The Kanban Approach: How Your Dedicated Assistant can Implement It

Kanban scheduling approach for virtual assistants
Kanban scheduling system

The Kanban scheduling approach is considered as one of the simplest, more affordable, and most effective ways to help with monitoring progress as far as productivity is concerned. The Kanban approach is a good way to organize the workflow especially if you and your dedicated assistant have trouble figuring out what needs to be done first.

How It Worked for an Entrepreneur

Meet Tom. He’s an entrepreneur through and through. Specifically, he is into dropshipping. His winning products are mostly household items. Because his items are on-hand, he has always made it a point to track his items by using the “inventory method”. He taught this approach to his dedicated assistant.

Through this method, Tom knows exactly how many items they have in each category. Because of this, it is easier for him to determine when he should purchase. This process alone is important for the winning products because they mostly bring in the sales for Tom’s store. Once he determines products with a low count, he lets his dedicated assistant know about this so she can place the correct orders to their suppliers.

To make it easier for him and for his dedicated assistant, Tom even went through the trouble of designing simple software with graphs to let them know which products start to approach sellout quickly. With this program, he doesn’t need to check the inventory every day to get an exact number. He just has to look at the graphs, and he will have an idea on when to replenish stock.  By using this method, he only needs to do an inventory assessment once every two weeks. In some instances, he only has to do this once a month. His dedicated assistant is there to do the rest.

How can you and your dedicated assistant get started?

If you’re not in the dropshipping business, that’s alright! You can still use the Kanban method. Actually, this works better if you’re a visual learner. It’s because this scheduling technique uses colors, spaces, and other visual cues to relay information.

If you’re in a visual work set-up, you may set up an “online bulletin board” for your team to let them know what is going on with the week ahead. Divide the “board” into three sections:

  • Pending tasks
  • Tasks in progress
  • Completed tasks

Once the tasks are in place, you and your dedicated assistant should easily see where the entire team lies in the process. You may even assign color codes for these categories. Some categories include teams and the nature of the tasks. If you did the task segregation correctly, the virtual board should provide you with information like:

  • Number of tasks in each category
  • Team’s workload (is there a task overflow or are there upcoming days that lead to this?)
  • Team progress
  • Possibility of delegation (if you used other color coding techniques to further classify the nature of the tasks)

What can it do for your business?

Once you see the overview of the tasks based on your board, it is much easier to tell if there are bottlenecks and queues along the way. Because of this, you can decide on the spot if you have to limit workflow for the meantime. If there’s low workflow, you may use the time to provide your team with more enriching activities that will help boost their skills and up their game.

It’s important to spot where bottlenecks are because this will ultimately determine the output of the team within a given timeframe. An example is a team working on images for social media pages. The creative team can only come up with three images in a week and the social media manager can publish up to ten in the same week. The total published posts for the week will only be three regardless because the bottleneck is in the creative team.

Given this scenario, you may use the Kanban approach to check what causes the delay in the creative team. Is it an issue of the complexity of the content? Is it an issue with resources? Once you determine what the main problem is, you can dedicate your time and energy to work on it so your creative team can finally catch up with the social media manager.

When you and your dedicated assistant practice this approach more, it can help your entire team work towards continuous improvement. You may efficiently track the quality of the work by analyzing the general flow of the tasks. Aside from that, it can help you predict if your team is about to encounter a roadblock in the future. Through these insights, you can design a set of metrics to help further improve everyone’s work.

Some Takeaways

The Kanban method can help your business regardless of its size. Of course, try to refrain from placing expectations on yourself and your team to learn this approach overnight. This will require consistency in what you do so you can get the best results.

Failing My Way To Success: My Failed Attempts At Productivity

There was a time I thought I could never succeed at anything, a time when I could not even clean out my own inbox! I felt that if I could not get the little things done, there was simply no hope for me to reach any big milestone. My room was in constant chaos, my backlogs at work had gone through the roof, and my personal to-do list was a mile long. I felt like such a complete failure!

My feelings of failure were exacerbated by my failed attempts at being more productive. I experimented with several productivity tools, and failed. I later learned that it was never about the tools nor the systems.

It was all me.

I’ll tell you more about that. But first, allow me to talk about my failed experiments with productivity.

Two planners to separate my professional and personal affairs

Back when I still held a 9-5 job, I had a strict rule of not bringing any of my work home. To keep things segregated, I kept two planners – one for work and one for my home. The goal was to achieve a work-life balance, but it never worked out that way. Having two planners kept me from being flexible. There were personal items I could easily scratch off my list while at work without taking more than a minute of my time. The same thing held true for my work-related tasks.

I tried to create a separation that didn’t need to exist. Work and personal life have a way of overlapping, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s simply the reality of life.

Color-coded entries on my planners

The idea was to organize tasks under different categories. The colors were supposed to help me quickly associate specific colors with different categories. Hence, I assigned various colors to different legends. The colors were also supposed to help me identify just how far along I was to completing a task.

Instead of streamlining the process, this system only complicated things for me. For starters, I had to carry around several colored pens. In an era where we’re used to carrying around smaller and fewer things thanks to technology, this seemed counter-intuitive. It was inconvenient too! 

