Where the focus goes, the energy flows

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It’s the time of year when work can sometimes feel like a struggle, and it can be a real challenge to stay motivated and focused. There are soooooo many reasons to feel distracted, your holiday, your children being on holiday, colleagues and customers responding slower, the hot (!) weather, the list could go on…

I see it as a time when many people become reactive and not proactive. But when you just react, you often don’t make the best choices. Reacting, is to me, the opposite of control, it lets other people and the environment determine your actions.

In my experience, feeling distracted and unproductive is something most people struggle with. Whether we like it or not, we pick up on other people’s behaviours and emotions. So, it kind of becomes a vicious circle.

So how do you stay focused? And how do you positively affect your work and business most at this time of year?

  • Think about your ultimate goals – make sure the most important things stays the most important things, take stock before the pace increases again
  • Make a deliberate decision – take a moment to decide not to give in to distractions (this is proven by neuroscience to help stop you from engaging in bad behaviour!)
  • Make a plan for an entire week (and beyond) - research shows you spend your time more wisely when you follow a plan and schedule
  • Do less of the ‘shallow stuff’ – not all work is equal. Use this time to implement new systems and more of the ‘deep stuff’ that will make a tangible difference to you and your business
  • Walk away – take a proper break when you feel your energy fading, or your focus going. Stop looking at your phone, social media or emails and get some fresh air, stretch, talk a walk – whatever works for you

Everyone will have different approaches to combating this mind-set, these are a few that work for us here at blueumbrella. If you have any tips that work for you, we’d love to hear from you

Happy Birthday...to us!

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I can’t believe it’s 17 years ago this month that I started blueumbrella. Where has the time gone?!  Armed with only an address book, fixed landline phone, a Blackberry, dial-up internet and a huge desktop PC I started my virtual assistant business all those years ago!

Back then, iPhones didn’t exist, WiFi wasn’t readily available or reliable, 3G or 4G didn't exist, The Cloud didn’t exist, Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist and LinkedIn had only just started, yet somehow I managed to get started 'virtually'.

At that time, I started to see flexible and agile working becoming more of a reality in the business world. Even though lots of people were talking about it, few were really doing it, especially when it came to PA services. With this in mind, I had a vision of what I wanted my business to be, and how it could work in this changing landscape, so I drew a deep breath, and took the plunge.  

I named my business after the last thing I took out of the bottom drawer of my desk on the day I left my last 9-to-5 job to start an adventure that some people thought reckless.  But I knew it was something I wanted to do and was confident I could make it work. I had years of PA experience, which I knew was the core of my business, and a model I believed in.

There are a number of constants that have, and will never change at blueumbrella. Our philosophy and core beliefs remain the same as when we started out. We are totally committed to providing outstanding service to our clients, building lasting relationships, making a difference, embracing change and being agile.

The difference today is that we are connected all the time and the way we work can be truly virtual, in the sense that we can work from anywhere and nobody knows if we are in our office, in the coffee shop in between meetings or in our villa on a Greek Island (I wish!).

I will continue to take great pleasure in seeing, and helping my clients grow and develop. This is something drives us every single day.

So, a big thank you to all the amazing clients and fabulous VAs that I’ve worked with over the last 17 years, and I look forward to welcoming new clients and VAs over the coming years!


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The future is agile, are you?

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Happy new year to you, we hope you had an enjoyable and restful Christmas period. At blueumbrella we have hit the ground running in 2018, with a host of new and exciting clients we’re working with and have been inundated with enquiries for our services.

Over the last month I took some time to look back to see if there was anything I could learn from what 2017 had delivered. I also wanted to find out if there was anything that could inform my strategy for 2018. What I discovered was only possible to see with this reflection and hindsight. What I found was that throughout the year, two themes were apparent and impacted virtually every aspect of our business.

The first was agility. With less certainty in business than ever before and increasing challenges facing us in all aspects of life, we saw that offering our customers an agile solution to their business demands was a key ingredient to how blueumbrella operate. We understand demands on a business can change rapidly, sometimes you will need extra resources and at other times you need to adjust quickly to a changing landscape.

The second was resilience. As mentioned above, there has never been a more challenging, or exciting, time to run a business. The speed of change at times can be quite bewildering, and sometimes this can feel exhausting. Being resilient to us here at blueumbrella means how you respond to this pressure and constantly changing business demands. We find doing something positive in challenging times brings a sense of control. It’s an active process, not a passive one to build resilience.

