When I was preparing to write this blog post on time management, I came across a quote by Samuel Butler: “Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.”
Do you ever feel like that? I know I do. As the Virtual Assistant industry grows and changes, and as our lives grow and change, we may feel like we’re stumbling along sometimes, trying to keep up. We may be juggling family and another job while growing our business, learning to manage our time as we go. But be encouraged! We’re all in the same boat, and we can learn together.
When I was nine years old, I learned how to play the piano through the Suzuki method, which involved listening to a piece of music and then playing it by ear. At one of our Suzuki music recitals, I saw a three-year-old boy perform his first violin solo. If you’ve heard anyone play the violin for the first time, you know that it’s often not as melodic as one would hope. But his performance is the only one I remember from that time. It was rough to listen to, yes, but he was brave and focused. And given time, patience, and practice, he improved immensely. I hope that as an adult, he’s still playing the violin and enjoying it.
And I hope that after reading this post, you will feel brave and focused, equipped with tools and strategies that can help you enjoy your work and make the most of the time you have.
Here are some tips for carving out time to grow your Virtual Assistant business:
1. Healthy Boundaries
If you’re juggling another job, a family, and a growing business, you may feel pulled in many directions. I know when I first began building my VA business, I had trouble saying no to people. I felt like a different set of rules applied to me since I worked from home, and that I needed to be flexible for others. But saying yes all the time left me with very little time to work or even sleep. Ultimately, I realized that in order to give my best self to my friends, family, and clients, I needed to learn when to say no.
Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C, gives some wise advice in her article titled “3 Ways to Set Boundaries and Learn to Say ‘No’:
“Setting boundaries can be difficult, but is such an important part of having healthy relationships and establishing an overall sense of well-being. It’s helpful to remember that when you say ‘no’ to things, it frees up your time to focus on the pursuits that truly energize and excite you. Having good boundaries also enables you to experience less stress and to follow your life’s passion and purpose.”
What are some things you need to say no to in order to make the most of your time and grow your virtual business? What are some alternatives you can offer people when you say no? Here are some places where you may need to make these decisions:
• Social Life – Do you have friends who stop in for coffee unannounced? Do your neighbors pop by and ask you to watch their kids while you’re working from home? Often it’s helpful to gently offer alternatives like, “I’m sorry I can’t get together right now, but let’s look ahead in the calendar and find a day that would work for both of us,” or “I’m sorry I can’t babysit, but I know another great babysitter I can refer you to.” It’s hard to say no, but you’re being kinder to your friends and loved ones if you’re at your best when you see them.
• Volunteer Work – Are you involved in organizations where you volunteer for different events or roles? If so, remember to think about what types of volunteer work you say yes to. For example, does it work better for you to volunteer outside the home at an event you’ll be attending anyways? Are extra meetings involved? If you take a volunteer position that involves extensive emailing or phoning, will you never leave the house? Sometimes it’s helpful to evaluate your volunteer positions and see whether they’re helping you make the most of your time. If not, you might need to make some changes.
• Client Work – If you’re building your Virtual Assistant business while still holding another job, it’s important to keep tabs on your workload. How many clients are you able to take on right now? Are your clients making the best use of your time, or do you feel like they’re sending you on wild goose chases? While you may be eager to grow your client base so you can transition to virtual work full-time, remember to choose clients wisely. You don’t want to miss out on great opportunities, but at the same time, you want to be sure you aren’t losing valuable time.
2. Office Hours
In keeping with the idea of boundaries, it’s important to block out certain times for your business. Whether or not you have a dedicated home office space, you can call these times your “office hours.” It’s a good way to keep you focused and help you communicate your schedule to friends and family.
Which segment of time you choose depends on your own schedule, your family’s schedule, your health, your internal clock, and many other factors. Early mornings are a great time to be productive if that works for you. If not, find another time that works best.
When I’m determining my own office hours, I like to think of the following questions:
• At what times of day am I most productive?
• What time zone do my clients work in?
• What is my husband’s work schedule?
• What other commitments do I have?
• Including breaks, how long will my office hours be?
• What times will I devote to checking email and Social Media?
Your office hours may be at different times on different days, or you may be able to place them at the same time each day. In any case, be sure to set a schedule and stick to it as much as possible.
