There Might Be A Better Way To Batch Your Tasks…

There Might Be A Better Way To Batch Your Tasks…

Last week we looked at how we can block out time in our week to make sure we are getting the most of our time. This week, I’m going to be telling you about how we can batch your tasks for EVEN MORE productivity. I know, it sounds extreme. It’s not. It’s actually quite smart! As a virtual assistant, I use this technique every single day of my life.

Batching means grouping tasks. But the killer question is, HOW do you batch them? The obvious solution may be to batch them according to what you need to do – for example, do all the emails together. It is an entirely valid way to do it, but I’m going to suggest a few different ways to give you inspiration.

Batching by Context

This is something I do when working on specific clients. I have one client who has a very ‘Mean Girls’esque feeling to their business, and I find that when I am working on something for her, it is very difficult to work on something else in the middle because I need to summon up my inner Regina George. Because I have such a diverse range of client, this strategy works well for my work day. I have clients across education, beauty, professional services and the charity sector, and each of these has a very different feel to the next, and so it makes sense to batch tasks according to the company, to keep my mindset in with the vibe of the business.

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Batching by Task

When it comes to grouping by task, I recommend focusing on one client or context. For example, if you have a lot of emails to send across three or four different contexts (personal, family, work, side hustle), I do not recommend clumping these all together, because it just gets too confusing. You don’t want to email your child’s teacher about the latest offer at your business by accident.

Then, you should sort your tasks for that client of context by category. For me, I have a range of tasks I do, and I sort my tasks like this:

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This enables me to stay in one software item at a time, with minimal flicking between screens. Screen switching is a huge time consumer. Consider how many times you do it in a day. Unless you have a multi-monitor set up, I imagine this will be a lot!

Batching by Time

One of my top tips is, if it takes less than one minute, do it NOW! But if you have a LOT of 1 minute tasks that will mean stopping what you are doing, you can batch these together.

Here are the time categories I group by:

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I have one hour per day which I protect for admin. In this hour, I’ll first tackle all the one minute or less tasks, then the tasks that take 1-5 minutes. Then, if I have finished them all, I’ll look at how long I have left, and choose a task from the list that closest fits that time.

Batching by Energy Levels

Having an intuitive knowledge of my energy levels, I know that there are certain times of day where actually, I should not be doing certain tasks. The first hour and last hour of the day, for example, are really bad for me. My focus is at its best between 8am and 3pm. In addition to this, I am human and sometimes I’m tired or lacking mojo. On days like this, I divide my list as follows:

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Some tasks, such as things relating to my charity, require me to be strong and boundaried. If I’m feeling ‘meh’, I won’t put these tasks on my list. Do you think the Queen does things she hasn’t the energy for? NO. No, she does not. Other things require me to be compassionate – which can be quite emotionally exhausting. I will only schedule one of these slots every few days to prevent emotional burnout, and I will schedule self care for the 30 minutes immediately after.

If I am aware my brain is not able to focus, I’ll put my shallow tasks into a block and go through them. Shallow tasks are things such as simple emails, adding formatting to documents, scheduling social media posts and diary management, and tasks like this are usually ‘quick wins’, which I personally find very gratifying. One bonus of grouping the tasks this way is that if often drives me back into focus so I can follow it up with a deep task, such as proofreading.

The final way I will sometimes group tasks is by high/low energy. I also often subdivide these into impact in a graph like this:

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I will then gauge my energy levels, and start with the high impact tasks for that category, and follow it up with the low impact tasks. Need a quick win? Go for low energy/high impact.

The Bottom Line

All of these methods are entirely valid, and you may vary which one you use from one day to the next. The important thing is choosing a system that works for you. If you aren’t sure, you can book a productivity consultation with me to discuss your needs in more depth.

For more tips and advice on how to become more productive, sign up to my newsletter, which will give you lifetime access to my range of free printables!

