Personally Virtual Blog

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.

20th February, 2017

I hate paper mountains. I am in fact queen of the shredding bag wherever possible. It can therefore only be a good thing that increasingly, banks, energy providers, insurers, etc. are all providing the option for ‘digital-only’ records. You can now opt to get your bank statements online, or get energy bills via email (which you can then pay online, leaving no physical paper trail). However, many of us still have paper bank statements, receipts and general paperwork from years ago, squirrelled away in filing cabinets, lever-arch files, or in shoe-boxes under the bed. How long should we really keep hold of these documents for and when are we safe to shred? 

According to the HMRC, private individuals (not self-employed) should keep documents for 22 months after the end of the tax year , whereas if you run a company, you should keep documents for 5 years after the January following the end of the tax year (so roughly 6 years). HMRC also recommend that VAT records are kept for 6 years, and 10 years if you use the VAT MOSS system. If you need to apply for benefits, etc. in the future, it may be handy to have original documents (bank statements, loan agreements, etc.) to hand, as some agencies will not accept photocopies unless they have been verified by the bank, etc. (i.e. with a seriously retro hand-stamp and signature).

One thing to consider if you are ‘going digital’ with your personal and work documents is to ensure that the data is held and backed up securely. If you hold personal data or ‘sensitive data’ about other individuals as part of your work, you need to ensure that you meet the criteria imposed by the Data Protection Act 1998, and it is strongly recommend that you are registered with the Information Commissioners Office. For more information, visit www.ico.org.uk.


_____________

[1] https://www.gov.uk/keeping-your-pay-tax-records/how-long-to-keep-your-records

 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/self-employed-records/how-long-to-keep-your-records



9th February, 2017

This week I have been thinking about paper – or, more accurately, thinking about no paper.  Nowadays, the ideal of a ‘paper-free’ office is becoming a more practical and reasonable solution for businesses.  With scanners built into printers and available as apps on phones, and safe and reliable external or cloud-based data storage solutions available for a reasonable price, it is now possible to create an infinite number of documents and store them all safely as digital files.

So what are the arguments for a paper-free office? Obviously, the primary factor is that a paper-free office is more environmentally friendly.  Apparently, a single established pine tree can produce around 80000 sheets of paper.  Occasionally, it can feel as though you are printing that many pages off a day… on a slight tangent, have you ever wondered how much paper you’d need to print the entire internet? In 2015, a student from the University of Leicester calculated that you’d need 136 billion A4 sheets of paper to do just that – interesting fact for you!  Back to serious paper related statistics though, according to the Scientific American[1], globally we are losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest on a daily basis (125 square miles) – daily! That’s a shocking statistic.  Admittedly, not all of that is rainforest clearance so that single species tree plantations can be established to create pulp for paper (land is also cleared for agriculture, palm oil production, etc.) but it definitely would make a positive difference to the world if we all addressed our paper habits and made a concerted effort to use less and recycle more.  If you have to buy paper, locating good quality 100% recycled paper is now easier than ever thanks to the wealth of stationery shops on the high street and online.  If you can’t find 100% recycled, keep an eye out for paper that is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified, as the wood pulp used to generate FSC certified paper has been carefully tracked and inspected to reduce the ecological impact of the manufacturing process on the native rainforest.  FSC certification also requires that indigenous peoples living in a rainforest are not displaced through deforestation.

Although there are a great number of environmental benefits to a paper-free office, there are a few positives associated with putting real pen to real paper.   Doodling and drawing can help boost relaxation, stimulate the imagination and inspire creativity – something that may be lacking after a day sat looking at a computer screen. A 2014 article in the journal Psychological Science also suggested that putting pen to paper boosts memory and your ability to retain and understand concepts, a fact that might help if you have an upcoming lecture or training event that you are attending (and would like to remember!).

I confess that I am partial to a handwritten letter, diary or notebook and a post it note or 30, but that 2017 will be the year that I make a concerted effort to make my paper habits more sustainable through increased recycling, buying 100% recycled paper (when necessary), or keeping an eye out for FSC certified paper products when all else fails.  Will you join me? What are your goals for 2017? I’d love to hear them.



[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/





27th January, 2017

As soon as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, we are catapulted (whether we like it or not) into a living, breathing cliche: 'Be your best self this New Year'. 'Make 2017 your Best. Year. Ever', etc. It's difficult not to start daydreaming of a 'better you' when you are bombarded on all fronts by demands to improve yourself.

I'm going to throw another idea into the ring though – hear me out! This is my ground-breaking, deep and meaningful evaluation of the human condition:

You are doing really well already.

