Personally Virtual Blog

In this digital age, remote freelance workers and virtual support staff are becoming more and more common thanks to the relative simplicity of being able to ‘log on’ to work from anywhere in the world, at any time of the day (or night).  Many businesses have embraced this virtual workforce, choosing to work with skilled, trusted and proven remote workers to help keep costs down within their business by not having to take on permanent, employed staff, or provide comprehensive training to ‘upskill’ existing team members.  But in this new ‘Gig Economy’, how can you be sure that you are working with someone who a.) can actually do the work they say they can and b.) complete it accurately and correctly – particularly important if you are looking for a specialist task to be completed that cannot simply be checked by another member of staff.

It’s not hard to find a remote worker who is offering the service that you are looking for – there are a whole host of sites out there offering ‘bargain basement’ prices to find a VA to carry out work on your behalf.  But would you really want to pay less than minimum wage to someone for carrying out work on behalf of your business? If you are trusting someone to be conscientious and efficient when carrying out work on your behalf, isn’t it worth paying that person a competitive rate? Although I am sure that there are many hardworking and extremely conscientious people out there offering to work for $5 an hour, there are a few unscrupulous ‘freelancers’ out there who will promise the earth and actually deliver very little, so it is worth seeking help from a reputable source of virtual assistance if you want work completed quickly, efficiently and conscientiously.  I am pleased to be a member of VIP VA – an organisation designed to champion and support the VA industry in the UK and Europe and pioneer industry standards.  If you aren’t sure where to find the remote help you need, a trusted organisation like VIP VA can help to find someone both qualified and experienced at helping businesses, just like yours, with specific tasks.

When you are looking for a remote worker to take on certain virtual tasks for your business, I would strongly recommend asking to see testimonials or references from customers that they have recently worked with.  This shouldn’t be a problem for the vast majority of highly skilled and extensively experienced virtual workers out there, but should help to weed out any that you aren’t sure about.  It may also be worth speaking to a potential virtual team member over the phone or via Skype, etc. rather than just via email to check that they are confident about the tasks that they need to complete.  Actually speaking to a potential freelancer may seem like a bizarre suggestion, but it’s amazing how many people outsource to international remote workers who occasionally lack the comprehensive knowledge of the English Language required to complete certain tasks (like blog-writing, proof-reading, etc.)… Trust me, I’ve seen a few bizarre articles in my time where this ability clearly hasn’t been checked!

Basically, I am encouraging business owners to do their research before enlisting the help of a virtual worker.  There are a great deal of exceptionally skilled and highly proficient VAs and remote workers out there who really could help your business to become more productive and efficient without the significant financial investment associated with growing your permanent in-house team.  As I mentioned earlier, organisations like VIP VA can help to put businesses in touch with high-performing VAs (VIP VA) and Personally Virtual are also here to help – just get in touch to find out how we could help you to work more efficiently: (http://www.personallyvirtual.co.uk/contact.html)

We’ve all been there – caught up in the New Year’s Resolution bandwagon and making passionate commitments to take up yoga, eat more kale and climb every UK mountain in the next 3 months… Many of us recognise that we are caught up in the cliché of setting goals that will fall by the wayside within a matter of days or weeks, and lots of us also know that we there is no actual hope of us every achieving our dramatic resolutions.  So why do we do it to ourselves?

Goal setting is an important aspect of personal and professional development for many people – it gives us a fixed point in time to work towards and hopefully ‘improve’ ourselves or our situation as we slowly travel towards that goal. We are motivated by these positive changes, and the sense of achievement that is felt when we successfully reach our goal.  However, the positive psychological impact of achieving a goal can only be experienced if we can actually reach that target. Goals need to be SMART – so get ready for a good acronym!

Goals should be:

Specific – what do you want to achieve? ‘Be more successful’ isn’t a great one, as it doesn’t allow for you to focus your mind, skills and resources efficiently enough in one specific direction. ‘Take on 3 new customers’ is specific and clear, and can help focus your mind on what exactly it is that you need to do in order to achieve your goal.

Measureable – can you measure your goal? The ‘take on 3 new customers’ goal above is clearly measurable, as you either achieve it or you don’t! Something like ‘build greater rapport with my existing customers’ isn’t so measurable or ‘black and white’, unless you consider asking your customers to fill in a survey at the beginning and end of your designated progress period to establish whether or not you have been successful. Avoid the fluffy!