How to Timeblock: A Beginner’s Guide

How to Timeblock: A Beginner’s Guide

As a virtual assistant, I work for a number of different clients. If I didn’t organise my time thoroughly, I guarantee that I would spend my day going round in circles. This is why I use Timeblocking.

As I mentioned last week, timeblocking is simply a way of timetabling your day so that you use your time for the things you should be doing. Sounds simple, but let’s be honest, how many of us start doing a piece of work, then check our emails, go back to the piece of work, then check our phone, then we see someone has liked our post on Facebook, then we remember the work we are supposed to be doing, and all of a sudden it’s lunchtime and you’ve done 30 minutes of work?

How to Start

Before you try and timetable your day, you should write a Master To Do List. My Work Week To Do list (free!!) is great for this. Sit with a piece of paper and write down every single thing that you know needs to be done, whether it is work related, home life, personal, side-hustle related… write it all on a list. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll have already done this in preparation for this week’s blog!

Sort Your List

Next, sort your list into categories. Mine are Client Work (which I divide up by client), Personal Work, Housework, Family and Charity. By sorting the tasks, you should see which lists are longer, which are shorter, which are more time heavy etc.

Allocate Time

How long do you think each list will take? This will vary vastly from person to person, depending on their individual skills, the nature of the tasks, and more. Be reasonable with your time, but not overly generous. I’ll give an example from my personal list here.

  • Write a questionnaire
  • Edit flyer
  • Distribute flyer
  • Send out email newsletter (including writing content)
  • Schedule video calls with clients 1, 2 and 3.

I know that editing the flyer should take less than 15 minutes, and composing the email to distribute it will take less than 5. The email newsletter could take up to an hour as I would need to compile the information for it and then create the email and send it around. Writing the questionnaire could take an hour – unless I can find a template, which I will try and do to save some time – no more than 10 minutes looking for a template. Scheduling the video calls is something that I automate, so sending my booking link to the three clients will take less than 2 minutes. In total, that list should take me about 2 and a half hours.

Repeat this step for each of your lists.

Block Your Time

Using my new February Printable, you can block your time on a day-by-day basis. I start my timeblocking from 7am, but realistically you can start it at any time of the day. For this step, you will need coloured pens or pencils – a different colour for each list. You know how much time each list will take, so you can either block out a chunk where you do all the work, or you can break it down. Whatever works best for you! The first few days or weeks will be a little bit of trial and error as you establish how you work best.

Here is an example of my day:

This is my Clever Fox daily planner. You can buy it here

The pink colour is my Stephanie Ward – Productivity Guru time, yellow is for household stuff, green is for a specific client for whom I have scheduled tasks throughout the day, purple is a different client for whom I do a block of work once a week, blue is for my charity and orange is my personal time. In the orange sections, I do things to replenish myself, such as reading, playing on my laptop, relaxing with my family, or listening to an audio book.

THESE REPLENISHMENT BLOCKS ARE JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE ONES WHERE YOU ARE PRODUCTIVE!!

Do I need to say it louder for the people at the back?

So, I’ve blocked out my day, where does my list come into this?

It’s simple, you choose the corresponding list at the time of day which you have blocked out, and you just work through it! In my 7am block I have a pink block which means my business admin, so I’ll choose the Stephanie Ward – Productivity Guru list, and just start working through that. When 8am comes, I’ll put down that list and switch to my household tasks. I don’t generally keep a list for my household tasks as it is the same each day – put Jack’s lunch in his bag, make his breakfast, iron uniform, dress us both. And then at 9:15 when he is at school, I switch to the green list for my client. And so on!

Sometimes it can help to subdivide your lists if you have a lot of similar tasks. Next week, I’ll also teach you different ways to batch your tasks for optimum success.

Please note, this blog contains a few affiliate links to products I use and love. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It helps me keep the lights on and provide for my family. I would never endorse a product I have not personally tried and loved.

What is Timeblocking?

What is Timeblocking?

This month my theme is one of my favourite productivity tools – the art of Timeblocking. I timeblock my week every week to maximise my productivity, and I find that the two hours a week I spend doing this is the reason I save FIVE TIMES that over the course of the rest of the week.

