Personally Virtual Blog

7th March, 2016

I'm sure that everyone reading this has had some experience of attending meetings, and can almost guarantee that you will also have first-hand experience of attending an ineffective meeting. There are always a few individuals who don't follow the basic rules of a meeting - i.e. arriving on time, keeping the meeting 'on topic', or doing their research prior to attending the meeting so that they have something constructive that they can bring to the table. As a result of this, research suggests that the average British worker spends 4 wasted hours per week in what they would describe as a 'pointless' meeting (source: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/1175002/). That's time that could be spent doing something much more worthwile, like watching the entire 1967 film production of 'War and Peace'.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what can be done to convince the worst offenders that it is possible to have an effective meeting that starts on time and stays on point. However, in the course of my research, I have found some interesting recommendations for meetings that may help the more reasonable attendees amongst us!

For a start, it is recommended that people attending meetings take notes using a pen and paper rather than a laptop or mobile device, due to the fact that "Even if you have fantastic abilities to focus on the meeting, other people may assume that you are "catching up on email" instead of paying attention to the meeting if you take notes on a computer" http://projectmanagementhacks.com/meeting-tips/. This is a great point and one that I had not previously considered. Despite the incredible handiness of being able to type notes straight into a WORD document, I hadn't really thought about the way that other meeting attendees perceive the use of computers in meeting before, so will have to bear this in mind for the future.

Another point that was raised as I searched for tips for effective meetings touches on a point mentioned in the image above - that is, making sure that all attendees listen to one another and create an environment where members are encouraged to communicate freely about the topics discussed. I found a great article by Antony Jay in the 1976 issue of the Harvard Business Review that explains why the involvement of all group members in a meeting is so important:

"A meeting is the place where the group revises, updates, and adds to what it knows as a group. Every group creates its own pool of shared knowledge, experience, judgment, and folklore. But the pool consists only of what the individuals have experienced or discussed as a group-i.e., those things which every individual knows that all the others know, too... Some ethologists call this capacity to share knowledge and experience among a group "the social mind," conceiving it as a single mind dispersed among a number of skulls. They recognize that this "social mind" has a special creative power, too. A group of people meeting together can often produce better ideas, plans, and decisions than can a single individual or a number of individuals, each working alone"

https://hbr.org/1976/03/how-to-run-a-meeting

Jay stresses the point that the pool of shared knowledge in a meeting can only consist of what the individuals have experienced or discussed as a group, highlighting the fact that if one or more meeting attendees do not feel confident enough to contribute to the discussion in the meeting, the pool of shared knowledge will be lacking certain information that could be extremely beneficial to the team as a whole.

So next time you're in a meeting, leave the laptop at your desk and make sure you say what's on your mind (as long as it's on topic!). These two small changes could have a positive impact on the way you and your fellow attendees experience the meeting, and you never know - everyone might even arrive on time and stay on topic! Miracles can happen!

I have a friend who likes to say 'Everybody has a Talent', and though having watched 'Britain's got Talent' I have occasionally questioned the truthfulness of this statement, generally I have to agree. We all have certain aspects of our job that we excel at - the jobs that we can do incredibly efficiently and without even breaking a sweat! On the other hand, we all have skills that we aren't quite so proficient at (hello short hand!). Skills that we don't necessarily have the time (or inclination) to invest in improving. It's all very well for someone to say 'Practice makes Perfect!', but in real-life business situations, how many people have hours of free time to dedicate to learning how to use Excel efficiently, or how to do their own books if they struggle at Maths? And is it really the best use of your time if it is a small part of your business and not actually what you do best?

When it comes to doing your thing, nobody can do it quite like you; few people have the insight that you do into your specific field of business, or have such an extensive understanding of your customers and suppliers, or the products and services that you sell - that is definitely a talent! Sometimes though, when you are engulfed in some of the more mundane activities that are involved in running your own business or life (collating expense receipts or typing up notes from meetings, etc.), your unique talents don't have the chance to shine - frustration, boredom and irritability can sneak in to your daily work life. Or worse still, those tasks get pushed to the bottom of a list and you suddenly realise you haven't sent an invoice out in 3 months.

As a Virtual Assistant, I am acutely aware of the fact that we all have different talents and skills. Many Virtual Assistants collaborate, each specialising in several very specific areas to ensure that the client always receives the most appropriate support for them - support which is carried out by someone who really knows what they are doing! This ethos of sharing skills and experience has really helped me to embrace both my own skills and my own work-based limitations:

I have learnt that if there is something I am good at, I need to ensure I use those skills every day for the benefit of my business. If there is something I'm not great at (or loathe), and which is taking my time and focus away from what I do best, it often works better if I can get someone else to help - someone who excels in that particular area. There are so many companies out there that offer support for all kinds of issues - from bookkeeping to call handling, from social media management to cleaning; these businesses are run by professionals in their fields, people that actually enjoy the jobs you hate! So if you are struggling with certain tasks, why not consider outsourcing in order to have more time to dedicate to the things that you do best?

