Bullet Journalling is one of the most popular analogue approaches to task management, and I can see why. You can build it into whatever you need it to be, you have a reason to buy pens, notebooks and washi tape. The core of the method is “rapid logging”. This means that on page of your notebook you put everything down as it comes up. Tasks, events, notes… These are annotated with symbols to keep them organised by type, and then combined with future planning lists relating to the upcoming months.
Have a look on their website to get more information if it’s new to you!
When I worked a traditional 9-5 job I loved the system. It really worked for me: 1. I had everything in one place. What day was my dentist appointment? What was the title of that book I wanted to read? When did my boss need those statistics? 2. I knew what I had done and what was coming up by checking the daily logs or the future logs. 3. I got to use my fountain pen. 4. I had the time and flexibility to maintain the system.
Having said that, it did always feel a bit unwieldy to me – which is a common issue for analogue organisation systems. There was a lot of rewriting and checking back.
But once I started my own business I found it just stopped working. I was at home with a baby. A baby who liked to use me as a chair and who liked to play with paper – and as he grew older, draw on it. It just became really frustrating to use. I couldn’t get the notebook when I needed it. I didn’t have the time to keep creating the new spreads. I definitely didn’t have time to make it pretty (not a requirement of course, but if you search for Bullet Journal images most of them are incredibly beautiful!). I defaulted to making notes on my phone for work, and for things outside work, well… Things got forgotten and it just fell apart. Ultimately, it wasn’t working practically and I was struggling with combining all of my metaphorical hats. A major thing with task management systems is that it has to work for your life as it is right now. Not how it worked for you three years ago when you had a corporate job or how you think it will work in four years when your business is bigger. For my money, I think the Bullet Journal is great – but I felt it worked best when I had enough time to really maintain the system. The more “hats” you wear and the more time-poor you are, the harder it is.
If you’ve tried the system, I’d love to hear how it worked for you!
I love lists. All lists really. To do lists. Lists of books I'd like to read some day. Lists of people to send Christmas cards to. Lists of places to look when we need a new washing machine.
To do lists, or some form of task management are really just part of the landscape of work. It might be scribbles on a Post-It note, or a spectacular arrangement of projects and tags on Asana, or a list bubbling away in our head that we hope not to forget. But most of us do have some kind of task management system.
Over the years I have tried so many systems. I know I'm not the only one.
I remember using Remember the Milk when I was working on my doctorate. There was a period when I used Todoist. In my last employed job I had a Bullet Journal. I have always had in my head that there will be a "one true love" of task management. My husband tells me that there probably isn't and it may be a question of the right system for right now. Frustratingly, I think he's right.
The bullet journal that served me so well when I went out to work and then came home in the evenings stopped working for me once I was at home with a small child. Partly because the small child kept taking the book, wanting to draw in it. Now, I have a different system (I'll tell you about it another time), also an analogue task management system, in a very beautiful notebook. This is the system that works for my life as it is now.
What has become really clear over the years is that I do best with a written system. I love digital systems and apps, and I use them a lot with my clients. They're brilliant for sharing work and tasks when you're not in an office together. But for myself, I like a notebook and a pen. I honestly have never found a digital system that can cope with the number of metaphorical hats I wear in my life. Whenever I've tried, I just end up with so many notifications, so much checking on things that it is not actually particularly efficient..
And so it is that in running my businesses and my life I have a beautiful notebook and a packet of highlighter pens. Analogue systems are my favourite. And I'm not one to turn down a reason for a reason to get a new notebook or fountain pen.
What's interesting when searching for these methods is that, compared to apps, they are really not discussed all that much. I understand why. Just the number of to do list apps alone means that they need a bigger space for discussion. But, having found limited conversations about handwritten task management approaches, and knowing that I'm not the only one who loves an analogue system, I've decided to write about the methods that I have come across over the years - and to tell you about my own.
So, over the next few weeks the blog will be home to posts about methods like GTD and Bullet Journalling. I really hope that my explorations can help you find the right method for you!
It's hard for many of us - it certainly is for me! It makes me feel vulnerable and like I'm not enough.
The thing is, I know that's nonsense. I know no one person can know and do everything. I know that being part of a community comes with being vulnerable sometimes. I know that the kind of business that's on the stock market doesn't expect one person to be:
Social Media Manager.