Admittedly, for the people who would actually like to have a slightly healthier diet, or exercise more, or whatever, this probably isn't a helpful mantra to have. I'm coming at it from the perspective of a business owner, and I really think it is an interesting way to motivate ourselves to look at issues more positively. For example, lets consider an issue like: 'I barely have enough time to file my own business expenses'. Some would say that this simply calls for a resolution to be more organised, a resolution that suggests that the business owner currently lacks sufficient organisational skills - it's like a 'NEEDS IMPROVEMENT' comment in big red pen all over your life. However, coming at the issue from the 'You are doing really well already' perspective helps you to cut down a little on the guilt and general whisperings of inadequacy that plague the majority of humankind (even if people don't admit it). Perhaps you really are too busy to carry out this work because you are just so successful at your job! What an alien way to look at things - but, in my opinion, a great way to look at them!

At Personally Virtual, we're here to help Business owners at the top of their game; people who want to focus on what they do well at and enjoy rather the mundane necessities of day-to-day business life that they don't like and don't really have time for.

However, saying that, we're also here for the people who do consider themselves disorganised or inadequate - but only so we can help you rebuild the confidence that you have in yourself and your business so that you too can stand in front of the mirror and say "I'm doing really well". And actually mean it.

27th January, 2017

I'm not sure whether this is the time or the place to admit it, but I have a minor addiction to high quality stationery. I can take or leave a pack of novelty post-it notes, but when it comes to beautifully bound diaries, notepads and planners, I just can't resist. I got 3 for Christmas!

I think it goes back to my time at school and the first day of every Autumn Term when we were handed crisp and fresh exercise books. These books represented a new beginning, a fresh start and the promise of a new year - admittedly, not so thrilling in reality when they were only destined to be filled with diagrams of ox-bow lakes and the water cycle, but some of that magic still remains with me to this day. For me, a new diary or work planner represents the promise of a new year; a year that has the potential to bring me new positive challenges to face and overcome, as well as the opportunity for increased success and contentment.

What better way to finally 'break in' that lovely new notepad you got for Christmas than put together a Business Plan specifically for 2017? It's a great way to get yourself focused now you are back into work mode, and it can really help you to identify (and hopefully act on) ways that your business can move forward and find increased success in 2017. Sound like a plan? Well crack out your notepad and have a think about some of these questions:

Where are you now? How is your business doing? Are you working with the businesses/customers that you had wanted to work with when you started out? Are you offering the products and services that you had envisioned yourself providing? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it's not necessarily a bad thing; it might be time to re-evaluate your whole business plan, focusing instead on what has been proven to work efficiently for you. However, if you aren't happy with any elements of your business, now is the time to introduce a framework that puts you 'back on track' - for example, introducing new stricter guidelines for existing customers who have previously overstepped working boundaries, etc.

What are potential opportunities in 2017? Are there any conferences in your field you'd like to attend? Any courses you'd like to undertake? Any new products or services you'd like to offer? When you are self-employed or running your own small business, the ultimate control over the direction and success of the business lies with you, so why not take the bull by the horns this year and take your business one step closer to the ideal you started out with? Tailor a new product or service that harnesses your passion AND new or enhanced skills, and see where it takes you!

What tools will you need to achieve your goals? These aren't just physical tools - i.e. new Office equipment, more money, etc. It could also be that you need more time to dedicate to these new goals and opportunities. Why not consider outsourcing some of your work to free up more time this year?

Timeline - Set yourself some definite (but realistic) goals for the new year. Put a target date on achievements - i.e. I want my new website up by March, I want to be offering product X by July, I want 3 new long term customers by October, etc. By writing these dates down, you are taking responsibility for accomplishing them. Don't quite reach your targets? That's fine, but carefully consider why you didn't reach them, and use these lessons to put together new, challenging but attainable goals.

Contingency - Unfortunately, life doesn't always go to plan, even if we've written everything down on high quality paper and colour coded it with many beautiful pointy pencils. So make plans for a 'worst case scenario'; establish what products and services you have found the most success with (even if you didn't particularly enjoy them) and make sure that you continue to have the tools available to carry out this work again - for example, a piece of paid-for software or piece of equipment that allows you to carry out certain tasks. The likelihood is that if you have previously found success with a particular role, you are more likely to have a network of people who can already recommend you for that work. Hopefully, these contacts and your proven skills should see you through times of hardship until you have had time to re-group and re-focus and get your business back on the road to your ideal business destination.

Personally Virtual

Copyright © Kathy Soulsby. All rights reserved.