts which will fit you and those are the contracts that will extend, that will grow, that will lead to referrals because your client is so happy with your work. It will be clear to your client that you love their company and their brand and it will make your life so much happier. Most people set up their own business because they didn't like what they did ultimately. Don't fall into the trap of taking work just because it's work. Love your business and love what you do.

But what if I want to grow and take on more work...?

Outsource and delegate! If you are wanting to take on more work you could look at outsourcing yourself BUT you must make sure you find the right person. That person will work for your business but, more importantly, work on behalf of YOUR clients. Take the time to surround yourself with the right people and the rest will follow.

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Need to oursource some work? Give us a call 07887552888