So how do you become more agile and resilient? Unfortunately, there is no blueprint for this, but maybe the tips below might help.

  • Treat problems as a learning process
  • Take positive action in difficult moments
  • Delegate what you always multitask
  • Schedule appointments with yourself
  • Look after your wellbeing – both physical and mental

This year I am taking the ‘Walk 1000 Miles’ Challenge. The target seems quite intimidating, but after nearly month of walking I cannot recommend it enough. I feel better, my head feels clearer and I am determined to succeed! It’s a great initiative to get people moving, find out more at www.walk1000miles.co.uk

Give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk any time to speak to about how we might be able to help your business, campaign or project.

Time flies...

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... it really does, if you don’t manage it, or manage yourself as best you can.

Do you, like me, wonder where time goes, especially at weekends?  As the clocks went back and we gained an hour it got me thinking once again about time and how to make the best use of it.

Time is precious and something we all complain we don’t have enough of.

For me it is essential to have a routine to my working day and working week.  When you run your own business and don’t have the structure of a 9 – 5 job it can be very easy to get side tracked doing the things that are easy and that you enjoy, leaving other tasks right until the last minute. On days when I don’t effectively plan my time it is easy for the day to disappear in a flurry of reactive busyness.

Personally, I like to spend the morning responding to emails and getting things up to date. I try and take an hour in the middle of the day to do some reading or business development and then in the afternoon I work on longer term projects.  I prefer to be in the office on Mondays and Fridays, so will arrange meetings in the middle of the week where possible, this makes the week less disruptive.

We are all aware of these tips but sometimes it’s good to be reminded:

  • Lump together similar tasks – get into a rhythm
  • Live in the present – focus
  • Choose the right environment for the type of work you are doing – office, coffee shop, walking
  • Identify drains on your time – long phone calls, unnecessary meetings
  • Outsource and delegate where possible – can we help?
  • Be strict with yourself and switch off by a certain time each day 

So, is a structured life a productive life?  Do you need to manage time or manage yourself?

If you have the time (!) watch this video and let me know what you think…

That new term feeling...

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My school days are a distant memory but September still has that ‘start of term’ feeling for me.  Does it for you?

The first few days can be a struggle after the freedom and fun of the summer and it can be hard to get motivated, but for me it’s the opportunity to start afresh with renewed enthusiasm.

At school, September would mean new shoes, a new uniform, new subjects, a new timetable, new teachers, new friends, new targets and, most importantly, a new notebook and pencil case!

It may sound bizarre at first, but I think many of these can be translated into our business lives.

New shoes
Stiff, tight, uncomfortable to start with but once you wear them in they are fine. In business how often do you break out of your zone and do something you really don’t enjoy but you know it would be good for your business? Making that call?  Asking a client for a referral?  Speaking in public about your business?  The more you do it the more comfortable it becomes.
 
New uniform
As the seasons change so inevitably does your wardrobe. Think carefully about the image you want to portray and whether your clothes show that image. Also, think about the context, a full suit may not be necessary for a coffee and catch up with an old client!

New subjects
I can’t get enough of self-help books about business.  Currently I am reading the excellent, Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. Is there a gap in your knowledge?  Are there new subjects you’ve always thought about studying?

New timetable
Do you break your day up and give it structure? A common approach is to spend the first hour of the day responding to emails, followed by making calls, leaving the rest of the day for meetings and other projects. Make sure you factor in some time for learning and an hour for yourself, whether it’s to go for a walk, go to the gym or read up on that new subject, this is essential.

I like to spend the last 30 minutes of the day tidying up loose ends and making my to do list for the next day.

New teachers
I wouldn’t be running my business today if it wasn’t for life coaches (Thank you Ginny and Sally Ann) and business coaches (thank you Richard A).   Everyone needs support, encouragement and a different perspective sometimes.  Think about areas where you are stuck or struggling – it might be useful to speak to someone looking from the outside in.

New friends
My version of making new friends is networking.   People ‘do’ business with people they like and trust and who they know do a good job.   Meeting new people every week or every month expands your network, giving you resources to call on as well as putting you in front of people who may need your products or services.
 
New targets
I am constantly writing down my goals. I am a great believer in ‘if you write it down it will happen’. 
 
You need targets and plans on how to achieve those targets. It’s good to do a 10 year, 5 year, 1 year and 1 month target so you can see where you are going and how you are going to get there and focus on getting there.  