What is Timeblocking anyway?

Timeblocking is basically timetabling on steroids. You simply schedule in blocks of time into your week to allow for certain activities, such as work, lunch, education, financial management, housework and household administration.

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

What is the point of timeblocking though?

Timeblocking allows you to dedicate a specific block of time to an activity to allow pure focus on that one activity, without allowing yourself to get distracted by other tasks. For example, every Sunday night I dedicate two hours to my planning for the week. I focus entirely on planning. I turn the TV off and listen to music. I grab my Master To Do List, my timeblocking weekly sheet, and my timeblocking daily breakdown sheets, my coloured highlighters and my favourite pen. During this time, no matter what comes up, whether it is messages on social media, emails about work, or indeed anything that is NOT planning, it gets ignored.

There are some exceptions – emergencies such as fire or flood, toilet breaks if needed, and anything that absolutely cannot wait and harm will be done if I do wait until the end of my planning session. I do everything I can to reduce the disruptions – I feed my son before I sit down, I make sure my phone is on ‘Do Not Disturb’, with only my partner, my mother, my best friend and my son’s school able to get through during this time, so that notifications do not bother me.

Getting Started…

In order to make the most of Timeblocking, I want to first show you why it is so important. This week, as your homework, write out a list of every single thing that you need to do. Every. Damn. Thing. Here are some triggers to prompt you:

  • Household chores
  • Household admin, eg, paying bills, renewing insurance, sending forms into school
  • Work related to-do list
  • Medical admin, such as ordering prescriptions, booking appointments
  • Errands to run
  • Groceries and household items to replenish
  • Home maintenance tasks
  • Family members and pets
  • Education and personal development
  • Things to post
  • Things to chase up
  • Things to write
  • Meetings – in person and virtual

This week, you are NOT GOING TO TIMEBLOCK. You are going to write your list, and cross off anything you get done this week, writing next to it how long the task took. Keep hold of this list – you will need it next week when I teach you how to timeblock!

Have a productive week, and even if you don’t, keep coming back!

Working Mums Are Suffering the Most During the Pandemic… and Here’s Why

Working Mums Are Suffering the Most During the Pandemic… and Here’s Why

For the past ten years I have been ‘disabled’. I’m not asking for sympathy, it’s just a fact. I’ve worked intermittently throughout that period, but most of my time was focused on supporting my son and keeping myself together. Lockdown 1 was hard, having my son at home for a total of ten months because of school refusal…But it wasn’t until COVID-19 Lockdown 3.0, where I was no longer disabled and had returned to work, that I truly began to understand the pressure being placed on working parents during this lockdown, especially on women.

As well as being Your Productivity Guru, I am also the Chief Executive and Chair of the Board of Trustees at a charity working to combat the impact of COVID-19 on families with additional vulnerabilities. This means that I am a Key Worker under the government definition. In addition to this, my son has an EHCP, my partner is a police constable, but both my partner and son have asthma, making them more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, should they catch it. A lot of factors to balance when making decisions!

So, here are the observations I have made over the last 3 weeks since the new school term began:

  1. We are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t….send them to school.

If we send our kids to school, believe me we are aware of the risks of that. We don’t need other parents questioning if it is ‘really necessary’. If we are putting them into school during the plague, YES, we deem it necessary and we don’t need the judgement. BUT if we keep them at home, it dramatically reduces productivity, as well as the impact we can have in our daily job. For example, I make and take Peer Support Calls to the families we support via Zoom. I cannot do this with my son at home, as the nature of the calls can be particularly intimate and sometimes harrowing. Oh, and when exactly am I supposed to educate him? If I’m at my desk from 9-5, do I get him up at 5am to start the school work? One of my friends has two kids of very different ages and abilities at home, both have live lessons daily, and both require ‘additional’ support. Between supporting and educating both kids, she has very little time for housework, never mind actual paid employment!

