I write often about how our energy is affected by our surroundings. Did you ever consider that email is part of your environment? It is - unless you don't use a computer at all - and then how would you be reading this post?
Imagine this... your email inbox is an actual mail slot in your front door. As soon as you get up, you see paper coming in through that slot. Mid-day, there's a pile. In the evening, there's a mountain. And that continues day after day - YIKES!
When your Inbox is full of unopened emails, that’s exactly the energy you’re creating. Every time you open your email program and see Inbox (135) you’re going to feel stress, consciously or unconsciously. That number 135 reminds you that there are 135 demands for your attention that have not be dealt with while you take care of other matters. 135 pieces of paper blocking your front door!
Why have that hanging over your head? Let’s do something about it now.
First off, let’s examine why these emails are unopened. Are they spam? Then DELETE them and change your spam filter so they stop coming! Are they in the “I might want to read this later” category? That’s like having a mountain of magazines on the floor. DELETE them! I promise you, if they were important enough to open you would already have done so!
After you’ve cleaned those categories out of there, look at what’s left. What really, truly, honestly needs an answer? Then ANSWER it! Be sure your inbox is sorted by received date, and then start at the oldest message. If it is now outdated, delete it. If it's important and you missed it, reply with an honest apology for taking so long – no excuses, just an apology.
What’s left after these steps? Things you need to do? Either flag each remaining email (if your email provider has a way to mark them) or print out and make notes. Prioritize what you can do quickly, preferably for the oldest outstanding issues. Address these tasks as you would any others on your to-do list.
Now, take another look at your Inbox. Hopefully it now looks like this: INBOX (no numbers after it!).
What can you do to prevent the buildup recurring? Improve your spam filters. Tell friends and family to stop sending you junk mail. Get off the mailing lists that no longer matter to you. Set aside a specific time of day (when your mind is not needed for more important tasks) and a specific amount of time to focus ONLY on email.
Address new messages as soon as they arrive and your virtual “living room” will stay clear of unwanted invaders!
Here's another business writing lesson for you from The Grammar Queen! Whether formal or informal, be careful with the shortcuts you use in your writing. Overuse can set the wrong tone.
For example, use of shortcut ordinal numbers as bullets for a listing (1st, 2nd, 3rd) is casual but acceptable, if that's your writing style. Personally I prefer just using straight numbers (1, 2, 3). However, except in very casual communication, ordinal numbers used in copy that is NOT list format, just straight text like this, are written out (first, second, etc.).
1st: Open the door.
2nd: Walk through the door.
3rd: Close the door
First, open the door. Second, walk through the door. Third, close the door.
I've written before about another shortcut I see often: the use of "&" in business writing (outside of titles and such). It is no harder to type the three letters "and" than it is to shift-7 to create the &, and it is far more professional.
Greater grammar Nazis than I am are predicting a decline in proper grammar and spelling due to the huge younger population accustomed to tweeting and texting. These shortcuts can be viewed as the destruction of proper English (yes, I tend to this view) or to a new written dialect. I certainly wouldn't want to see a resume that says, "I wud luv 2 work w u bcuz im g8 at it ru hiring?" Key is to understand the use of each in context.
I am so often asked "What the heck is a Virtual Assistant?" It's still an up-and-coming profession, and OH so rewarding! A "VA" is someone who assists a business, usually an entrepreneur/solopreneur, with various administrative tasks. A VA can be a generalist, rather like an administrative assistant in a corporation. But she (I use the feminine because the majority of VAs are female) can also be a specialist, focusing on a certain type of company, or offering a specific set of services. For instance, I am a Spiritual VA, offering business communication and organizational services to heart-based entrepreneurs.
I have explained to dozens of people how the process works...here's a summary.
Download a free copy of the full report here!
When you know that you're doing too much and not focusing on your key skillset, those tasks that are your "sweet spot" that only you can do, it's time to unload! Do some online research and find the right match for you!
I have written in this forum often about organization and neatness in the work environment. Whether you work from home or not, when you work in a messy area, your thoughts and energy will also be messy. When you are organized and your work setting is enjoyable, then your thoughts are more creative and organized as well.