Worse, I had to keep tabs of everything the colors represented. This was more difficult than it seemed. I had to pull out my copy of legends frequently, and I often used the wrong colors. It came to a point where I just avoided my planners altogether. All-in-all, my productivity efforts became out of whack.

Productivity apps on my gadgets

After my failed attempts at pen and paper, I decided to take advantage of what technology had to offer. I tried this app called ‘Things’. I liked that it was cheaper, and it appeared to have everything I needed. The web app was well-designed, and its user interface was easy to understand. It also came with an iPhone app, which was the true hook for me. Unfortunately, the early version of the app didn’t offer an over-the-air sync. This became a problem when I was away from my Macbook for too long. This flaw was a deal-breaker for me, as being able to input stuff or cross off items from my to-do list while I was out and about was essential to my productivity.

Moreover, the productivity app resembled the system prescribed in David Allen’s book ‘Get Things Done’. Probably this generation’s most influential work on productivity, GTD has undoubtedly helped many people. Nevertheless, its highly structured system is not for everyone. There is a reason it’s generally avoided by creatives such as writers, designers, and musicians. Plus, right at the system’s core lies the “next action”. If you aren’t careful, your life could easily become just a series of things to get done. At least that’s what it felt like to me in my early days of trying out GTD.

It was all me

After my failed experiments on productivity, I finally learned what it meant to fail one’s way to success. Upon close examination, I realized that the tools and the systems weren’t the problem. The problem was, I simply did not understand myself well enough. Without proper introspection, it was impossible to figure out a system that would work for me.

For one, I finally came to terms with the fact that routine tasks were a point of weakness for me. The whole “I need to be good at the smaller things before I could succeed at bigger things” way of thinking turned out to be faulty. The bigger things arena was where I excelled, and I wasn’t cashing in on it.

I had all the makings of an entrepreneur – creativity, initiative, and risk-taking, to name a few. I enjoyed tackling the bigger picture and always excelled in strategic thinking. My propensity to get bored stemmed from my knack for creative thinking. While this made it hard for me to stick to routine tasks, my creativity helped me come up with ideas that would eventually fuel my entrepreneurial success. What I thought of as a weakness was actually an untapped strength!

A startup investor and mentor once said, “If you’ve remained on a corporate job for more than 25 years, you are probably not the person we’re looking for.” Successful founders all have a burning passion to create things or to be on the driver’s seat carving their own path. The same passion keeps them from sticking to a traditional corporate job for too long.

Meeting success

Gaining a better perspective on the real me helped me reevaluate what was wrong with my productivity efforts. For one, piling up my to-do lists with unnecessary stuff was debilitating. It kept me from focusing on the bigger picture. It also made me realize that I was never going to be productive in my current profession because I was at the wrong job. And as I mentioned earlier, our professional and personal lives tend to overlap. Finding a field that you’re good at will not only make your career better but your home life as well.

When I finally fulfilled my potential as an entrepreneur, I never had to create a work-life balance because work became my life – in a good way! Even while I was at home, I was thinking of all the great ways I could improve my business but not in a stressful way. I was so much happier, and it showed in the way I was treating the people around me.

As for my productivity, being my own boss helped me ace it mostly because I also was able to share my passion for my new career with others who worked with me. I delegated all the everyday tasks I wasn’t good at to people who excelled in following a structure or routine. It’s created an ecosystem of workers and tasks that lead to amazing results. With my strategic mind at the helm, we were all bound for success.

I experimented, failed, and finally met success. You can make that happen for yourself as well. Always keep in mind, there is no such thing as an overnight success.

Effective Ways to Improve Productivity Fast

Science presents us with the concept of neuroplasticity. In a nutshell, this is the ability of the brain to adapt and change based on its surroundings and what is needed. This is also one way that the brain compensates if you are lacking in some areas. For example, if you are not much of a mathematician, your brain may compensate by being more receptive to linguistic concepts. Fortunately, you can train your brain to undergo that “change”. In fact, you can even train your brain to help improve your productivity levels. Think of your brain as a muscle. It needs exercise on a regular basis. In the same way, you need to constantly stimulate your brain to boost productivity. Below are some ways to improve productivity.

Adequate Sleep

Consider this as a way for your body to recover from all the stress that it experienced throughout the day. Getting a high-quality good night’s rest is crucial for cell regeneration. This helps remove toxins that may have accumulated during the day. For best results, go to bed at around 9 or 10 in the evening. Make sure to have at least 6 to 8 hours’ worth of sleep for proper replenishment. Anything above or below this value is considered non-beneficial.

Balanced Diet

This is important because your brain gets nutrients mostly from the food you eat. You might as well feed it with good stuff, then! Some good brain food items to choose from include the following:

  • Nuts:  Increases supply of omega-3 fatty acid that’s good for brain health.
  • Salmon and other types of oily fish:  Additional omega-3 fatty acid.
  • Banana:  More vitamin C and B6 in your diet.
  • Avocado:  Abundant supply of healthy fats.
  • Blueberries:  Improves memory.
  • Whole wheat grains:  Helps to better utilize energy sources of the brain.
  • Eggs:  Brain and memory development.
  • Tomatoes:  Improves brain development and decreases inflammation.
  • Pumpkin seeds:  Better memory.
  • Blackcurrants:  Reverses manifestations of aging such as rapid memory loss.
  • Sage:  Enhances memory and concentration.
  • Broccoli:  Improves cognitive functions such as attention span, concentration, and memory.