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

2. He needs his rest – what about mine?

I love my partner, I really, really do. But when he is on a rest day from work, he rests. He might help with the school run, he might not. He might help with the cleaning, he might not. I appreciate fully that he needs his rest after doing three back to back 10 hour shifts. But that means I, and women like me, bear the brunt of the housework too. Before I sit down to work at 8am every day, I’ve made packed lunch for my son, emptied and loaded the dishwasher, set the laundry away, dressed my son, dressed myself, and fed the goldfish (Heady Goodie Spaghetti eyeballs me if I don’t feed him the moment I get up!). I spend 30 minutes logging into work stuff and making sure I’m abreast of everything, and then I take the boy to school. During that 40 minutes of school run, I could be doing my work… And I know I’m not alone. I’ve seen lots of children on Zoom calls lately coming to interrupt their mums, when Dad is also in the house. I thought I was the only one whose child actively walked past the man of the house to ‘ask mum’. I am not.

3. Our days are getting longer

Even for the most productive women, among which I include myself, the days are longer. Working at home brings a whole range of distractions compared to working in an office. Your normal hours may be 9-5, but many of the people I have spoken to are logging in earlier and logging out later to get the same amount or less work done.

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

4. Symptoms? IMPROMPTU DAY OFF!

Three times, three, my son, or my partner has developed COVID-19 symptoms, which have required them to get a COVID test. All three times, Jack has to be kept off school, Bryan has to work from home, I have to pick up the slack. Today, as I write this, we are waiting for a result. Jack won’t leave his room because he is worried Bryan will give him COVID, and so my day will be spent between waiting on Jack in his room, waiting on Bryan who admittedly isn’t feeling well, whether or not it is COVID, working, feeding everyone… I have a fully booked day and I’m now dealing with last minute changes.

In all this, I feel privileged with my productivity knowledge and experience that I can keep abreast of it all, but many working mums just feel like they are drowning. This all comes from outdated unconscious bias that ‘women keep house, man bring home bacon’. I’m honestly not surprised and yet I’m concerned that women, who already face the ‘motherhood penalty’ for taking maternity leave if they have children, are now facing the ‘COVID penalty’ too.

And so, I’m upping my game to help you. I’m offering 20% off my GYST package, Productivity Consultations, and Productivity Subscription Block Bookings bought before 31st January 2021. If you need a little help getting yourself back on track during lockdown, I’m here for you.

Why Should You Hire ME Anyway?

Why Should You Hire ME Anyway?

I often joke that I need a PA for all my community work, because it gets incredibly busy and lately, it is taking over my life. But honestly, what would I use a PA for? I have the skillset myself. But when you’re running a business, sometimes there isn’t enough time to fit everything in…

People use me for all sorts of reasons.

The thing is, when you’re running multiple enterprises at once, as many of us are, you will eventually find that the to-do list never ends, and delegating at least part of it can make a huge difference.

One of my favourite things to do is social media posting – for other people. My own social media often goes to the bottom of the pile, because I’m so busy doing everyone else’s. My business comes first and, if my social media goes to pot, the world won’t end, because I have plenty of work in for just me. Unfortunately for most companies, a strong social media presence is the crux of getting work in. Today I’ve planned a week of social media, including writing the copy and designing the graphics.

I also enjoy creating beautiful documents, whether they are for administrative purposes, training courses, or even for sale. One of my favourite products to work on was for the rebrand of the Lashloft Training Courses and salon administration documents. No matter where you look, you see the striking branding of Lashloft, with a clear and professional format.

Delegating means more time for you.

Imagine this: you have a list of things that, if you start them at 9am, will last you until 9pm. If you could delegate just 3 hours of those tasks to a professional, you’ll have more time to spend with your family, friends, pets, whoever. It allows for self care, whether that is a nice toasty bath or an hour reading that book you’ve been meaning to delve into. You might want to make hot chocolates in travel mugs and go for an evening stroll at the beach with the kids. With someone like me on your team, this is possible.

