Personally Virtual Blog

20th October, 2017

For the majority of Sole Traders or small business owners, there isn’t a dedicated accounts department located in the office who are willing (albeit not happy) to accept a shoe-box full of expense receipts in order to process your business expenses.  It’s like the IT department, the Catering Department, and the Complaints Department – it’s highly likely that these are all you (which does makes the annual Christmas party a little less rowdy).

Though it is a tedious chore (only beaten in the ‘tedious’ work charts by actually having to phone HMRC, who are obviously very busy people), processing your expense receipts is an important necessity.  Without regularly going through your expenses, two possible things can happen.

1.) you are left with a pile of random receipts the size of Kilimanjaro to process when it comes to completing your tax return.

2.) you misplace some of your receipts (a result of them being ‘filed’ randomly in piles everywhere), meaning that the ‘taxable profit’ for your business is higher than it should have been.

So how do I keep on top of my expenses? I try to adopt a ‘little and often’ approach, scheduling in some time every couple of weeks and making sure that any allowable expenses have been logged on a spreadsheet and the relevant receipts have been filed away, usually with a liberal sprinkling of staples to keep everything together.  And I work through my diary to note my mileage and anything else I haven't seen already. This approach particularly helps when it comes to otherwise ‘invisible’ expenses like pay-by-phone parking, Oyster top ups or congestion charge payments that don’t give a receipt at the time of purchase.  It’s easy to forget these expenses if I leave it a month or two before logging them, so ensuring that they are sorted regularly helps me to avoid that horrendous ‘Oh no, I’ve paid more tax than I actually should have!’ feeling.

I also have a very hi-tech clothes peg stuck on the inside of my cupboard door. I can then unload all my receipts onto this and know where they will be when I come to do something them. 

One of the best recommendations I can make though is to actually schedule time for processing your expenses into your monthly task list or diary.  A tool like Todoist - https://en.todoist.com/ - allows you to set a recurring task to remind you to do it, though also gives you the flexibility to postpone the job for a day or two if you have more pressing  matters to attend to.  There are also a whole host of apps out there that allow you to take pictures of your receipts and transfer the details into a .csv file, making the process even easier if you have a tendency to accidentally put your receipts in the wash with your work trousers.

At Personally Virtual, we LOVE a good productivity ‘hack’ (although we are not fans of the word), some might say we're a tad obsessed, so we would love to know if you have any tips or tricks when it comes to managing your own expenses? Let us know on one of our Social Media channels.


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20th September, 2017

The term ‘Goldfishing’ – referring to the common human characteristic of doing what is right in front of you rather than completing work in order of priority – is a little bit demeaning for Goldfish.  Recent Canadian research into the attention spans of 2112 individuals found that the average human attention span is currently around 8 seconds, whereas Goldfish are believed to have an attention span of an impressive 9 seconds.[1] That's a whole blog about something different and very scary! 

The problem with consistent work goldfish is that they may have the best of intentions to get organised but they struggle. It's a vicious circle, if you are so busy dealing with whoever is shouting loudest or the last thing to arrive in the inbox and don't force yourself to step back, you'll never stop firefighting. Mostly this is because of overwhelm and volume of work but I do know some people who seem to just be built this way. We all know one! You know there's no point emailing them as it will go into a black hole and never be seen again unless you by sheer fluke pick the right moment. You need to see them in person or phone them to have any trust that the message has got through. 

The important thing to remember when it comes to your daily task list ‘plan of attack’, is that you clearly define important deadlines for all your work – and stick to them! Even if a long and complicated internal task is broken into more manageable chunks of activity it still needs to be done. The famous Urgent /Important box diagram I find can help if I'm struggling to separate what is business critical versus what just needs doing. 

One thing to watch out for, though, is getting unduly distracted by a client telephone call or email on a day that has already been given over to the completion of an important task. Turning off interruptions, notifications and ringers is so important to be able to focus on the task at hand. Inbox "pause" is well worth looking up! 

But of course, priorities can change really quickly when you work with a number of different clients. Lead-times when you have multiple clients can be an issue so I cover it in my client onboarding process.  There are times when everyone will need their work dealing with urgently and they will want to be my top priority. Sometimes they can be, but sometimes, given my unique understanding and overview of all of the work in my in-tray, this cannot be the case unless I have a Harry Potter time turner!  To try and avoid this issue, I encourage my clients to provide me with specific deadlines so that work can be scheduled in to my week. 

Occasionally, work can come in that is urgent, important and unexpected and I will give them a realistic timescale that I can work to.  Sometimes I can shift things around to accommodate them, but sometimes I can't – it is the nature of my role working in support of numerous businesses that means that some months there just aren’t enough hours in the day to complete new and/or unexpected tasks.  For me, honouring the agreements that I have in place already is the most important thing, as sacrificing one client to carry out additional and ad-hoc work for another is not a habit that I want to get in to!

So next time you veer away from your planned to-do list – make sure that you’ve got your deadlines sorted to come back to (and try not to be a goldfish!). 



[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/humans-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smart/

20th September, 2017

Yes – I’m talking to you, the person simultaneously reading this whilst hoovering their immaculate keyboard and arranging pens by ‘mood’ (of course, it is totally reasonable to have an ‘angry and frustrated’ pen).  However, I know that you really should be doing something else.  Like client work, or sorting out your receipts for your tax return, or something else important like that.  I’ve got your number, because the truth is we’ve all been there, no matter how efficient and productive we are generally on a day to day basis.