On the other hand, avoid eating the following to maximize your brainpower:

  • Soda:  Hampers learning and memory.
  • Canned fish:  Negatively affects mood and thinking.
  • Ribeye steak:  Increases the risk for dementia.
  • Frozen pies and pizza:  Decreases concentration and attention span.
  • Soy sauce:  May lead to dementia and brain artery damage when consumed in excess.
  • Ice cream:  May cause impaired cognition and increased risk of dementia when eaten too much.
  • Cured meat:  May cause mood swings.
  • White rice:  Causes weakness and fatigue when consumed excessively.
  • French fries:  May cause brain-related problems such as stroke.
  • Alcoholic drinks:  Impairs concentration and focus.

Regular Exercise

Exercise at least 3-5 times a week. This helps improve your brain function by enhancing the rate of oxygen that gets to your brain. In effect, this helps improve the functions of your nervous system because you essentially provide it with more fuel. This also pumps up more feel-good hormones in your system. These hormones, known as endorphins, help uplift your mood. As a result, you get to focus more on what you do, thus improving your productivity levels.

There are various exercises you can do to stimulate brain function. Some of these include jogging, dancing, biking, weight lifting, and swimming. Even brisk walking can be considered a good exercise. Just make sure that the activity is slightly more difficult than the usual level of activities you perform.

Make sure to include a 5-minute warm-up before the exercise and a 5-minute cool down after to prevent or minimize muscle soreness. Also, perform the exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes to raise your heart rate to the ideal level.

Music

Studies show that children who frequently listen to piano-accompanied music are a lot better in activities that require focus and increased concentration, such as solving puzzles. In another study, children who were exposed to classical music before taking IQ tests garnered higher scores than children who were required to listen to relaxation music and children who took the exam in complete silence.

Writing

Writing is considered a way to tell your brain what is important. It helps with recall and clarifies thoughts. This also helps hone your creativity and your analytical skills. Before working on any tasks for the day, make it a point to write 500 words a day.

The rule is simple: Write down any random thought until you reach the 500-word mark. The goal is to warm up your brain for more activities throughout the day. The composition does not have to be free from grammatical errors. It also doesn’t have to make much sense to anyone because you’re the only one who will have access to it.

Hobbies

For quite a number of people, hobbies are referred to as relaxing activities. In the context of boosting productivity, this is considered a form of active rest. Studies show that people with hobbies that are unrelated to their line of work are more successful and productive in the workplace. In fact, those who engage more in these activities perform better than those who do not have at least one hobby.

There is a wide array of hobbies to choose from if you still do not have one. You may consider photography, carpentry, baking, sewing, and knitting. Hobbies should be fun. You may even wan to share your finished products in the workplace to add to the beneficial aspects of having a hobby.  Who knows, you may discover shared interests to help build bonds with colleagues.

In the end…

You don’t even have to spend a lot of money to help improve your productivity with a hobby. All you need is some dedicated time to train your brain daily with your chosen activity, and, by doing any of these regularly, you will start to see some results in a couple of weeks or months.

Best Virtual Personal Assistance Approach to Prevent Burnout

Fred and Alice are siblings who run different kinds of e-commerce stores. Alice is very passionate about make-up while her brother loves to sell gaming consoles. Both their stores are currently doing great. To help free up their workload, they decided to get the best virtual personal assistance in their fields.

Like her client, Alice’s VA is always excited to work on the store no matter how heavy the workload gets. On the other hand, Fred’s VA is not doing so well and seems to be on the brink of burnout due to lots of pending work. To help with her brother’s problem, Alice gave him some tips to help him and his VA through the hurdle. She shared what she taught her assistant so they can also apply the concepts ASAP.

 

Awareness is Key

If you don’t know the nature of the problem, you will have a problem solving it. Therefore, one way to prevent burnout is to determine if you are even dealing with it in the first place. For that matter, knowing its difference from stress and identifying the signs and symptoms are helpful first steps.

 

How is stress different from burnout?

Stress is a physical, emotional, and mental manifestation that usually takes place in bouts. It’s possible to be stressed for around five minutes. It’s also possible to be stressed for three days straight. With rest and some basic coping mechanisms (i.e., meeting with friends or going for a quick hike), these tend to go away.

On the other hand, burnout is a more complicated concern. It is a result of lots of consecutive and even simultaneous stressful episodes that lead to a breakdown. Unlike stress, you cannot easily address burnout using quick fixes that normally works for “stress episodes”. Also, the manifestations are worse than a short and stressful episode. For one thing, burnout can sap a person’s willingness to do what they need to do. Aside from that, this lack of motivation lasts for more than just a few days. In some cases, it even leads to problems such as anxiety and depression.

 

What are the signs that a burnout is underway?

In the case of Fred’s best virtual personal assistance provider, he seems to be so down while working on his tasks. Initially, the low spirits just last for a span of about two days. Lately, it seems that his depressed state remains.

He also showed indications of constant exhaustion even during days with relatively lower workloads. In fact, he seemed not to be interested in working anymore. Even if he showed up for work, he seemed not to pay much attention to his tasks. In addition, it appeared that he practically dragged himself to work even though he was home-based.

