Personally Virtual Blog

Do you send emails last thing at night, or early in the morning? I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had no other option – i.e. having woken in a cold sweat at the end of the financial year and having to email your accountant in order to restore some semblance of peace of mind to get back to sleep – but has this become habit for you?

As a remote, home-based and lone worker, I have the flexibility to work at hours that are convenient to me.  If I have an appointment in the middle of the day, or work that needs to be completed urgently, I can easily work in the evenings or at weekends in order to complete the customer work that I have set aside for that day.  However, if I am working late at night, or over the weekend, I try to delay sending any relevant emails generated during that working window until more traditional working hours – that is, 9am-5pm Monday to Friday.  Although many customers may not immediately notice the send time of an email, I think that that information is sometimes communicated to a customer’s subconscious, giving the signal that I have non-traditional working hours (even if that really is the case) and encouraging ‘out of hours’ communication to become the norm.  Even if you are a night owl and at your most productive during the witching hour, I have always wondered if your late night working habits are something that you should actively promote? For me, even though it isn’t always the case, I am always concerned that mentioning that you are working at midnight gives the impression that you are a.) totally overloaded with work, b.) lacking in organisational skills, or even c) half-heartedly creating work when you should be in bed… not necessarily the most positive message to be sharing with clients!

As I mentioned, the odd 9pm email isn’t likely to cause that much of a problem, but if you are frequently sending emails out late in the evening, clients may start to think that because you are ‘online’ at that time, that you are also available to answer questions and carry out additional work at that time.  Again, this isn’t a problem for everyone, as you may actively be online every night at 9pm – the problem comes when you are only occasionally online at this time, but customers begin to expect email correspondence in the evenings and get frustrated if you do not respond.

Another problem brought about by a late night emailing habit is that your client or colleague may feel compelled to respond ‘out of hours’.  Not everyone has a strict email checking (and responding) window, and some customers may find it difficult to ignore your message if they hear the familiar ‘ping’ of an email notification during their favourite prime-time drama… do you really want to be the person responsible for interrupting a key point in Game of Thrones or a gritty ITV drama?

For me, delayed email sending has helped to ensure that clients realise I will only get back to them during traditional working hours (unless there is a major problem – this hasn’t happened to date).  Indeed, to make this clear I have even incorporated my email answering ‘windows’ into my client on-boarding document, so that right from the very first contact, they know when they can expect a response from me.  It’s a small change that has helped to make a big difference to my ability to relax in the evenings, at weekends and during holidays, and is actively contributing to a better work-life balance for me.  It might also be a simple change that you can adopt in your day to day working life to improve communication with your clients and colleagues, so before you press ‘send’ this evening on work related email correspondence, why not stop, pause, and schedule your email for sending in the morning instead? Let me know how you get on!

 

16th August, 2017

The majority of people have an internal filter that prevents them from exclaiming ‘What a massive beard!’ at people on the train, or ‘You are the most annoying person I have ever met!’ to the poor soul manning the tax helpline.  We may think those things, but we know better than to verbalise them.  Unfortunately, it appears that this in-built filter doesn’t exist in relation to emails; how many times have you received a ‘pointless’ email from a friend, customer or colleague – something that could have been communicated far quicker via phone (or by walking over to someone’s desk if they are working in the same office as you!) or an email that contained a request that could have quickly and easily been carried out by the sender? Or, even worse, have you sent an email like that?! I’m sure that most of us are guilty of that crime, even if we try to think carefully about the correspondence we send out.

If you are a little concerned about whether you lack an appropriate ‘email filter’, I’ve put together 3 golden rules that I like to try to apply to each email or instant message that I send, so thought I’d share them with you.

1.) If I’m asking a question – could I answer it too? It’s all too easy to skim read an email and ‘jump the gun’ with a question that you could easily answer yourself with a little more careful thought, especially if it is a long and detailed email or refers to a string of previous correspondence.  When this is the case, I try to give myself 5 minutes before pressing ‘send’ to see whether, following a careful re-read of the email and a little more time to process the information contained within, I really need to ask that question.  If a question has passed the 5-minute test, I will send it.

From an email writer’s perspective, I try to avoid the majority of questions from email recipients by making sure that as much relevant information is mentioned in the email as possible, or highlighting important parts of the content if the recipient prefers to work in this way (it might be worth checking though - I once had a customer who phoned me, extremely upset, complaining about the fact that they had received an email from a colleague that had sections emphasised in bold text…).