As a freelance worker, procrastination has a direct impact on the amount of money we take home – we work in ‘billable hours’, meaning that we only get paid when we are actively working for a particular individual, not when we are cleaning the kitchen cupboards rather than blog writing, or googling ‘what would win in a fight, a shark or an anaconda?’

However, procrastination isn’t always frowned upon.  Some thought leaders positively embrace it, including former Investment Banker turned University Professor Frank Partnoy, author of “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay”[1].  Partnoy claims that when faced with a decision, we should assess how long we have to make it and then wait until the last possible moment to take action if we want to lead happier lives.  Partnoy also differentiates between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ procrastination – the first of which involves just sitting around and doing nothing (which can be a tempting option, on occasion!), whereas ‘active’ procrastination occurs when you are aware that you are avoiding a particular task, but are doing something else that you deem to be a valuable activity instead.

As well as leading happier lives, evidence also suggests that serial procrastinators tend to be more creative; Research carried out by the University of Wisconsin looked at how often staff in two separate companies procrastinated, and then asked their bosses to rate how ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’ they were.  The evidence suggested that there was a positive correlation between the amount of time spent procrastinating and staff being considered more creative or innovative than their peers[2] - great news for all the procrastinators out there. 

So even though time spent hoovering your keyboard may, at first, seem like wasted time, I’m here to recommend that you embrace a good bit of procrastination every now and then.  As long as your work is completed to your exacting standards by the deadline set, it can’t hurt to let you mind wander for a few minutes!  Indeed, if creativity and innovation go hand in hand with a good bit of procrastination, you’ll find me in the kitchen, knocking up some meatballs…



[1] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-procrastination-is-good-for-you-2102008/

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/procrastination-makes-you-more-creative-research-says-a6923626.html

3rd September, 2017

I was thinking this week about silent irritants. 

This is a phrase I learnt back as a student when I was working in a local pub (see below). We were told that these mysterious silent irritant things were would make customers feel uncomfortable. In essence, any dirty glass, dirty ashtrays (different times!) and things out of place were silent irritants. No one was likely to actually complain about sitting next to a table with one old glass on it but nonetheless it was part of their experience - conscious or unconscious. And most silent irritants were very easily fixed when a little effort and common sense were applied ("never walk back to the bar empty-handed" and "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean" being mottos to live by!). 

Even now I don't work in a pub (although I still can't walk through one without scooping up empty glasses, I think it's engrained for life!) I still find that I have silent irritants in my life and work. Not huge great crises or big projects but things that are so little they fall through the cracks - but the effect they have is irritating. This week I realised that I had one I hadn't even really felt the effect of until it was fixed. 

A few months ago, my wing mirror was smashed off my car. It went into the local garage and had a new one put on, but they had to order the cover that matched the paintwork so I needed to pop back for it to just be slotted on. That week I did, a couple of times and the boss wasn't there, the cover couldn't be found and after 2 weeks I forgot about it, remembering only when I got in the car each day. Weeks this went on for until last week I finally went back in and got it fitted. The relief! I hadn't realised that this little "unfinishedness" was just quietly poking me every time I looked at the car until it no longer was. 

In work we all have things that are so trivial they sink to the bottom of the list - expense receipts, filing, adding that new person to the CRM. We know that it's a ten minute job at most yet somehow that makes us less likely to find the time for it! But, the satisfaction of doing them somehow outweighs the minimal effort so it really is worth clearing an irritant or two each week.

What really annoying life or work niggle could you shift this week that would make you feel a tiny bit smug? 





Struggling to focus on your work? Making silly little errors? It might be time for a nap.  The physical and psychological impact that sleep deprivation can have on us is quite staggering, with sleep expert Dr Nina Radcliff highlighting a few of the issues that can be caused by a lack of sleep:

*a weakened immune system

*impaired decision making ability

*a diminished ability to learn skills

*Reduced reaction times

*Increased likelihood that you will make a mistake[1]

Advice from the National Sleep foundation is that Adults aged between 24 and 64 should have between 7-9 hours of sleep per day[2].  According to ‘The Sleep Doctor’, the financial costs associated with lack of sufficient sleep are phenomenal:

“The financial costs of poor and insufficient sleep are staggering. Sleep problems cost many tens of billions of dollars each year to the U.S. economy. These costs accrue in several ways: missed work days, reduced productivity, higher rates of accident and injury, and greater reliance on health-care services—more doctor and hospital visits, higher prescription and over-the-counter sleep and other medication use.”[3]

If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, don’t fret! Napping during the day – whether in the car, office or lazing in the sunshine (weather permitting, and don’t forget the sunscreen if you have found a nap spot in full sun!) -  also proves beneficial to body and mind.  According to Sleep.org, the optimal time for a ‘cat-nap’ is 20 minutes, as this length of sleep keeps you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep (so easy to wake up from!) and has been proven to improve alertness, performance and enhance mood.  30-60 minutes nap time is apparently likely to result in feelings of ‘grogginess’, whereas 90 minutes of sleep is the equivalent of one full REM cycle and has been proven to boost memory and creativity[4].

When you work from home, are self-employed or run your own business, it’s easy for ‘normal’ working hours to go out of the window! With holiday and sickness cover a luxury that we can’t all regularly afford, it’s far too easy to work when you should be in bed getting some sleep! My advice is to put yourself first every now and then and invest in some simple ‘self-care’ – that is, climbing in to bed and switching off completely, whether for a nap of a full 9 hours of wondrous rest.

So next time you feel a little bit frustrated with a spreadsheet, or can’t get some software to work, why not take 20 minutes out for a power nap? It could be just what the Doctor ordered!


Copyright © Kathy Soulsby. All rights reserved.