Aside from these, the VA’s quality of work started to decline. It initially started with some minor slip=ups that eventually became too frequent not to be noticed. At the time, there were too many errors, and Fred talked to him in private to see if there was something that he could do to help. To his surprise, his VA tried to deny that something was wrong and that he had nothing to worry about. Fred would not have it and taught him what his sister told him about prevention techniques for burnout. Hard as it may seem for Fred, he let his VA go for a leave of absence for one month so that he could rest and get himself together. Below, you will the changes the assistant made on his leave of absence.

 

Breathing and meditation exercises

First, assume a comfortable position such as sitting or lying down. Focus on one word, phrase, or object while doing this exercise. If possible, close your eyes while you are at it. Take a deep breath through the nose, hold your breath, count to three, and slowly exhale through the mouth. Be aware of how your breath feels against your nose, mouth, and skin. Repeat the technique for about ten more times and assess how you feel at the moment. Even if you’re currently feeling a negative emotion at the time, never fail to acknowledge it. This approach brings forth awareness not only of your body but also of your mind and your emotions.

 

Practice thankfulness

It may be the fact that you woke up this morning or someone gave you a piece of your favorite candy without any apparent reason. Whatever it is and however small the thing may seem, be thankful for it. Write your thoughts down in a journal daily. State something about the person, thing, or gesture that you are thankful about. Talk about how it made you feel and why you think it’s important. If possible, also discuss how it caused an impact on your day, big or small. Acknowledging such things helps rewire your brain and your thoughts. In the long run, it can help create positive thoughts, especially when done with the help of a healthcare professional.

 

Get away from work from time to time

In the case of Fred’s VA, Fred made sure that during the month-long break, he could do whatever he used to love. He also made sure that his VA knew to seek medical assistance to help him cope and recover from his condition. During this time, Fred made it a point to make his VA report to him on a weekly basis. During that period, his VA went out for nature trips, friend and family gatherings, and even art sessions. When he returned to work, he performed even better than when Fred first brought him to the team.

 

Epilogue

After a few weeks of implementing these techniques, Fred’s best virtual personal assistance partner was doing great. In fact, he even exceeded Fred’s expectations in terms of performance. He also turned in deliverables not only on time but earlier than his deadlines. Right now, Fred also applies the techniques that his sister taught him to help him improve his productivity levels as well.

Virtual Personal Assistant Routines to Improve Productivity

Annabelle always feels at awe whenever she has Dorothy, her virtual personal assistant, do important and urgent tasks for her. Dorothy seems so efficient at what she does that Annabelle can’t help but feel fond of her. When she asked her VA how she finishes her ton of daily tasks, Dorothy was quick to say that she makes sure not to break her routines. Here are some of the tips that she shared with Annabelle:

 

Start off your virtual personal assistant day with some exercise.

The exercise actually doesn’t have to be too strenuous, as opposed to the common belief. It can be as simple as a bout of stretches done for about 10 minutes at a time. It can also be around five minutes’ worth of walking and you’re good to go. The main goal is to make sure that you’re “awake enough” to do the rest of the tasks for the day. In our virtual personal assistant’s case, she typically gets up  around 5 AM and brisk walks her way to the nearest bakery to get her breakfast. It’s already productive in the sense that she already accomplished two things: Getting her breakfast while performing her routine to prepare for more mentally-draining work.

 

Eat your breakfast.

Dorothy does not recommend just having a random granola bar for breakfast. She meant having a full and nutritious meal to help with the first part of the day, at the very least. Nutritionists advise having breakfast with carbohydrates, protein, and a little fat in it will help to begin the day.

Here are some great combos you can try out:

  • A piece of hard-boiled egg, a couple of slices of toast, and half an avocado.
  • A cup of fruit yogurt, a slice of broiled chicken, and a cup of whole wheat oatmeal.
  • An egg sandwich, a piece of apple, and a cup of coffee.

 

Deal with the most difficult tasks in the morning.

This is important because if you’re still feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep (assuming that you did sleep well the previous night), there’s a great chance you’ll be up for tasks that require a high level of concentration.

In contrast, leave easier tasks for the afternoon. As the day wears on, so will your mind. If you do the easiest tasks first, chances are you’ll no longer have much energy to deal with the more difficult tasks for the latter part of the day. Because it will harder for you to focus on these tasks by then, you may also have problems in terms of the quality of output.

Which brings us to the next tip…

 

Prioritize what you need to do for the day.

Based on the tip stated above, you have to deal with the most difficult tasks first to be more productive. To determine what tasks will take much of your time, you need to know what they are!

Five-minute hack: Have a rundown of all the things that you have to do for the day. You do not even have to rank them or consider them as urgent or important. Just list down the things that come to mind. After that, select the top three things that you think will take a lot of your time during the day. Rank these according to priority or urgency. Focus on these tasks first. Never move on to your other tasks unless you’re already finished with your top three.

 

Watch what you eat.

Before you know it, that sugar-packed bag of sweets that you just had earlier will take its toll on you. It will eventually make you feel drowsy. Result? You’ll end up not doing as much during the afternoon. Another result? You’re about to miss a deadline.

Sure, this seems like exaggerating, but the point is you have to make sure that what you eat will help you focus more during the day. This does not necessarily mean that you need to throw out every sweet you have in your stash. This just means that you have to keep everything in moderation and ensure that you have proper nutrition even before you set off for the day.