There's more to it, though. You may be neat and organized but your work space is a basement corner, with cement block and no windows. Energetically, what does that do to you? Without natural light, your body and mind tire easily. Hard, dull concrete stifles your senses. You may feel enclosed, restricted. So, what can you do to change this energy?
If the basement corner is your best option in your home, you can still make your workspace pleasant. Use natural lightbulbs placed overhead, mimicking sun coming through a window. Keep fresh plants or flowers in the area. Place pleasing pictures around with lovely landscapes, to offer a "window" view. Get up and move around often to avoid feeling restricted.
The best option, or course, is to work in a more pleasant surrounding. If you can, move your workspace near a window for natural lighting, avoiding direct sunlight creating glare in your eyes or on your computer. Frequently look away from your computer out the window to give your eyes a break. Stand and stretch, and admire the view, even if it's just the street outside.
When you keep in mind that your environment affects your mood and your thoughts, you can ensure that you feel your best every time you're working.
Sometimes this is what my brain feels like. Sometimes each one of these people is clamoring for my attention. "Me!" "Me!" "No, me!" I feel the anxiety building in my body, my breathing gets shallow and my body tenses. All I want to do is shut down and go somewhere quiet.
But I don't need to do that, because I have tools!
When my task list is 2 pages long, and dozens of emails need to be dealt with (which, of course, bring me more tasks) then rather than explode, I get organized!
I have learned a lot of great organizational tricks in my long (long!) working history. I know how to prioritize for my Lightseeds clients.
Because I think and process best in the mornings, I tackle those tasks that take the most brainpower and attention, prioritizing by my clients' deadlines. Those which I can do quickly and/or easily come in the early afternoon.
Recently, I found I was beginning to feel overwhelmed with work. So much was coming at me at once I knew I needed to get a handle on things before I allowed the pressure to build. And so I did a "dump!" Taking a tip from my client and friend Lisa Crilley Mallis of Impactive Strategies, I wrote down every task I had to do for my business or for clients, in no order. Everything on my existing to-do list, everything in email, everything in my calendar reminders. Once it was all on paper, I felt an immediate relief - I didn't need to remember or retain any of it!
Next step was to examine the list for things that could wait and note the estimated completion date. Now, with a smaller list, I looked for tasks that needed to be done the soonest, and decided what date and time of day (based on my needs above) I could tackle them. Now, with an even smaller list, I had identified tasks that would fill in around the urgencies.
Now this may sound a bit TOO organized for some, but I tell you the truth, the relief of doing a brain dump like this is indescribable. As Lisa often says, it's best to use your brain to THINK rather than REMEMBER.
Do you have anti-stress tips like this? Do share - you may help someone else!
"What is a Spiritual Virtual Assistant?" This is a question I am often asked. I describe myself at different times as a spiritual or a holistic virtual assistant, because they are both accurate. This descriptor defines me as a virtual assistant with a spiritual focus. I am deeply spiritual, balanced with a very practical, business-minded side. Both of these are important to both my life AND my business. My work is supported by my intuition as well as my considerable business experience.
The work began with my corporate life and developed along with my spiritual journey. (Read more about that here if you're interested.) I realized that the people I was drawn to were all in heart-based, helping professions - healers, coaches, etc. We share a focus on making individuals, and thus the world, happier and healthier.
Here is my question to you: how do you define yourself? Not in your "30-second commercial," but in real life? How does your work define you? And vice versa? Are all aspects of you present in your work or do you define your work life very differently from your "real" life? Is that the way you like it or would you like to share more of yourself in your business? If you, for instance, are a CPA who is also deeply spiritual and with an interest in metaphysics, would you like to focus your business on strictly commercial enterprise, or would it make you happy to work with the metaphysical community?
No matter what your skill set, be authentic to who you are in your work. I know from my own and others' experience that when you can be authentic and present all aspects of yourself, you will feel a freedom and joy that carries through your whole life!
Carol is a really busy entrepreneur. She was always the "go-to" person at her former employer's office and has carried that energy into her own business. She loves knowing everything, having her hands in everything.
As her business grows, Carol more often finds herself working later (and earlier). Checking email as she can, often late at night. She takes client calls, posts blogs, publishes a newsletter, attends networking events, and just realized that she rushes through client appointments. By the time her day is done, so is she! Done in, tired, hungry, and very, very crabby.