As Tracey D’Aviero says in her article “Daily Actions to Help You Get More Done,”
“If you don’t have office hours yet, set them. Give yourself the opportunity to take breaks and leave the office when you intend to. Make sure that business happens during business and try to keep personal calls and activities out of those times. It will preserve both your business time and your personal time and you’ll enjoy both much more.”
3. Time Management Tools
Technology can be either a distraction or a benefit for your business. Here are a few tools that benefit you by helping you free up more time:
• Rescue Time – I found out about this app through an article by Kirstin O’Donovan, titled “Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools.” Rescue Time helps you understand your daily habits by tracking the time you spend on applications and websites. It then sends you reports based on your activity so you can see where you might be wasting time. Other features can be activated to improve your focus while you’re working online.
Screenshot via www.rescuetime.com
• Toggl – In a previous blog post, we reviewed two time tracking tools and found that Toggl was a simple, effective resource for Virtual Assistants. Its desktop app allows you to set reminders so you’ll be notified to take a break after a certain time interval. This function can help you schedule blocks of time for concentrated work, which is a great way to maintain your productivity. For example, you can try using a form of the Pomodoro Technique, where you work consistently for 25 minutes or so, and then take a short break.
• The SELF Journal – One of the most effective ways to make the most of our time is to have a clear vision of our goals. Craig Cannings, President and Chief Learning Officer at VAClassroom, recommended this paper journal in a recent Facebook Friday event. If you prefer using online tools like Google Docs or Evernote to outline your goals, by all means do so. If you enjoy having something more tactile, you might enjoy this SELF Journal. It helps you craft 3-month goals, break the goals down, and create daily action plans.
Screenshot via Bestself
4. Adequate Rest and Relaxation
One of the things that often falls by the wayside when we’re busy is our sleep. If you’re working another job during the day and building your VA business in the evening, you may find that you’re burning the candle at both ends. Or you may be sacrificing sleep by working early in the morning before your kids wake up, and you’re exhausted by the end of the day.
In any case, to make the most of your time, you need to be rested enough that you won’t feel sluggish while you’re working. It’s counterproductive to sacrifice a lot of sleep if it means you won’t be able to function the next day.
In an ideal situation, we’d all go to sleep and get up at the same time each day. If that’s not possible, here are some other ways you can try to maintain adequate levels of rest:
• Have a power nap – If needed, try to schedule about 15 minutes or so of rest into your office hours. Whether you’re able to sleep or not, closing your eyes and lying down for a short length of time can give you a bit more energy and allow you to refocus.
• Figure out what makes you feel more relaxed and/or invigorates you – Do you need a bit of exercise, some social interaction, some downtime? Figure out what makes you tick, which activities drain you of energy and which ones give you energy. Sometimes getting out for a quick walk or having a quick chat with a friend can help you feel refreshed and sharpen your focus.
• Check the display settings on your computer – Most new operating systems include a “Night Light” (Windows) or “Night Shift” (Mac) setting on devices. This function reduces the amount of blue light emitted by the screen for a set time (usually from sunset to sunrise) to help prevent that light from interfering with your sleep patterns. I’ve tried using this setting when I’m working at night, and it does seem to help me fall asleep easier afterwards.
5. Support Networks
Another thing that can help you make the most of your time is a support network for both your personal and professional life:
• Personal Support Networks – Think about the things that fall by the wayside in your household when you’re busy juggling multiple balls and building your Virtual Assistant business. Are there family, friends, or professionals who can step in and help with housework, meal preparation, or childcare if you’re feeling overwhelmed? For example, I know some people who get together as a group of friends and prepare freezer meals that can be quickly thrown in the oven. It’s a great way to share recipes and take a load off food preparation.
• Professional Support Networks – Since virtual work often happens alone in our homes, it’s helpful to connect with other online professionals. Seek out Virtual Assistant discussion groups or mastermind groups where you can dump your questions, vent about frustrations, celebrate successes, and challenge each other to meet goals. I belong to the LinkedEds and Writers group on LinkedIn, and it’s a great place to ask questions when performing editing tasks. VAClassroom University also has a private Facebook group where students can bring their questions and receive prompt feedback from mentors and peers. Whatever kind of work you do, try to find an accountability partner or group where you can bring your concerns and receive help when you’re stuck.
And now we’d love to hear about your advice and experiences! What are some tools or strategies that have helped you make the most of the time you have? As we go through this violin solo called life, remember that it’s not really a solo. We’re a band of Virtual Assistants, and we rock!