Etc., etc., etc.
So why do we, as small business owners, expect this of ourselves? Why do we struggle on, alone and stressed, and then wonder why our business is either a) not making enough money and/or b) making us incredibly overwhelmed and stressed?
Honestly, answering that question would take me so long to even attempt to answer that no one would be reading by the end of it, so I'll save that for another day.
The thing to focus on is this:
Asking for help is not an admission of failure.
There are entire businesses and business areas aimed at providing the help that you need. Bookkeepers and accountants. Social Media Managers. Virtual Assistants (hello!).
And within those businesses, many of us also ask for help. For example, I am saving up until I can afford to get someone to help me with my website. What I have is functional, but it's not ideal. I know I need help. I may not be able to get that help right away, but I know it will make my life and business easier when I can.
I started my Virtual Assistant business when my son was about 8 months old. I remember doing my first transcription job with him in the highchair next to me. He napped several times a day (honestly, I don’t remember how much now, but it was enough that I could do most of my work while he slept).
The thing is, 8 months is a baby age. And babies tend to get bigger, more mobile, and more demanding. And he did.
A point came where I knew I could only schedule calls for when he was napping or there was another adult about to be with him.
Transcription became a nap time only job because his fascination with the keyboard was (and is!) problematic, so I had to be conscious of how much I took on in relation to the time I had available.
Nap transitions. Seriously, these may have been the biggest challenge to navigate. When I knew with reasonable certainty that he would nap for x amount of time a day and usually at such and such a time, I could plan with that time. But each nap that was dropped led to a re-evaluation and rejigging of my work day. On the upside, he’s now old enough to entertain himself for short periods while I work, so I can see how we’re at the beginning of increased flexibility again.
Starting daycare was interesting. Since he started daycare I have more time for my work, and that’s part of why I now have some capacity I’d like to fill! But the period of getting him settled meant having to work even more closely than usual with my clients to make sure everyone was happy and everything was covered. My clients were amazing and it really helped that we already had really good relationships so we could all be honest about what we needed
Being up front about having a child at home. I don’t know if everyone would agree that I should be open about having a little one at home with me. I can understand the fear it would put clients off. For me, it was just necessary. It meant that I was able to be clear about my need for flexibility around when I worked – and as it turned out, this has actually benefited clients as it meant there was often a shorter turn around time than if we’d had scheduled work times.
So, is it possible to run a VA business with a small child at home? Yes. Is it easy? Not really, and each phase of a small child’s life presents different challenges to be met. Is it worth it? Definitely! I’ve loved running and building this business and I’m glad I was able to find my way through at the same time as caring for my little boy.
And now? He’s coming up on three years old. His increasing independence and time in day care is moving the business into a new phase. One where I will have more time, greater predictability, and the ability to expand and explore new and exciting things (which is the topic of next week’s post!).
A reminder on my special offer for May: Any one off projects booked in during May will get a discount of £2 an hour, or 5% off a package rate (e.g. mailing list setup). This will apply even if the work is to take place after May is over. And the good news for my current clients with whom I have an ongoing arrangement, I will honour the £2 an hour discount for charges incurred throughout May. So, if you are looking for some help, let’s have a chat! And in any case, I’ll see you here on the blog again next week!
When you start a business it’s easy to think you know everything that will come up. And it is easy to find a checklist of “Things To Do When Setting Up a VA Business”. So you can fairly easily find out that you need contracts; insurance; registration with the ICO. You know that you’re going to have to do a tax return by the end of January. You know that you will have to find clients and do work that they’re happy with.
Things I didn’t know:
The VA community is really amazing. People are so supportive and generous with advice and time. I honestly never expected to feel so supported as a sole trader. No matter how strange a situation arises, I know there are people I can talk to about it!
Finding new clients is partly about being seen online, particularly where your “ideal client” hangs out, but honestly? Referrals and networking is a much bigger part of that. The majority of my clients have come from either someone I knew personally saying to a friend “Oh, I know someone who’s a VA!” or a referral from a current or previous client. Which is probably why I have a box of beautiful business cards that is more or less untouched. I can live with that!