It actually happened to Dorothy. Since this virtual personal assistant is trying to lose some weight anyway, she gave up on the sweets and looked for healthier alternatives such as apples and bananas. These food finds not only keep her awake in the afternoon but also improve her concentration levels.

 

Read an article before you set off for work.

If you’re not a fan of reading, take baby steps first. Read at least 500 words of a light article. By mentioning light, it means an article with a topic that does not drain your energy. At the same time, the article should provide you with some insights or substantial takeaways that you can ponder on during your downtime.

 

If you want to take it up a notch, write.

This does not mean that your writing needs to be “perfect”. In fact, it can be anything under the sun. It can be a random thought or a plan that you’ve been dying to implement since last month. Talk about it in your entry. Don’t be afraid of being judged – it’s for your eyes only. More than the content of what you write, the intent of writing is more important. In this case, writing serves as a warm-up for your brain and provides some stimuli to your brain in preparation for the more tedious tasks ahead.

 

The bottom line

You can’t develop routines and habits overnight. In Dorothy’s case, it took her at least a month to at least work on the routines “automatically”. Therefore, never feel disheartened if you don’t feel like doing much at the time. As long as you work on your consistency each day, there will come a time that you can be slaying it with your skills and your drive to make the most out of each day.

E-mail Hacks to Effectively Organize Your Inbox

One of the most common means to communicate online is through e-mails. John knows this too well. This is one of the reasons he hired his new virtual assistant.

Things are now going smoothly as far as answering e-mails are concerned. John can take care of his business while his assistant ensures that every e-mail is answered adequately. However, as his business began to gain traction over the last few months, the e-mail bulk started piling up faster than his VA could accommodate. His VA should answer at least 80 e-mails per day. In some cases, she was able to answer more than a hundred on extremely busy days. How did he handle this without hiring another VA? He taught his assistant the following e-mail hacks.

Use the “three-category system” to classify the mails.

He instructed her to set three main categories for efficiency:

  • Sales/Customer Transactions
  • Inquiries
  • For John’s direct handling (receipts, important documents, and statements of accounts)

John advised his VA to do this as soon as she was done clocking in. This helped lessen the guesswork that came with analyzing each message. Looking for common keywords may also help with the classification of each mail.

There’s just one exception to this technique: If she can answer the e-mail right away after seeing it, she might as well go ahead and do it. If it takes her more than 5 seconds to think of a cohesive response, it’s better to place it in one of the three folders until later.

John also recommended his VA to classify the e-mails according to business needs or personal preferences. Here are two possible choices you may use as well:

  • Deadline-focused: You may use later, tomorrow, and next week as your three categories.
  • Action-focused: You may utilize refer, reply, and hold as the folders.

John’s VA uses the deadline-focused classification system. John’s transactions are time-sensitive, after all. The system helps her prioritize which e-mail should be answered first. In the long run, this helped them timely close the most number of deals in a week. Classifying emails increased customer satisfaction and lessened stress for the VA and the business owner. This is a win-win situation!

Cut down on unnecessary e-mail queues.

John taught his VA to set blocks of time to reply to different types of e-mails. For example, the first three hours of the shift is used to address inquiries alone. The next four hours are used for the transactions. Allocating tasks using this technique helps his VA focus more on answering the same types of questions. She can do this without compromising the quality of the message. Also, she will not lose her momentum easily because she only has to think about one general theme (read one type of e-mail topic) at a time.

He also trained his VA to scan the e-mails to see if the messages needed replies in the first place. There’s no need for a reply if the e-mail only contains a simple thank you. Responding with “you’re welcome” is not only counterproductive but also a time-waster. The VA may instead archive or delete the message after receiving it.

Installing or setting up an e-mail filter is another e-mail hack that helps significantly lower the queues to a manageable number. In this case, John set up the e-mail software to whitelist potential customers and business partners. This helps prioritize the whitelisted people when they send an e-mail to John’s company. The other filtered mails are answered at a later time.

To further reinforce this filtering system, he also taught his VA to identify spam e-mails from the typical ones. Pressing the “mark as spam” button teaches the software over time to identify messages that are not important. Experts say that this can significantly lower the queues by as much as 30%.

Compose canned messages.

If John’s VA will manually answer the same set of questions with the same set of answers for the entire day, it would drive her nuts! Just imagine saying the same thing to different people throughout the day. You’ll surely end up exhausted and exasperated. To address this concern, John required his assistant to come up with the company’s FAQs. From there, she had to compose the most common but comprehensive answers possible. This saved her a lot of time in the process.

John did not interfere with how his VA chose her template and how she applied each one as appropriate. In this case, she used Sticky Notes so she can easily copy and paste her replies to each message. Take note that while this may be the best approach for her, it is not the only one available. For instance, Google Mail also provides this feature.

E-mail hacks, in a nutshell…

Answering e-mails is possibly a waste of time depending on how you handle it. It is much easier for you to use the rest of the time to take care of other more important tasks once you learn the ropes. Using plug-ins and tools can further improve the way you handle the messages in the long run. Right now, John’s company receives wonderful feedback on how timely they take care of customers’ concerns through email, and this is thanks to a set of simple e-mail hacks!

