With the introduction of the second lockdown last week for those in England I thought it was time to share my top tips for survival.
Recently my daughter had to have a COVID-19 test, which thankfully was negative. She had a sore throat which made her cough. In previous years she would have gone to school but that is no longer an option, as the school would have been rightly concerned & insisted she was tested.
During the first lockdown I found it easy to cope, mainly because as an introvert I am very happy staying at home. But as soon as you throw into the equation the possibility that she may have COVID-19 it becomes a totally different ballgame. The panic set in of what if (just to put this into perspective, I wasn’t convinced she did have it) but that little nagging doubt did creep in, thankfully her results did come back within 36 hours and our sense of normal life returned.
Anyway, back to my top tips.
Plan your day
Get up at a regular time, try to set a routine. Although I get up at 6.30 am for my morning commute – yes just down the stairs! I am not able to eat breakfast at that time, so will often have my breakfast at around 9 am. Make it work for you. As a creature of habit, I like to eat at regular times and this routine helps me break up the day.
Set up your workspace
Working on your sofa is not a long term option. Someone even told me they were working from their bed, although this one was a little hard to understand when they told me they had a table they could use! In an ideal world you would have your own workspace, but any decent table will do for now. Tips I have seen is getting a big box and packing it all away at the end of the day. I dream of the day when I can have a dedicated office but for now, I have my own space in an alcove, set up with everything I need to run my business.
A good chair is essential. Like shoes, chairs, take time to get used to. Over the years I have gone through a number of different ones and my current one is a fabric office chair with arms and is adjustable in height and the back mechanism tilts. The week I bought this chair I also bought my daughter a different one, by the end of the week I felt like I had a degree in interpreting awful diagrams and non-existent instructions! There were tantrums (from me) & bruises from trying to carry the parts upstairs. Who knew how heavy a chair can be even when it’s in bits?
For me noise cancelling headphones are a must. I own a set for my computer but also for my phone. The ability to type or write and avoid a frozen shoulder from holding phones under your ear are underrated. You don’t need really expensive ones but read the reviews. Last year I bought a set but they were so heavy they ended up going to the local charity shop as they were not comfortable.
I am very short-sighted and needed varifocals (christened by my 7 year old at the time as fairyfocals) very early in my 40’s, getting the lighting right has probably been the hardest thing for me. What works for a few months changes regularly. At this time of the year when some days are very dark I use a different combination to the height of summer. Ideally natural light is the best and sitting by a window is ideal. I don’t have that luxury so have mimicked day light above my desk, with bright white light and then I have a daylight lamp attached to my computer, which allows me to vary the brightness and change the intensity of the light as I need to. At the moment this is working but when I start to get headaches I check my lighting and adjust it until it is comfortable again.
Dealing with Monotony
Last lockdown it was spring into summer – we had hope and bright sunny days. This time we are heading rapidly to the shortest day. This feels gloomy, so when I am doing the same sort of tasks I try to break them up, I add in taking time to go outside – it is usually only to put the washing out but it still helps. I am also a someone who loves to snack, so will reach for snacks (not always healthy ones)!
Staying Warm & Comfortable
I hate being cold with a passion, so the key for me is layers – the more the better. Yes, I wear thermals to keep warm. I know of people who wear fingerless gloves when they are working & woolly hats, anything to avoid putting the heating on in their office! I am also a massive fan of slippers. I spend more on slippers than the average person and depending on the season as to what I am modelling! Not that you’ll ever know as you will only ever see my top half on video calls! I also keep a heater where I work for those cold days – why heat the whole house when it is only you.
This time, we can leave for as much exercise as we want. I am a fair weather exerciser. You will never find me willingly leaving the house on rainy days. I love to exercise at home and have a Personal Trainer – the only person who gets to tell me what to do and when, & I don’t complain!
I am a pacer and when I am on phone calls will happily walk around. Who knew you can do over 4000 steps just walking around the inside of your house? The downside to this is you can’t do it when you need to take the minutes for a meeting!