When clients move on, it makes me sad. Client relationships come and go, whether because the client’s business needs have changed; we were working together on a finite project; or a business has ceased trading. It’s just the way things go, but I take feeling sad about it to be a good sign that the relationship was working well!
When people ask what you do for a living, saying “I’m a virtual assistant” can cause confusion. Lots of people have heard of the job, but crossed wires have also led to people thinking I’m a vet or a healthcare assistant, neither of which I am remotely qualified for!!
It is not the easy option. It is hard work, and takes a lot of time. There’s finding clients; doing client work; and keeping up with all the paperwork, bookkeeping, registrations, etc. As I’m working from home I have the same challenges others have – people assuming you don’t work at all; having to be strict with yourself when you think “Oh, I need to do the washing”; loneliness. And of course, some of the time I have a two year old at home. Which I’ll talk more about in the next post.
Like every job, it has ups and downs. Good days and bad days. I really love my work and my clients though, and really wouldn’t change it for the world.
Reminder about my birthday special offer: Any one off projects booked in during May will get a discount of £2 an hour off my standard rate, or 5% off a package rate (e.g. mailing list setup). This will apply even if the work is to take place after May is over. And the good news for my current clients with whom I have an ongoing arrangement, I will honour the £2 an hour discount for charges incurred throughout May.
So, if you are looking for some help, let’s have a chat! And in any case, I’ll see you here on the blog again next week!
In May 2017 I took on my first piece of Virtual Assistant work. I knew I could do the work, I had over a decade’s experience in admin roles; a doctorate’s worth of transferrable skills; and I’m a very adaptable kind of person. If I need to know about something, I’ll find a way to make sure I do. But I worried about all the things you expect to when starting a new business. Would I get enough clients? Would they be happy with my work? Would I find work I enjoyed? How would it all play out with an 8-month-old alongside me?
One of the best and scariest things I did in the early stages of my business planning was to sign up for some group business coaching. It gave me support when I needed to find bravery; information on what to do when; and accountability when it was super scary to put myself out there. I did Ruth Kudzi’s “Accelerate Your Success” programme, although I don’t think it was called that at the time. It was utterly terrifying to invest in myself at that point. I’d had one one-off client, and no idea how to move forward from there. So spending that money was… difficult. I had absolutely no idea if I’d ever make it back! As I say, I have absolutely no regrets, and I do wonder if I’d be where I am now if I hadn’t done that.
In general, when people ask me about being a VA, I tell them it is the best thing I ever did in my career. Which is true. It’s also only part of the story.
Any job has its highs and lows, and being a Virtual Assistant has them too. Highs include each time I sign a new client. The people I’ve got to know, and new skills I’ve learned. Building up and seeing what was an idea become an actual business. Lows included the unpredictability of work and income, especially in the early days. The days when my little one was poorly and I had to juggle everything. And I don’t think many people are super excited about their tax returns, and my first one was definitely a steep learning curve. FYI, the HMRC Twitter help is fantastic!
So, it is absolutely a month of celebration! On the blog over the rest of May I’ll be talking about the most unexpected things I’ve learned in the last two years; the challenges of working with a small person at home with you; and my plans for the future.
And yes, I did mention a special offer. Any one off projects booked in during May will get a discount of £2 an hour (i.e. £23 an hour), or 5% off a package rate (e.g. mailing list setup). This will apply even if the work is to take place after May is over. And the good news for my current clients with whom I have an ongoing arrangement, I will honour the £2 an hour discount for charges incurred throughout May.
So, if you are looking for some help, let’s have a chat! And in any case, I’ll see you here on the blog again next week!
Ten and a half months ago, my life changed forever when my son was born. I expected that. What took me a little more by surprise was the impact on my work life.
Of course, I knew things would change. There would be nursery drop offs and pick ups to navigate; working on the back of disrupted sleep; and managing the family finances to incorporate the costs of day care.
It turns out, there was something I had overlooked. A desire for a work-life balance and a reluctance to be apart from my son started to loom large as my maternity leave neared its end and I found that I needed to explore other options.
I had considered working for myself in the past, and after talking it through with my husband we decided the time was right. I want and need to work, and I am now able to work around - and occasionally alongside - my son, manage my own workload to meet the needs of both my family and my clients, and to enjoy a much more varied work life than ever before. So everyone is happy!