Dedicated Assistant Guide: Done vs. Perfect

Charlie is a very busy CEO. Aside from juggling with management-related tasks, he also attends graduate studies to further boost his arsenal of skills and expertise. Being a working student brings about a lot of sleep-deprived nights and a lot of caffeine-boosted mornings and evenings. He finally tried to snap out of the cycle and hired Warren, a dedicated assistant, to help him.

Having Warren on the team is one of the best decisions that Charlie has made since building his company. He was able to take a lot of things off his plate in a breeze and seems to get a lot more done than he can do himself. However, there is still a lot that needs to be done that he can’t delegate to his dedicated assistant. Aside from paperwork, he has to take care of the financial part of the business and talk to potential clients. Right now, his main problem is how to get everything done without compromising the quality of his work.

Charlie has always been a perfectionist. This is especially true when it comes to written work. He would literally take hours to complete a single page of text for his clients to review. Before he knew it, each workday came to close, and he had yet to take care of other things. Warren saw this concern and offered him some insights to get things done.

Prioritize the tasks.

Almost all the productivity tricks that you can get from most experts will require you to know which task should come first. Charlie’s dedicated assistant asked him to determine which of the tasks are important and which are urgent. To this, Charlie remarked that all tasks are important in the first place. So they proceeded to analyze which of the tasks should come first.

At the time they were discussing the above, Charlie pointed out three important tasks that he needed to do:

  1. Existing clients’ invoices
  2. First draft for his school presentation
  3. Draft of the contract for new clients

The invoices should be turned in the next day. The school presentation draft was due the next week while the contract drafts were to be be done in three days’ time. Sequencing the tasks according to priority was not much of a problem. However, Charlie dwelling on an item for too long would be concerning.  His dedicated assistant saw this as a potential problem, and he then proceeded to the next tip to prevent this from happening.

Set a deadline for each task.

During this phase, Warren reminded the CEO that he does not have to make the paperwork perfect – he just needs to complete them for the time being. To do this, they agreed on a set time slot for each task. Charlie needed to issue 10 invoices for the next day, so they set a maximum of 30 minutes for each. That means he should complete this task in 5 hours or less.

After that, Warren will help him distribute these to his clients so Charlie can work on the contract draft. For this task, they agreed to have the task done in about 10 hours. Warren will then take care of proofreading and editing before sending out the final copy.

For the final task, they divided the presentation into four parts. These will be due in four days. Charlie will work on one part of the presentation per day and Warren will help recheck each part.

Have the correct mindset.

Charlie was obsessed with the idea that he should present paperwork that reflects the company which for him meant high quality work that was free from mistakes. The point is, no company is perfect. In fact, his clients don’t care much if the invoice and the contract he sends have impeccable spelling and grammar. As long as the essential information in each document is accurate, they’re good to go and ready to close the deal with him anyway.

Upon closer examination, Charlie’s dedicated assistant noticed that the perfectionism came from previously given ill-worded feedback a few years back. Charlie was too afraid to make the same mistakes again so he made sure that investors would not see any loopholes as far as spelling and grammar were concerned.

While this is a good approach, it actually defeats the purpose of being productive because the tension from incomplete tasks piles up the more time he spent polishing a single line of text. Warren advised him to not focus on the feelings of shame and judgment while working on the papers. After all, he does the important work to further the name of the company. Therefore, he might as well focus on getting more done so the company can benefit a lot from it in the long run.

The Dedicated Assistant’s Main Takeaway

At the end of the workweek, Charlie was thankful to have his dedicated assistant around. Because of that, he managed to complete everything in time. He also had the best week ever in terms of sleep! By the time the following week came rolling in, he managed to recharge. Because of this, he closed new deals with new clients, maintained great relationships with existing ones, and aced his school presentation. Along the way, Warren constantly reminded him not to be afraid of making mistakes. In this case, his VA told him that he should not be too conscious of committing some minor grammatical errors one way or another.

Efficient Ways to Have More Free Time

A typical office workday has its employees working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This 8-hour grind is not a magic number, sadly, but a product of an outdated workplace concept. On average, each employee is expected to have increased productivity during a 40-hour workweek – sometimes even more! However, studies show that expectations are meant to face disappointment because an increase in working hours does not necessarily translate to better output, and this is in terms of both quality and quantity. More free time is the latest hit!

Why is it having a shorter work week popular these days?

In a nutshell, working shorter hours within the week gives people extra time for things that mean more to them, may it be a hobby such as gardening or volunteer work that requires teaching kids at least 5 hours in a week.  Hobbies and other meaningful work helps to give meaning or purpose to our lives and can even aid in fueling out passion and overall satisfaction at work.

How do I get started in getting more free time?

First off, you have to consider the tasks that are urgent and important. List them down and prioritize them according to when it is needed and how massive the task at hand is. You may then proceed with the following tips:

1. Set a workweek “budget”.

If you’re reading this article, it most likely means you want to work less than 40 hours a week. In this case, you have to set a realistic yet comfortable number of hours that you can’t be disturbed. Depending on the nature of your work and responsibilities, it can be somewhere between 15 to 30 hours a week. Make sure to stick to it for the rest of the week. If you change your mind and realize that you have to render more or less time, go for it the week after.