Attainable – is it within your power to actually achieve this goal? ‘I want to walk on the surface of the moon’, for example, is a pretty unattainable goal unless you are already in the European Space programme or are a mad billionaire.

Realistic – how likely is it that you will achieve this goal? You don’t want it to be too easy, or the psychological rewards of achieving that goal will be low.  Similarly, you don’t want it to be too hard as you might not achieve it. You need to find a healthy balance with a goal that requires dedication and hard work to achieve for maximum satisfaction, self-worth and ongoing motivation.

Time-based – set yourself a specific time-based window for your goal, i.e. 3 months, 1 year, etc. This will give you a fixed date to work towards and encourage you to pull together your resources so that you can achieve your aim by the deadline given.  Without a deadline, it is easy to lose focus and motivation and put off important tasks for another day.

Back in January, I set a clear goal for this year – to complete my book by Easter – and though there are still a few tiny tweaks and adjustments that need to be made, I achieved my goal! It will be available to buy from the 1st May (Virtually Painless). As a result, I can say first-hand that the sense of personal achievement and self-confidence in my own abilities has definitely received a positive boost as a result of setting, and achieving a personal goal.

So what is my goal for the next 6 months? You’ll have to wait and see! I’d love to hear yours though!



25th April, 2017

Marginal gains are small, incremental improvements in any process that contribute to a significant improvement when they are all added together.

The idea is most commonly used in sports, like cycling, where tiny changes are made to the set up of equipment, as well as the sportsperson’s diet, posture, technique, etc. Even pillows! Each of these positive changes may only improve performance by a few milliseconds, but the idea is that the combination of all of these small but positive changes can have a dramatic impact on overall performance, without the need for a major training overhaul.

I know that many of you reading this are not Olympic Cyclists (if you are, keep up the good work! Go Team GB!), so how can we use the theory of marginal gains to improve our own performance? Here’s my first example, and it’s about the morning alarm call. How many of us would like to get up earlier (especially on a beautiful spring or summer morning) and make our mornings more productive? Unless you are a morning person, this can be pretty unpleasant to do, especially if the first thing you try in order to achieve this goal is setting your alarm clock back 30 minutes or an hour. That's great for the first couple of days but then tiredness creeps in and the snooze button is hit and you are back to where you started. Rather than go all out, why not try to simply set your alarm back 3 minutes earlier every couple of days? This allows your body to get used to the change slowly and gradually. After 3 weeks, you should be getting up half an hour earlier each day (all going well!) without having made any significant or dramatic changes to your day. That’s an extra 2.5 hours of awake time every single week to dedicate to whatever you want – yoga, brisk walks in the great outdoors, work, whatever!

The Evening Standard, in a post-2012 Olympics article by Susannah Butter, gave another interesting marginal gains example:

Marginal gain: wearing one piece of red clothing a week. Yearly gain: success in the workplace. If success has a colour, it’s red. A study by the University of Durham found athletes wearing red win more often than their opponents dressed in other colours. This certainly seemed to be the case at the Olympics, where the USA trounced the competition. Wearing this colour can also boost earnings. A French study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research found waitresses who wear red earn bigger tips.”[1]

So if you want to make a positive change to your personal or professional life this year, why not try making a number of small and manageable changes to take you closer to your goal? I’d love to hear if marginal gains are as successful for you as they have been for the Great British Cycling Team!

Good Luck.


Cycling, marginal gains

[1] http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/sleeker-richer-faster-happier-how-marginal-gains-can-change-your-life-8045909.html

“Either you run the day, or the day runs you” – Jim Rohn

Time Management and Efficient Working Habits – these may seem like distant and unattainable dreams, the kind of hashtags that glamorous and inspirational jet-setting people use on Instagram (and that leave some of us feeling a little bit bitter!). However, having chatted with a few people, I have discovered that brilliant time management is a skill that many of us have without even knowing it, espcially if you run a business.I sometimes have people contact me, telling me that they are in total chaos and disorganised; often it transpires they are very organised indeed, they just have too much on their plate. 

So, as a result of our team productivity chat, and to celebrate the working habits of my network of successful VA contacts, I’ve put together a few time management tips that have worked for me (or have been recommended by others), and could really help you if you feel as though you aren’t working as productively as you would like to:

Set aside time at the beginning of each week, and day, to arrange your ‘to do’ list, and prioritise tasks based on urgency or importance – this should help you to ensure that the most important tasks are done first, so that you aren’t rushing or fretting if you are running out of time to complete a task.  However, it’s your task list! If you need some light relief after an intensive few hours of working on a very important task, why not ‘take a break’ by carrying out a quick and simple task that you find easy or enjoyable (if such a thing exists on your task list!).

