At the end of the day, not everyone NEEDS a Virtual Assistant (although for most it could be life-changing) and, more to the point, not everyone can afford one. With that in mind, here are my 6 steps to a calmer working life which may just calm the waters enough for you to take a breath- oh, and they don’t cost a penny!
De-Clutter Your Workspace
I know some people love a wall of post-it notes, a physical to-do list or an inexplicably large pile of paper on their desks but personally, I believe physical clutter creates a messy mind-set while also contributing towards a wasteful use of resources. My entire work station is contained within my laptop- I can take it everywhere I go and all I need is a plug socket and a decent internet connection.
Join the paper-free revolution:
- Make use of online project management tools or notebooks such as Trello or Evernote so you can create shareable, digital to-do lists
- Create shared online folders via systems such as Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive to keep your documents safely stored and accessible
- Download a scanning app for your phone such as CamScanner so you can scan those receipts and recycle them instead of carrying them around for months
No more post its, no more folders being lost to the depths of someone’s desk and no more toting around a wallet full of paper receipts. BOOM.
Organise Your Computer Desktop
Are you confronted with a wall of disorganised icons, folders and shortcuts when you boot up your machine? Does it take you forever to find the document you need or launch the program you just installed?
Tidy up your desktop for a more peaceful mind:
- Create over-arching folders for your documents (e.g. ‘Invoices’)
- Create sub-folders within them to narrow down your categories (e.g. ‘Client Name – Invoices’)
- Number the content within the sub-folders to keep the documents listed in the order your prefer (e.g. ‘1. Client Invoice- September 2019’)
See a picture of your family, your pet or a beautifully-lit sand dune when you log on rather than an ocean of document icons. WIN.
Utilise Email Categories, Folders and Rules
Does you inbox make you want to cry/run away/select all and delete? You’re not alone. A disorganised inbox can make you feel chaotic and stressed. It can often lead to irritated chases from clients, missed opportunities and many a reply that begins with ‘apologies for the late response…’ which just makes you look shoddy.
Get yourself organised today and treat your inbox as your to-do list:
- Make use of email categories e.g. ‘To-Do This Week’ or ‘Urgent’ and colour code them so you can prioritise effectively and not end up with an ocean of red flags that, let’s face it, become meaningless if overused
- Create sub-folders for your inbox so you can stow away emails that you want to refer back to but that don’t form part of your to-do list e.g. ‘Completed’ or ‘Actioned’
- Set rules for messages from certain addresses to go straight into a sub-folder so they don’t block up your inbox but you still know they need to be checked when you’re ready e.g. ‘Event Invites’.
My personal rule is to keep the ‘scrolly bar’ at bay- if there’s no white space beneath the emails in my inbox then I know I’m not prioritising effectively. Avoid the head spin and either get yourself sorted.
Using Email Signatures as Templates
A sneaky one this- brilliant for those of us who don’t want an endless stream of Word doc email templates for the messages we send most frequently.
The instructions below are aimed at Desktop Outlook users:
- Open a ‘New Email’ and click ‘Signature’-‘Edit Signatures…’
- Copy your normal email signature before creating a new one
- Paste your normal signature in to the new one before adding the template message you’d like to save above it
- Save it with an obvious name for the template e.g. “Interview Confirmation”
- Now when you open a ‘New Email’, go to ‘Signature’ you will see your templates listed so you can just click, amend and send
Top Tip: Make any parts of the email that will need amending (e.g. names, dates and times) bright red so you reduce the risk of sending it unamended!
Just a little sanity and time saver.
Using Canvas Pre-Sets for Photoshop
One for the creatives amongst you.
If anyone out there is a relatively new user of Photoshop, you may not have stumbled across this feature on your travels and I find it incredibly useful and time-saving so thought it was worth sharing despite how obvious it may be to some!
- Open Photoshop and select ‘Create New’
- On the right-hand side you can enter the dimensions and orientation of the canvas you’d like to create. At this point you could hit ‘create’ and crack on BUT, if you’re likely to use this canvas time and time again…
- Hit the button to the right of “Untitled 1” (looks like a download button to me), give the canvas a nice obvious name and select “Save Preset”
Next time you want to use it just hit Create New as you would normally but instead of scouring through your ‘recent’ pile of unnamed canvasses, you can go to ‘Saved’ at the top of the window and easily find what you’re after.
Last But By NO Means Least: Take a Damn Break!
Been staring at a screen for hours and seem to have a constant, lingering headache? Shoulders up by your ears and a strange tingling sensation between your shoulder blades? Can you tell I’m typing from experience?!
Walk away from your desk and reap the benefits:
- Brain Power: Our brains can actually function better when our mind is allowed to wonder- staring at the spreadsheet probably won’t force the answer out of you, but taking a wander round the block might just allow the problem-solving part of your brain to kick into gear
- Creative Juices: Pushing yourself through your lunch break to continue with intense, cognitive work can drastically reduce your brain’s ability to be creative
- Healthy Habits: Take a break to stretch, drink a glass of water or (if you have time and happen to work from home) take a nap or a bath- fuel your body and mind to boost your overall productivity
Challenge: set an alarm on your phone and try the “20/20/20” rule for a day and see if you feel better:
→ Look away from your screen every 20 minutes
→ Look at something around 20 feet away
→ For 20 seconds
Now, if you’ve completed all 6 steps to a calmer working life, streamlined every process and stared out of the window for your allotted 20 seconds but you’re still feeling overworked, stressed out and underproductive then maybe, just maybe, you should give me a call…