Monthly Archives: July 2017

How to make the MOST of the Time You Have!

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!

Seven Steps to Building Your Credibility as a Top Notch VA!

Recently, I hosted a Facebook Live Event and tackled the question, “How do you build credibility in your business when nobody knows you?”

I am sure at one point or another, you may have pondered the question yourself! This is often a major challenge when you’re just starting out, especially since you may not have built up client references or testimonials to back up your awesome skills and abilities!

Have a watch of this helpful video and put these seven steps into practice:

Any other tips you would add?

How to Embrace Your Location-Independent Laptop Lifestyle!

Have you heard of the terms “Digital Nomad” and “Laptop Lifestyle”?

Last week our VAClassroom University discussion group talked about how these terms apply to us as Virtual Assistants. Although it’s important to set ourselves up with a dedicated home office space, we’re not limited to doing our work there. With Wi-Fi and portable devices, we can work in many different locations that inspire us and spark our creativity.

So if you’re feeling like you need a change of scenery, where can you go?

One of our VAClassroom University students shared this article about a Social Media couple who uses their freedom to travel the world. This option may not work for all of us, but it’s exciting to see how it’s become a viable way of life for these online professionals.

And another one of our students experienced this freedom firsthand as she drove across the country. Here’s how she did it:

“I dropped in on a few friends along the way to use their wifi, and on other days I just used wifi in restaurants, so I was able to get work done on a couple contracts I’ve got on the go right now. It really has been a digital nomad experience, and I’m so excited about doing this more in the future! Fairly new to being a VA, and I’m already thrilled about the benefits! Not a photo of a destination, but here’s my laptop this evening, sitting in my friend’s dining room, with Canada stickers I acquired throughout the day.”


Image courtesy of H. Evens

Here are some other places you can go to embrace your location-independent laptop lifestyle in your own home and beyond:

Different rooms in your home


Image courtesy of Jena Kroeker

Besides your home office, are there other rooms where you enjoy working? Do you have a favorite window with a view that thrills your soul and inspires your creativity? Or a comfy couch where you can put your feet up for a bit while you use a laptop or iPad?

As I mentioned in a previous blog post,  I enjoy taking my laptop into the living room so I can sit by the patio doors. Whenever I need to stop and think, I like to look up and watch the hummingbirds that visit our yard. But then sometimes I need to cloister myself away so I can concentrate. When that happens, I’m glad I can return to my home office and close the door. So, if possible, seek out alternate workspaces within your home where you can retreat when you need a fresh perspective.

Outdoor Locations


Image courtesy of Jena Kroeker

Depending on the type of projects you do, you might enjoy working outside for a bit. Where I live, there are many beautiful parks and ocean views where you can breathe in some fresh air and be inspired by the view. Or you may have a patio or deck where you can sit at a table and work on your laptop.

When I was attending the University of Victoria, I remember sitting by the duck pond outside the library one day and finishing my homework in record time. Sometimes that fresh air can really clear our heads and sharpen our focus.

Coffee Shops


Image courtesy of Pixabay

A popular place for Digital Nomads to work is the local coffee shop. These establishments often provide free Wi-Fi and comfy tables and chairs, not to mention easy access to tasty snacks, beverages, and washroom facilities. A coffee shop can also be a handy place to go to meet with clients if they’re in town and want to discuss your work in person.

Libraries


Image courtesy of Pixabay

My favorite place to work, besides my own home, is the library. If you thrive on quiet and solitude, libraries often provide private workspaces or carrels where you can be free from interruptions and distractions. I’ve even been known to position myself near bookshelves devoted to my favorite authors so I can feel like I’m soaking up their creativity by osmosis. ☺

Another advantage of libraries is access to Wi-Fi and knowledgeable librarians who can direct you to resources if your project requires some research.

On the Road

Screenshot via www.bcferries.com

With the growth of the Virtual Assistant industry, it’s becoming much easier to work on the road. To keep yourself sharp and rested, be sure to take some dedicated vacation time if possible. But if you’re going on an extended vacation or even just a quick trip, facilities exist for you to plug in and keep on top of your projects.