At Personally Virtual, our clients tell us that even a small amount of support time makes a huge impact on how they feel about work. You can find a list of a few of the things we can assist with here, but you are more than welcome to email me at Kathy@personallyvirtual.co.uk, or give me a ring on: +44 7805 390651 for a general conversation about how outsourcing some admin might look for you.

26th November, 2015

Every day, dozens of random (yet strangely compelling) messages hit my inbox. There was once a time, back when emails were still a bit of a novelty but not today, oh no! I can and do spend hours managing email. So when it comes to sending them and copying in the whole world, I now ask myself 'WWBGD?' before clicking send.

'WWBGD'? I hear you ask! Well, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the innovative personal email sending filter that is 'What would Bear Grylls do?'

Bear Grylls: rugged outdoorsy sort, more likely to be found trout tickling with his teeth, suspended over the edge of a waterfall by a rope made out of body hair than sending out a company-wide email about the state of the fridge in the communal kitchen. But that's just the point. Bear Grylls seems to be an incredibly practical and matter-of-fact individual. If there was a problem with the fridge, he'd probably do something about it himself (possibly collecting the mould that has grown on the sandwiches that have been abandoned in there since August and saving it for a nutritious mid-afternoon snack...). To be honest, I'm pretty sure Bear Grylls would only send an email if it was extremely important, possibly if there was an emergency - although, frustrated at having to communicate via the trappings of modern life, he may end up setting fire to his computer in order to send an 'S.O.S' using smoke signals. What I'm trying to say is that Bear Grylls is a Boy Scout, and as such isn't likely to forward inappropriate emails or waste people's time (including his own) with unnecessary email correspondence.

According to research carried out by McKinsey Global Institute, more than a quarter of the average worker's day is spent answering and reading emails. Further statistics cited by the Radicati Group state that the average corporate email user sends and receives over 100 emails a day, 19% of which are classed as spam. That's a whole lot of emails - but how many of them are really necessary? Just imagine the time you could save if you only had to read, or send, emails that were concise, relevant, and actually required!

If Bear Grylls isn’t your thing – try this lovely infographic from onlineItdegree. Top tips there, although I dispute kittens as we know they are good for health, attention span and well-being!

7th August, 2015

“I’m so disorganised!” Is a cry I often hear from people I meet. And in some cases it is true. But actually, almost everyone has some level of organisation. How else would you manage to earn money, eat food, get back in your house whenever you leave it? We all use hundreds of tiny systems a day as habits to function in the world, we have to. The large majority of my clients are very organised indeed, whether they believe it or not!

I think that often perceived disorganisation is something else entirely.

In some cases it’s not having those simple systems in place to organise regular business tasks – for example having expense receipts in your wallet, in your email inbox, in a folder and as a standing order which needs pulling down from an online statement. When it comes to recording them, it feels messy and complex.

Or it might be managing business cards – you go to an event, chat to people, take their cards. Then what? Is there a system or is it pot luck as to whether the cards will be followed up as needed, added to your mailing list and /or CRM system (or whether you’ll come across them a month later, dog-eared and covered in biscuit crumbs at the bottom of your handbag with not the faintest idea who these people are)?

Having a system in place is really important to give you the sense of control and make sure that your business runs as smoothly as it can. But even the best system in the world won’t work if you are too overwhelmed to get to it. A sense of being disorganised and in chaos can also be a sign of having too much on your plate. Being a great organiser without doubt makes your more efficient and able to get things done in the available time. But if you have a huge workload it isn’t going to solve your problems, best case you will just have a much clearer picture of all the things you can’t find the time for!

Ad Hoc VA services are a great way to give you more time back as and when things get busy. If you want to get systems in place to get your back office running smoothly, or you just need some help to get yourself straight in the ones you have now, why not give Personally Virtual a call? You’ll be amazed how much less chaotic life seems in just a few hours.

Visit us here!

10th July, 2015

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and we all turn to thoughts of …. admin?

Really?

Well, some of us do! Because what better time of year than the summer when projects tend to get quieter to sort out your back office. These days it seems that August is a ghost month where the serious work gets put on hold as it is impossible to get a full team meeting in around annual leave.

So, there is not a better time to get the office straight and know that come September when life returns to normal, you are on top of things and ready.

Some fabulous things to get on top of while there is a brief respite:

  • Admin processes – are they as good as they can be? Should there be some streamlining? Are systems as effective as they should be to keep the wheels turning on your business? That might be invoicing, expenses, time management, sales meeting follow ups.
  • Filing. It has to be done! Whether hard copy or soft, get everything where it can be found. Delete or shred old versions and out of date papers. It might even be worth a scanning project so you have soft copies of things you need and you can clear some shelves.
  • Contacts database. All those business cards festering in a drawer, get them out. Work through your contacts – anyone that has moved, get them updated. Check you have found them on Linked In. Update the CRM.
  • Office tidy. You know that a tidy desk means a tidy mind. Have a good clear out and move some furniture to keep things fresh.

Does this all sound like far too much hard work? Why not go on holiday and have a VA do some of it for you? Then you can come back refreshed to an organised workplace.

“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned” (Anon)

Copyright © Kathy Soulsby. All rights reserved.