A professional VA like myself can do everything you would do, but potentially better, quicker, and in a more organised way, creating systems as they go so you can find and access everything as needed. Because we do this all day every day, we learn tips, tricks and hacks to help us get through the workload in the most productive way.

I get to know your brand.

For every brand I work with, I have a little routine for getting into mindset depending on the message the brand wants to create.

One brand I work with has a nurturing, patient nature. To get into mindset for their work, I have a coffee and a biscuit and put on an acoustic playlist to help me relax into their brand.

Another brand I work with is very glamorous and girly, and so at the start of a full day I put the movie Mean Girls on my TV in the background. I might also stick on a very ‘boss babe’ playlist with lots of Rihanna, BeyoncĂ© and Lizzo.

It might sound like I’m creating distractions, but I am in fact creating an atmosphere which takes me to a new place. I work from home, and so I don’t have the office dynamics to work with. Instead I create them myself (without any rivalry or background slackers to get on my nerves!).

I make you look good.

Most of the brands I work with don’t tell anyone they use a VA. And why should they? I’m getting paid to do this work. It’s not like Microsoft thanks the custodian! Do you think Richard Branson tells the world exactly what his secretary does to support his international enterprise? Of course not.

For small businesses, customers are attracted to professionalism. A VA can schedule meetings and take care of the admin, answer calls, social media messages and emails autonomously, making it appear that the message came from you, and do things in a timelier manner than you may be able to. If you’re a personal trainer out there doing 1:1 sessions, that hour or two it might take you to respond to a message could be the difference between having that client, and losing them to a competitor.

I can handle all of that and more, without a soul knowing, giving the impression that you are ultra professional, serious about your business, and that you’re running an organised operation.

For more information on how I can help you, please email me at stephaniewardofficial@gmail.com or find me on social media – @stephanieward.va and I will be only too happy to consult on what I’ll be able to offer you.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

5 Reasons You Need A VA During a Pandemic

5 Reasons You Need A VA During a Pandemic

Starting a business or ‘side-hustle’ during the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be the ‘in’ thing to do. I don’t know about you, but every other post on my home page seems to be ‘Body Shop’ here or ‘Join My Team’ there. I won’t knock it – I’ve done it before and it’s basically a rite of passage.

Others have responded to the change in product demand. Button-licious, for example, is reeling off face masks like there is no tomorrow. Lashloft, lash phenomenon based in Newcastle, have grown their strip lash range because people cannot get appointments for the salon.

What do all of these businesses have in common? They all have lots of work to do, and not enough time to do it. This is where people like me come in. Here are five reasons why you need a Virtual Assistant during a pandemic.

  1. We can pick up all the bits you can’t.

Too busy to update Facebook? I got it. Haven’t got time to edit and filter your photographs and make them instagram worthy? I’ll do it. Struggling to get your head around Canva while the work piles up? Let me at it. Emails all over the place? I’ll sort them.

2. We are good at batching tasks.

Because we have a set amount of time each day/week, we sort the tasks into batches so they get done quicker. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees when you have work to do AND admin to do. What do you do first? Give me the admin.

3. We don’t have the distractions that you might have.

Most self-employed people are working from home right now. You might have kids isolating, housework that needs to be done…and that can be really hard to ignore. As your virtual assistant, I have time dedicated to just you. When I dedicate that time to you, all the distractions are literally behind a closed door. I’m all yours.

4. I am committed to your success.

If my work doesn’t benefit you, you won’t continue to hire me. I want to work for you, with you in fact, so that we both succeed. Your success is important to me, and I will work hard to ensure that my time is spent well, building your business from behind the scenes so you can reap the rewards.

5. You probably have another job alongside your new venture.

Don’t burn the candle at both ends. You can handle sales, workshops, livestreams etc. But you have to keep the lights on and the boiler humming. Let me take the extra added stress of your side-hustle, so you can focus on talking to your customer, getting to know them, and going to your day job.

Contact me today to see how I can benefit your business or side hustle!