For example, I was recently browsing the BC Ferries website (operating on the west coast of Canada) and found information on the Seawest Lounge.  Here, an all-inclusive entry fee provides a quiet space with coffee, tea, juice, and pastries. If you’d like to avoid the extra fee, each ferry also has study desks for private work. The challenge is that Wi-Fi doesn’t work during the sailing, so you would need to stick to offline work or make use of a mobile data plan if you have one.

If you’re travelling and need an internet connection, you have many other options:

• Airplanes
• Trains
• Hotels
• Restaurants
• Shopping Malls
• Homes of friends and family

The list goes on and on. Below we’ll talk more about how you can pick your ideal laptop-friendly location while you’re on the road.

Finding Your Place of Inspiration

Now, given that Virtual Assistants can work almost anywhere, what would be your ideal place of inspiration? I think I know what mine is – the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland.


Image courtesy of Pixabay

But I’m saying that based on appearance alone. To find out whether it would be an ideal work location for me, I’d have to investigate it further. We all might have a dream location that inspires us, and our ideal location is the place where that dream meets reality.

Here are some elements to keep in mind when finding a place to do your best inspired work:

Amenities

In an article titled “The Digital Nomad’s Guide To Working From Anywhere On Earth,”  Mike Elganlong Read recommends a free iOS app called Work Hard Anywhere.  This app features “laptop-friendly” cafés, coworking spaces, and libraries around the world, ranked by users according to seating, parking, price, outlet availability, and Wi-Fi quality. What a terrific resource!

If you have either an iPhone or Android phone, you can also use Foursquare to find quality Wi-Fi.  Fred Perrotta gives the following advice in his blog post, “Working While Traveling: How to Find an ‘Office’ Anywhere”.

“Open the Foursquare app, tap the Explore Nearby search box, and type ‘WiFi.’ All of the businesses listed as results should have WiFi. Skim the tips left by other users to make sure that your cafe of choice has fast, reliable WiFi without time limits. You’ll find that many people care more about the quality of the WiFi than the quality of the coffee.”

Another option is your internet provider’s mobile hotspot finder app, like the Shaw Go WiFi finder here in Canada. I am sure you have something similar in your neck of the woods!

All these tools can help you locate a workspace that suits your needs so you’ll feel comfortable and inspired away from home.

Ambient Noise

One thing to remember when you’re searching for a workspace is your preference for noise. For some people, the sound of a coffee shop inspires them; for others, it distracts them. I know that when I’ve tried to work in a coffee shop, I start to get frustrated and distracted. I chuckle to myself that if I don’t leave, I’ll be that person who slams her laptop shut, stands up and yells, “QUIET!”

Alternatively, some people find the silence in a library deafening, and they like to have a bit of noise in the background to stay focused. So it’s definitely a balancing act. You may love coffee, but if the atmosphere in a coffee shop keeps you from getting any work done, you may need to go someplace quieter. You can always head to the coffee shop for a break or for less intense projects.

Scenery

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to have a beautiful view to stare at when I’m thinking or daydreaming about a project. But that scenery needs to be static. If I’m overlooking a busy street with traffic, I get distracted and start to people-watch.

So another thing to keep in mind is what scenery will boost your creativity yet still keep you focused. Do all types of views distract you? In that case, you may need to find a quiet desk or table facing a wall so you can concentrate. Does a beautiful view inspire you to produce your best work? Then by all means find a window where you can sit and gaze out at a world of possibilities.

Space

When you’re working, do you feel comfortable with others sitting nearby, or does that distract you? Do you like a small, cozy room, or a large room with high ceilings? Do you need a private desk like a carrel or cubicle?

I was born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada, where we joke that it’s so flat, you can watch your dog run away for three days. Consequently, I grew up with a feeling of spaciousness that makes it hard for me to work if I feel cramped.

So when you’re looking for workspaces on the go, I recommend searching for photos of the room including seating arrangements and windows. That way you can judge whether it’s the proper space for you.

Now we’d love to hear from you! How have you embraced the laptop lifestyle as a Virtual Assistant? If you consider yourself a Digital Nomad, where do you find your place of inspiration on the road?