2.) Would it be easier to discuss this verbally? In an age of instant messages, it is often easier to put together a quick email or message, even when you are discussing something complicated or sensitive.  Simple as it is to go for days on end without physically speaking to anyone, picking up the phone can be a very useful exercise.  No need to worry about language being misinterpreted (or bold font being perceived as aggressive), or about dozens of emails being ‘pinged’ back and forth as questions are clarified; a good conversation on the phone can reinforce a positive relationship with a customer or contact, and remind remote, lone workers that there really are other people out there in the great wide world, even if you rarely see them!

3.) What would Bear Grylls do? The topic of one of my blogs last year, and one of my favourite questions to ask myself when the considerations above fail me… Bear Grylls – adventurer and survival expert, and all round no-nonsense bloke – is, I’m sure, the perfect email user.  Given that the man is probably more at home wearing a home-made seal wetsuit and sucking the insides out of grubs than catching up with admin in a brightly lit office, I feel confident in my assumption that he would never, ever send a pointless email.  Inane chit-chat, pointless questions, vague answers – these are things that Bear Grylls would never send (or at least, that is what I like to believe!).  As a result, before I send any email, even if it seems to have passed the 2 rules above, I subject my correspondence to one final question: ‘What would Bear Grylls do?’ If an email is clear, concise and valuable to the recipient, I can happily press ‘send’ without fear, otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board!

So before you send an email this week, why not try applying my golden rules? Hopefully, together we can work to reduce the number of pointless emails floating around, and make the world a slightly more productive and efficient place to work!

 

Multi-tasking – women are supposed to be fabulous at it, and I’m sure there are some gentlemen who are equally gifted in doing 25 different things at once.  I, however, am not a fan. It’s not that I can’t do it – when the need arises, I can juggle like a witch. But I don’t find it very helpful. 

As a Virtual Assistant, my days are filled with a diverse range of jobs, from diary management to acting (yes, really!).  I love this diversity; it keeps every working day exciting and a fresh challenge. But I have learned to ensure that I only focus on one specific task at any one time and set clear boundaries between one task and the next one. I do this because I am blessed to work with a variety of different clients, each of whom pays for my time and attention.  Because of this, it is only fair that I try to focus, as much as possible, on each unique task, rather than try to do several at once and divide my brain power between them all.

This idea works in principle a lot more than it does in real life. There are always unexpected calls that ‘sneak in’ to my dedicated working time. There used to be emails too, pinging away in the background whilst I worked, begging me to double check them just in case they were urgent and needed to be dealt with immediately.  For a few months now I've tried to ensure that I limit my email checking time to specific pre-determined windows.  Admittedly, this means that I am unable to jump on urgent emails with the same ferocity that I used to, but people are getting used to my new, strict email responding hours, and are learning to work with them.  If something is urgent, clients know to phone or text me and I can re-prioritise my working day if appropriate or necessary to deal with something last minute.

By trying to actively reduce distractions and ensure that I focus on one job at a time, my productivity levels have improved – it always seems to take longer to do 3 things at the same time than it does to do three things separately!

I do, however, understand that not everyone has the same working habits or styles.  Can you work efficiently and productively whilst multi-tasking? I’d love to hear from you!


I had the pleasure last week of being interviewed for Tanya's podcast. Listen to it here.  



So, you’ve found a trusted and highly skilled remote worker to carry out tasks on behalf of your business… now what do you actually delegate/outsource to them?

There are 2 ways that you can utilise remote workers within your business.  The first is to find staff that have a particular skillset currently missing from your in-house team of employed workers, so that you can pass them specific work that they can complete more quickly/easily/efficiently than your existing staff members. This can help to improve efficiency by ‘freeing up’ time for your in-house team so that they can focus on areas of day-to-day work that they were specifically taken on to assist with, thanks to their own unique skills and experience.

The second way that you can utilise a remote worker is to find someone who has a range of skills that could all be beneficial to your business – that way, rather than having specific tasks to complete, you will have a flexible team member who can provide all-round support to your business and help out ‘where it matters most’ on a day-by-day or ad-hoc basis. This more generic support role may seem like the simpler way to outsource, but it requires a multi-talented and multi-faceted virtual worker who has the ability to seamlessly ‘fit in’ to your business, as well as have the ability to effectively prioritise which work should be completed first (not necessarily the easiest role when you work outside of a business from a ‘remote’ location!).

Outsource everything but your brilliance

Another thing to consider when outsourcing work is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be work that you physically can’t do that should be passed on to a more skilled individual.  There are probably also tasks in your day-to-day working life that you don’t enjoy or find incredibly boring – mundane tasks that take you away from doing what you are best at. Why not consider outsourcing some of these tasks to a trusted and conscientious virtual professional? That way, you know that they are being completed efficiently and correctly, but also have more free time to dedicate to running your business and selling your unique products and services.

How would you use a VA in your business? It’d be great to hear what you would outsource if you could!

Copyright © Kathy Soulsby. All rights reserved.