Suppose you picked 15 working hours for this week, determine the number of days you can work on your tasks for that week. If you need to be present online for most days of the week, perhaps a 3-hour work day for 5 days of the week is a good call. Just make sure that when you work, you will anticipate the distractions. If you still don’t have an idea how to manage distractions, don’t worry. We also have a separate article for that.

2. Determine a limited working time for each task.

This is known as “time boxes”. Usually, people have the tendency to stretch the length of work time depending on the amount of time allotted for the task. Therefore, if you give yourself the entire day to work on a task, effects can be detrimental as you’re prone to distractions such as other side tasks that are not as urgent or as important. Set at least one hour to finish one task. If you’re having trouble completing it within this given time-frame, consider breaking it down into smaller chunks of work.

For example, if you’re working on an illustration for your company’s poster, break down this large task into these smaller ones: Creating the rough sketch, smoothing out the lines, coloring in the image, and working on the finishing touches. It seems almost impossible to work on that illustration within just an hour (unless you’re super fast and talented allowing you to whip up an image within a very short span of time). Therefore, we can break down the smaller tasks into 30-minute or one-hour increments depending on the complexity of the poster that you intend to complete.

3. Master the art of setting boundaries.

This is a problem if you’re too hardworking and you don’t want to place the burden on anyone but yourself. While it’s a sweet and thoughtful gesture, keep in mind that you can’t do everything – and you don’t have to! Check your list of tasks and see if only you can handle it. If you think someone else may be up for the job, you may politely decline the task and recommend another person for consideration. Doing this will not only avoid bad blood in the workplace but can also help promote teamwork in the long run.

4. Dedicate a specific time slot for bulky and monotonous tasks.

One of the most common tasks that can really be exhausting is answering e-mails with similar content. Before you know it, this will burn you out even before the day starts.

If you don’t have to answer all the e-mails at once, it may be best to pace your e-mail tasks. Consider distributing the task for the entire week. If you’ve dedicated a 3-hour session for each day, allot 30 minutes of that to e-mails.

5. Never touch work when it’s not within schedule.

The rigidity will help you stay focused because of the limited time you need to spend on it. Aside from helping you reduce distractions, this will help you reduce the frequency of errors. In effect, this increases your overall efficiency.

6. Outsource the rest of your tasks.

If you have little experience working on a task, ask for help from experts. If you need some help looking for a virtual assistant under your niche, we can try to help you.

Where do I go from here?

The main point of reducing your working hours is to make time for more meaningful things. These may be in the form of quality family time, a hobby, or a charity movement. If you manage your time wisely, you may even be able to accomplish all three at once! At the end of the day, working will not define who you are. There’s so much more to life than that!

Boost Productivity for Your Dedicated Assistant by Setting Your Schedule Right

If you have a lot of major tasks laid out for the entire day it can really be overwhelming especially if those tasks need to be done within the day. In some instances, you may even find it hard to get started. One way to help counteract this problem is to set up a routine for you and your dedicated assistant. This routine, when carefully planned out, can provide much-needed structure. This, in turn, can lead to systematic completion of tasks without stressing you out so much. Read on to know how you can implement proper scheduling in your routine.

Determine the number of working hours.

As much as possible, allot the average number of hours that you work in a typical day for the scheduling. Include meetings and calls in your total computation. If possible, make these activities short and sweet. Going for this approach helps everyone get to the point because of the limited time. This eventually helps you save more time.

Decide on your working approach.

When you set blocks of time for the tasks, try to set them in 30-minute intervals. During this period, make sure that you will only focus on the task set out before you. After this period, allot 5 to 10 minutes for a break in between tasks. After two hours of working on a large task, take a longer break that lasts for 15 to 30 minutes. By using this technique, you can stay productive without taking a toll on your body.

A word of caution though: If you intend to approach your tasks using this technique, make sure that the time slot where you will place the task will indeed be uninterrupted. This is a technique that does not allow you to pause in between and just return when you feel like it. If you do this, it defeats the purpose of this approach.

If you are not a fan of this technique, you may also go for a 90-minute interval work period. In this approach, you will be asked to work for 90 minutes with minimal to no interruptions. After that, you may rest for about 20 to 30 minutes. The intense work session during the 90-minute duration is set at that length to ensure a good attention span. If you try to extend the working period beyond this, your productivity levels will most likely go down.

List the tasks that you need to complete for the week.

At this point, you don’t have to think about priorities and sequencing. Just go ahead and list your tasks as they occur in your mind. After listing them, place them in clusters. There isn’t a hard and fast rule on clustering. Just make sure that you group them according to how you will work on them and how urgent these tasks are. For instance, you may group them according to the nature of the tasks. E-mails and correspondence go together, meetings and phone calls can be clustered, and so on.

Block out specific times of the day for specific tasks.

Plan each day at least one day in advance and assign specific hours to certain tasks. There are two main types of time blocks.

  • Reactive time blocks are those that you can allocate for tasks that may be interrupted. Some tasks that may be placed under this category include spontaneous meetings and answering automated e-mails.
  • On the other hand, proactive blocks are used to pave way for important tasks that may not be interrupted. Some tasks under this group include creating a business model and drafting important documents.

Be accountable for the time you spend on each activity.

If you are having a hard time keeping track of the time you spend on each task, have someone else help you do this. Tell them of your intent to boost your productivity while keeping tabs of the time you are supposed to spend on each activity. You may even go as far as to report your progress to this person.