As someone who has worked at home for over 10 years this is my least favourite time of year and to get me through the next month I am ordering small things like seeds as something to nurture and look forward to next spring.
The Disappearing Interviewee
One of my client's asked me to do some initial telephone interviews, I've done both face to face and telephone interviews before, as a candidate and also as a potential employer & I am used to people not answering their phones, rude but we know people don't attend in-person interviews, so what hope is their for a phone call. (Note to self do not test your new headset when you are trying to do interviews)!
I've also had people after I outline the role requirements tell me the job is not for them and that is fine. In my opinion it shows courage & honesty. But never have I started an interview and have someone cut me off when I ask them to expand on an answer. We all know that phones can do this but when you try to call them back twice and message them, that is plain rude. Their research on the client was poor at best and overwhelmingly diabolical at best, they told me all about the client, but it wasn't the same client that I recognised!
Everyone I spoke to was stunningly shocked by this. I gave the candidate a couple of hours to come back to me, but nothing. This was through a well known employment website. I gave the website feedback, but not the candidate, as I decided that I would not waste any more of the client's time or money.
My advice to the young candidate is be honest, people will think far more of you if you tell the truth, if you are struggling please ask for time to restructure your answer. As a person and interviewer I am not trying to trip you up. I want you to succeed and please do go and get yourself some interview practice. Also do your research thoroughly.
Back to the drawing board for both of us then! If you are desperate to work in this field please revise your attitude and manners, it may only be an initial telephone interview but you need to treat it like any other interview and more so as other things like body language are absent and you need to create even more of a positive impression. My client's response after they stopped laughing at my indignant response was we had a lucky escape!
The case of the Disappearing Fire Blanket!
Most tenants would be happy to have a responsible Landlord, who put a fire blanket in the kitchen of their shared apartment. Not this one, numerous emails from the tenant complaining it didn't look aesthetically pleasing and the removal of it from its' designated place! Really I am not joking and of course the wasted hours spent explaining why it needed to be there and then having to physically send a member of the team to the property to check it was where it should be.
In the end having been on holiday and returning over 2 weeks later to find it was still a problem, I wrote to the tenant formally on behalf of the Landlord advising them they would be liable for any damage, caused by fire due to the removal of the fire blanket. I then receive an email from the tenant saying it is where it should be, which was strange as the Maintenance Manager was there at the time and couldn't see the fire blanket .
The outcome of the tenant's behaviour - weekly checks (even though they aren't mandatory and photos to confirm it is where it should be.
It's a fire blanket it doesn't matter what it looks like, it could save your life!!
Managing Tenant Expectations
As I specialise in property managing tenant expectations is a large part of the roles I have previously undertaken and to do this day do.
Often what people want and demand are totally unrelated to reality and what they can realistically expect. As a tenant while you would love your Property Manager to act as a Fairy Godmother, when the heating breaks down in the middle of winter during a very cold spell, you are unlikely to get a heating engineer out that day, whether you are a homeowner or a tenant.
I know of Property Managers who have been called at 1 am in the morning because one of the other tenants has had a drink.
My personal favourite this year is the tenant demanding we buy them new socks because the washing machine door has jammed and their socks are stuck in it and they haven't budgeted to buy socks. They were advised to visit the local supermarket (just 5 minutes walk)!
Along with the what ifs in life. I have responded to all of these this year as a VA. The fact people think you are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is incredible. As a team leader for one of my client's I regularly remind the team I don't expect them to respond to things late at night, for their own sake, as it creates a precedent.
I have actually had to block tenants from my phone, so that they ring the office, as what they deem urgent on a Sunday afternoon or at 10 pm at night is not necessarily urgent. On more than one occasion I have had my weekend disturbed while trying to spend time with my family. There are times when my daughter has threatened to throw my phone in the nearest lake/ river. More recently while sat at an airport I received an email from a tenant, that was the impetus I needed to delete the inbox and add it onto my phone when I returned from holiday.
If you are a tenant, and I am, please consider what you do and when you need to contact your Landlord/ Property Manager/ Letting Agency. Everyone is entitled to their time off.