What Carol forgot is that no (wo)man is an island! She forgot that there is all sorts of help available to her. And when she was reminded of that, she promptly hired help! Now she has someone to manage her blogs and newsletters, take client calls and handle other administrative matters. Carol focuses on her networking and actually doing her work with clients. Doing her work. The part that she loves ... the part only she can do.
Are you "Carol"? Look around you and explore your options for ways to delegate. When you know the part that only YOU can do, you know what others can take over for you. As your time expands with those tasks off your plate, you will not only be more productive, but more successful - and rested!
Unless you're a graphic designer, you may not think often about fonts, but if you have any online presence at all, they are important. In fact, if you've ever made a sign they're important too!
This post was inspired by the copious moving and garage sale signs I've seen this summer that are completely illegible from the road. The lettering is either too faint, or too small, or too sloppy. The lesson: what is the purpose of what you're writing? Does your copy work for that audience?
Now I'm not as addicted to fonts as Brock on "The Middle" (see what I mean here), but I do know that appearance and size of your copy is important to legibility, impact, and mood (yes, mood). If I want to evoke a playful mood and have something light to say, a sans serif font without much structure is appropriate (Comic Sans, Kristen, MV Boli). On a website like this, a serif font is important for easy legibility. Serif fonts are also used in formal business letters and documents.
Sorry, but size IS important! Bet you can't read this well. And this is WAY too big for a website unless it's a heading.
Color is also important. Be sure that there is contrast between your background and the text. I've seen badly designed websites and newsletters that have a brown background, for instance, with a lighter brown font.
In this digital age, there are hundreds of downloadable choices available to enhance your writing, whether on paper or virtual. Explore your options and consider your audience!
I wrote earlier about the "joy of lists." Here's another tip for really simple organization and time management.
Like most people you probably have recurring tasks that you do weekly or monthly - invoice a client, create a report, publish a newsletter. I hope you have these already noted on your calendar. (You do, don't you?) Do you have them in your online calendar as well?
Every online calendar (Google, Yahoo, Outlook, etc.) provides a reminder service and a task list. When you enter a task such as "Invoice Mary Smith" into your calendar service as a task, you can specify that the calendar send you an email reminder at a specific interval before the task is due. You may want notice a week prior, or a day, or sometimes an hour.
Especially when I am very busy, I rely on these emails to stay organized and on top of my priorities. Nothing gets lost in the shuffle. At a glance I can see upcoming tasks, but I don't need to rely on my memory or clutter up my to-do list, as I know I'll have a reminder pop up just when I need it to.
My name is Holly and I am a list-oholic. I love lists. Here's why.
When you create a list (whether of tasks, shopping needs, or anything else), you are releasing your mind from the need to remember details. Better to use your brainpower for thinking than remembering!
For example, make a list related to a project you want to tackle. Write down the individual steps it will take, what you will need to accomplish those steps, helpers, timing, and all the other details. Then you can really think about these items, evaluating the "how" and "when" rather than the "what."
One of my favorite list types is my work task list. I have a master list of things I need to remember to check on or do on a regular basis (write blog posts, update a client's records, check on responses to an invitation). I also have my actual task list.
I write out a new task list weekly. It contains all the individual items I need to do for my clients and my business. I evaluate the urgency, deadline, and approximate length of time to complete each, creating a sequence of how I want to tackle each. My method is to simply number each item - the one I need to do first is #1, then next #2. If my work week is lighter than normal, I might simply assign a day to complete the task - decide which I will do Monday, Tuesday, etc. Again, I take into consideration how long the task will take and the urgency.
If something pops up that changes my priorities, I'll re-number my tasks so I don't forget about anything. And of course, when a task is complete, it gets crossed off with a feeling of satisfaction!
To borrow a tip from my friend and client Lisa Crilley Mallis, if a task on your list has multiple steps to it, then it's really a project (I know, semantics) and should be outlined separately (read a post about this here). Remember the old adage "How do you eat an elephant" (with apologies to elephants)? Outlining the individual steps of a project means that you won't lose sight of something important.
Whether you're a "wing it" kind of person or already love lists, give my method a try and see if it helps you organize your day.
Welcome! These stories, tips and tricks are intended to help you save time, and be more organized and effective in your work. New items will be added frequently so check back often.