Make A Plan - some tasks will overlap and you may not be able to complete one without the other. This is where planning comes into play. Planning is an essential time management skill because it allows you to foresee all of the tasks that will be required to complete a project and how they will best ‘fit together’. A well thought out plan will save you a great deal of time.

Focus On One Task at A Time – There will always be other things competing for your attention. Focus – turn off the app and mail notifications, block out all distractions, and just concentrate on what it is you want to get done now. The idea of multitasking may work for some people, but every time you ‘lose your place’ because you’ve become distracted by something else, it will take you time just to remember where you were before.

Delegation – Are you the best person to complete this task? So many people think in order to be successful, they have to do everything themselves, but that’s just not the case – especially when you have a team working with you.  The most effective people are able to recognise where their skills are best suited and where their weaknesses need support. One of the greatest time management skills is knowing when you are not the right person to perform the task, and who to ask for help (politely!).

Organisation – In my career I’ve met many people who are happy to work in what they call ‘organised chaos’. But is this really an effective way to work? It does take time to set up a proper filing system, but once it’s done, it will save you lots of time, as you will be able to refer to information without having to think about it.

Patience and Forgiveness – It may seem strange that these should form part of a list about effective time management, but they are both important skills which have to be practised, especially if you are a lone worker and therefore put a huge amount of pressure on yourself to work as efficiently and productively as is humanly possible (or beyond that level!).  Have patience and give yourself plenty of time to complete your work properly.  However, acknowledge that occasionally, mistakes will be made along the way: it is important to ensure that you have time to review your work and correct any potential errors so that any work produced will be of the highest standard possible.

We really hope that you can take something positive away from our time management tips – even if it is the realisation that you are doing okay already!

Have a productive and efficient day! From the Personally Virtual Team.


27th March, 2017

You’ve just woken up, and are greeted by the ‘ping’ of notifications of emails sent by enthusiastic clients at 3am when they’ve had a business-related epiphany. You jump out the shower, and you receive both a text and a calendar notification reminding you of a meeting this afternoon… You haven’t even had breakfast, and you may have looked at your phone for business related reasons 15-20 times already. With so many efficiency apps and communication methods becoming common-place in our lives, are we really ‘saving time’ and becoming more efficient? In my experience, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ‘switch off’ from distractions during the day, and ‘switch off’ from work in our valuable downtime. So what can we do to change this?

One of the biggest tips I can give, from experience, to try and reduce the number of distractions that I am subjected to during the day is to strictly ‘limit’ my email checking and responding sessions.  As a remote worker, I don’t always work conventional hours – though I do try to, as much as possible, for the benefit of my more traditional business customers.  As my hours are sometimes subject to flexibility and change, it is very easy to get in the habit of sending emails at all times of the day (and night), or at weekends and public holidays, especially as many of us receive our work emails on our phones, tablets and even smart watches!  However, I have discovered that when you send messages ‘outside’ of traditional working hours, you are opening yourself up to receiving messages outside of these hours as well.  Of course, some of these emails are important and need to be sent immediately – I try to ensure that ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ is used in the email title to convey this importance.  However, in reality, the majority of these emails aren’t actually that urgent, and could quite easily be sent during a 9am-5pm weekday window - there are plenty of apps and ad-ons for your email to help you manage this as well - Boomerang is a great one.

According to the CMI, time amounting to 29 days of every year is spent checking work emails that is a huge amount of time!  I try to limit my email-checking window to the first hour of every day working day and then just twice after that, so that the ‘ping’ of a new email hitting my inbox (mostly unimportant or unrelated content from non-customers) doesn’t distract me from the task at hand.  Of course, if you are waiting for an important email, this approach doesn’t always work, but for the 90% of time that I can positively adopt this strategy, I definitely find that I am less distracted and can work more efficiently.  I can also relax more efficiently in my downtime, as I have given myself ‘permission’ to not worry about the majority of non-urgent client emails until my designated working hours.

When you are self-employed or work from home, it is so easy for work to creep into every aspect of your day-to-day life and consume what little down-time you allow yourself.  Take a step back. Breathe. It’s unlikely that your immediate response to an email is going to cure major illnesses or result in global disarmament.

Though, if it is, you’re probably going to want to answer it pretty sharpish.

Copyright © Kathy Soulsby. All rights reserved.