Like all jobs there are ups & downs, funny things and also things that make you reflective.
These are all based on true stories, identifying features have been removed. These are shared with you as tongue in cheek instances collected over a period of time.
After a career in Nursing and a period living abroad I secured a job as a telemarketer. To be honest telemarketing was not for me long term, but by chance I found a job working from home, term time only and surprisingly I discovered I wasn't too bad at it (sometimes)! However, since that time I have revised my opinion. Just to confirm I was never the irritating person who called you as you sat down to dinner or were trying to put your children to bed. Personally I can't think of anything worse! I worked in the B2B sector. There were projects I loved and projects not so much so, one project that gave me nightmares and kept me up at night and reduced me to tears.
This is the main reason I became a VA as I believed I was better suited to organising and admin, rather than sales. As someone with a dry sense of humour certain instances have remained with me and still make me laugh when I recall them, although at the time laughter wasn't always my reaction. So sit back and share some of my stories over the next few months.
We all juggle in our lives, but how do you manage when the unexpected occurs in your business? I don't mean technical issues, but personal issues.
As a Virtual Assistant, I pride myself on my time management skills and organisation. I always meet my deadlines, whether self-imposed or set by the client. The majority of my work is time sensitive and requires rapid responses.
This week I had my work plan sorted, or so I thought. What I hadn't factored into the equation was my teenage daughter coming home from school very unwell. Usually, we get on with it - go to the chemist or the GP, but unfortunately on this occasion she needed to go to A&E. Three visits later, she is finally on the mend, I am a little greyer and certainly we are both exhausted. As a mum, the priority is always my daughter. My clients were understanding and all of them have checked back to see how everything worked out.
While sitting in A&E it made me think about what I need to do when I can't work. I have never been a fan of having work emails on my phone, but I did have enough time to add them, just in case I needed to work or notify my clients.
For the first time ever, I was unable to meet a deadline - to write an editorial for one of my clients. However, I was able to email him and explain why. I promised to get it to him by the following lunchtime and made the deadline with four minutes to spare!
Do you have a contingency plan?
Is there someone you can hand over to in an emergency?
Mine is in my head, although admittedly that relies on memory and being able to do it myself.
One of my clients has gone further - she has a written plan (locked away securely) in the event that she is incapacitated or worst case scenario dies. It involves details for her family of who to contact regarding her business. As her VA I am one of the two people she has identified and then we will take care of the business side - notifying clients etc.
We all tend to rely on family, but is it fair when your family are stressed to expect them to deal effectively with your business? Perhaps like a will, where we identify executors, we need to identify business executors to notify our clients in the event we are unable to work, and lodge the plan with them so they can follow our instructions. Obviously, there are GDPR implications, but storing it in a secure electronic format can overcome these.
How many times do you sit in meetings and wonder why you are there? Do you ever find yourself clock watching and thinking that rather than discussing it you could be doing the work. How often do you attend meetings about meetings?
I know some meetings are essential but can recall times when I have been asked to attend meetings that are a total waste of time (this is not just in my former jobs but also to make a team appear bigger and make the coffee)! As a business owner, I have met people who seem to spend a lot of time attending meetings, to such an extent I wonder when they actually get down to doing some real work.
With the advent of applications such as Zoom life has become easier. No more travel time and the ability if you are the host to record the meeting. Today I was on a work call from the UK with us situated in various parts of the UK, with others in India and California, with the associated time differences, we were all in the same 'room' at the same time.
Even virtual coffees (or wine), depending on the time of day are a great way for meetings both for business and social purposes. From a business perspective It reduces the need to travel, I am certainly a fan of them, as it gives me a chance to build working relationships
Of course, there are times when face to face meetings are the best way forward and I too love a good chat and cup of coffee with a real person.
However, I do believe it is a fantastic opportunity to embrace the technology and enables you to 'meet' people that perhaps you would previously have had to travel to meet.