Dedicated Assistant Tip: Include personal time in the your of priorities.

Now that you have plotted your average working time for the week, the rest of the time for that week should be spent on your personal life. Unlike your working schedule, you don’t have to go for rigid structure. Just allot a personal activity for each day or block out one or two days in a week and you are good to go.

Take note that when you set up a routine, you need to be consistent with what you planned out. At the same time, you need to be ready for urgent events that may spontaneously arise during the day. Aside from the tasks that you need to complete within the day, you should not forget to incorporate some rest periods in between demanding activities. That way, you will not burn out. Remember, you are following a routine, so expect that most days are structured according to your planned schedule. In the end, your schedule might as well be an enjoyable one.

7 Tips on How to Keep Work Off and Enjoy Days Off

Fashion photograph designed by Jcomp – Freepik.comHaving a day off from work should mean exactly that. A day far from normal working day schedule and should be very different from other days of weekdays. Unfortunately, with persistent bad habits and technology, it has been a challenge for most people to enjoy days off from work. Numerous individuals have not mastered the art of having fun and letting go off work during these important days. From time to time, you get some days off and it is during this time that you should rejuvenate and re-energize. To others, days off seem like working days continuation due to their normal routines. However, to some, days are spoilt by calls from work to come and assist. This is your day off, the day’s routine should also change. Below are some useful tips on how to enjoy days off. You will also be enlightened o how to step in for urgent tasks during your days off without really stepping in. Here you go.

7. Keep off from normal day schedule

When it is your day off, your daily routine should change. For example, do not be up too early. This is your day to relax and if possible, take your breakfast in bed. It should be a unique day where everything is different from a normal day. If you carry out activities as usual, you will not embrace or appreciate the day. This is the day where you should refresh yourself, treat yourself and do some offbeat. You should, therefore, be creative in order to ensure that your days off are special and thoroughly enjoyed.

6. Take your time

During normal working days, everything is rushed and done in a hurry. This is to meet deadlines among other things. This is now the world of technology and information and for this reason, demands are higher. Hence, productivity requires more efficiency. This translates to workers working at faster rates than it has ever been done. If you handle tasks slowly, you become less competitive and you risk getting sacked anytime someone potential shows up for your role. This is why it is important to handle things slowly when the time allows. During your days off, do not do things the way you do them. Days off are days to be more relaxed and calm enjoying and appreciating every minute that passes. Whatever you engage in during this day, whether it is shopping or treating yourself, ensure that you take your time. Give every activity ample time to enjoy days off and the experiences that come with it.

5. Hiring a virtual assistant

Being your day off does not mean someone from work cannot call you and ask you to step in for urgent assistant. This happens almost every time simply because there are those who will view days off as wasted time. These people will, therefore, assign you duties all over sudden and they cannot wait for you to come back. They need you during those days when you are free. In such a case, should you wait for urgent tasks to go beyond deadlines and lose clients? No, this is where you step in without really stepping in. You do this by hiring a virtual assistant. Virtual personal assistants will help you to handle tasks that are light. You can later attend to what needs you when you have time to do so. They ensure that urgent tasks have been attended to prevent things from going wrong when you are on your day off. However, in this case, you only need to hire the best.

4. Plan ahead

There are those few individuals who will do things well without planning. However, majority of the people lie on the other side. Those that need to have a to- do- list in order for them to carry tasks out well and in order. If you do not have a plan, you will end up doing things randomly and at the end of the day, you will be tired, having enjoyed nothing. It will be better and more helpful to have a list of things that you will engage in in order to enjoy days off.

3. Disconnect from work

It is through the PDA’S, blackberries, internet and laptops that we keep track of our working progress. These devices help us to connect to our tasks 24/7. This is very positive when it comes to productivity. However, for a day off, they will not give you a chance to keep off and refuel your creativity and energy. It is for this reason why you should avoid anything that can bring your work closer to your day off. They are the devices that will take you to work mode when you need an off mode. Anything from your job should be shut off completely if you want to enjoy days off.

2. Treat yourself

A day off should be a rewarding day. It creates perfect time to spoil yourself. Pamper yourself a little like dining at a favorite restaurant, getting a massage, little shopping and such like things. With so doing, you will not only miss your day off, but also increase the appreciation of such a day. It does not matter what treat you do to yourself, but if you associate your days off with rewards, they will be more productive. Working is fun and you might be in love with your job, but you should be in love with your off day even more.

1. Get fresh air

Unless you work outside in nature, the time employees spend in concrete buildings is astoundingly high if it were to be calculated. During your lifetime, much of your time is spent indoors and so you do not get fresh air as you ought to or as you would love to. This is perfectly the reason why a day off should be spent outside in nature. You should not necessarily be out throughout the day, but you can take a walk to the park or ride a bicycle for some change. Exposure to nature is important as this is when you get rid of anxiety and stress. This way you get to enjoy days off since they become unique and interesting. If you do your work indoors, you should not spend a day off watching TV or in front of a computer. Make a change, you do this adequately every day of the week.

The tips above are going to help you enjoy days off. They will help you make a difference between a normal working schedule and a day off. They will bring back the art of enjoying days off like you should. Relaxing, rejuvenating, and resting will bring even more productivity to your work. Days off are not wasted they might be the most important of your working days.