My top tip is to practice first with a friend as like all new things it can take a little time to learn how to use it and research the market to see what options are available and the most suitable for your requirements.
This month I have been challenging myself to learn new skills, not necessarily to offer to clients, but for use within my business.
For me, I thrive on learning new skills and it helps to keep me motivated. All my learning is online based, so it fits in around the rest of my workload, so whether it's 15 minutes, while I wait for a response or an hour in the evening it is about adding value to my business.
I have noticed that all the challenges I have found suggest the bite size approach, with this in mind I decided to undertake a 5 day challenge. Days 1 & 2 went well and so was day 3 until every parent's challenge occurs - the call from school, telling you your child is unwell. That saw the end of the challenge for that day. Days 4 & 5 - no point doing those until I completed day 3. So on day 5 I started day 3 and then didn't finish it as paid work was a priority.
No problem the weekend arrives, I had a couple of days to catch up on days 2,4 and 5. Again I was caught up sorting out paid work. Reassuringly the videos were still available for another week. Monday morning arrived - I had a little quiet time, so caught up with days 3, 4 & 5. Hooray finished! I loved it and despite a couple of moments of worry - experts always make it look easier (they have had lots of practice) but the feeling of something new was brilliant and now I am putting those skills into practice.
I love routine and order, in my work life. Anything outside of my normal day to day activity makes me slightly nervous. Imagine my horror when my teenage daughter announced in May, she had been invited to visit Liverpool and due to the nature of the visit it was midweek.
Usually, I would have said fine and taken the time off - but knowing that we were going away to visit relatives for 3 weeks, I was unsure how my clients would react to another couple of days off. Yes, I hear you shout I am a freelancer and can do what I want. However, when one of my clients sounded surprised about my extended break I decided another couple of days off so soon wasn’t a great idea.
Being the organised person, who always works at her desk, surrounded by everything you can ever need and having moved away from a laptop last year, I knew this might be a challenge. Out came the laptop – which recently needed a factory reset, the dongle, notebook, pens, cables and everything else you might ever need. That all worked perfectly at home. Then came the packing my daughter’s comment 'we’re only going for one night do you really need all this?' Yes, of course, (I like to cover all eventualities - even if we are only going out for a few hours I am known for packing everything except the kitchen sink) - I love a large handbag!
I negotiated that on arrival I would need an hour to catch up before we went exploring. We arrived at our hotel, the dongle wouldn’t work, panic set in – it worked at home. Our room wasn’t ready – great! Finally, we got access to our room, the dongle worked, I calmed down checked everything I needed to do, did it and we headed out for a few hours. After exploring etc. we went back to our hotel and I did some more work. By this time, I had calmed down and was enjoying the change of scenery.
The following morning, I dropped my daughter off and went back to the hotel to get another couple of hours work done. By the time I picked her up at lunch time and headed back to Lime Street, I realised I had done something so different to normal and loved not only our break but working elsewhere. Admittedly it was quieter than usual work-wise, as it was the end of August. I did work most of the way home on my phone, but the pleasure of seeing my daughter achieve her dream was worth every minute of stepping outside my comfort zone.
That feeling of actually doing something different was amazing. Yes, we will be going back to Liverpool but next time I am taking the time off and intending to spend more time relaxing, but just pushing those boundaries has made me realise I can.
I challenge you the next time you immediately think no – try it – you never know what the result might be! You might just enjoy it!
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
I love quotes and love the way they make me feel, when you need that piece of inspiration. For me I can usually find one which lifts my mood just when I need to.
This week I attended the Elevate Virtual Summit aimed at Virtual Assistants and full of inspirational speakers organised by VIP VA. I for one was brimming with ideas at the end of the day.
Going forward and reflecting on the day I realised that many of us as small business owners forget about self care - whether it's drinking enough water, eating or just moving. I am guilty of all three, so going forward I am intending to use my inspirational quotes on my social media feeds to inspire not only me but also other people, so if you can spare a few minutes please have a look.
I am a small business Virtual Assistant and run my business freeing people up to do what they do best, while loving the paperwork you hate!