My favourite quote this month is: ‘Energy flows where focus goes’.

New notebook and pencil case
I have always been a stationery freak; nothing gives me more pleasure than starting a new notebook.

I never understand why stationery has to be boring.  Currently I love the designs by kikki.k they brighten up my desk.

Give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk any time.

Delegation is what you need

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I've just returned from the most amazing holiday. We spent two weeks enjoying the sun, sea and Sangria on a beautiful Spanish island. I feel enthused, re-energised, full of optimism and ideas for the rest of 2017 and beyond!

One of the reasons I enjoyed this break so much was that I was able to switch off from everything here at blueumbrella with complete confidence that nothing would go wrong.

Having such an amazing team around me made this possible but I also followed a process of delegation which I have used for so long that it is virtually instinctive to me now. On this occasion I took a closer look to see if I could refine this process and improve it in any way. What I realised is that with modern technology, delegating is less onerous than ever. However, there are a number of key elements to getting delegation right that will never change.

I made a note of these which I shared with all blueumbrella's VAs, and now you! I hope they may be of some use and help you to improve how you delegate. Some may seem obvious, but I believe it is worth taking the time to go through them in detail.

  • Prepare - Take the time to map out exactly what you need
  • Assign - Share all necessary information in a clear and consistent way
  • Confirm understanding - Don't assume understanding, take the time to confirm
  • Trust but verify - let the person you are delegating know that it's ok to 'run things by you' at the beginning rather than make a wrong decision
  • Give feedback - This is incredibly useful to both parties. It may take a little more time, but it will ensure you are getting what you need and helping others to get better which can only benefit you in the long run

Finally, one of the most important things I have learnt over the years is that when there is a mistake, it is rarely the person doing the work who has caused the problem. When you analyse why the problem occurred, you almost always find a misunderstanding with the original instructions.

Hopefully, if you follow some of my top tips, you can avoid any problematic situations! As ever, if you have any comments or tips, please let us know!


Time for a VAcation? Get ready for summer!

I recently read an article which claimed that more than three quarters of entrepreneurs go without holidays in order to keep their business ticking over. In fact, it's something I was guilty of in the early days of blueumbrella.

However, taking time off is essential and most certainly not a luxury! Having some time away can  provide tangible benefit to you and your business. A holiday allows your body and mind to relax and recharge, which in turn benefits your business.

But how do you do this with confidence? It's all in the planning! Often people wait to the last minute before seeking support when in fact, this should be done as early as possible to ensure good understanding of all requirements. It's also a worthwhile investment of your time to let clients and customers know that you'll be away, this allows you to be as prepared as possible for any potential problems.

Holidays are often a time for reflection with the intention of doing things differently, launching new projects or starting new enterprises on your return. But it is so easy to slip back in to your pre-holiday routines habits and forget your new ideas. So why not make this summer the one you really do make those changes and start to do things differently! 

Give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk to see how we can help.

Making meetings matter

We all know ‘that’ feeling when we’re faced with a full day of meetings. I spend so much of my time scheduling, rearranging, cancelling and attending meetings that sometimes I wonder how anyone gets anything done! It’s almost like many of us are ‘addicted’ to them.

Of course, I fully understand that many of these are important and necessary. I also know from my experience in corporate life and in running blueumbrella, that a vast proportion of these are not needed.

I recently read a survey which showed the average worker spends 16 hours a week(!) in meetings. That’s over a month a year stuck in meetings. A month! The cost of having so many meetings is also astonishing, according to research from Epson and the Center for Economics and Business Research meetings are costing the UK economy £26 billion.

One of my fantastic clients is operating at full capacity and has started struggling to fit everything into their day. We undertook an analysis of their diary and found over 40 regularly scheduled monthly meetings. We identified that many of these meetings did not require their attendance. Often they could be done remotely, by email or even by another representative from the team. Consequently, we have managed to halve the amount of meetings they have to attend which has proved liberating for our client!

We also looked at how to make the remaining meetings more effective and efficient. Here’s what we outlined to help make meetings matter:

  • Set clear objectives.  What do you hope to achieve from the meeting?  If your goal is simply to disseminate information, an email may be a better, more efficient approach.
  • Create an agenda and send it in advance. Productive meetings require structure and planning.
  • Invite the right people. Who do you need to attend to achieve the meetings purpose?
  • Start and end on time. No one ever complained because a meeting ended on time!
  • Follow up - and follow through. When the meeting is over, the follow-up begins.

We also discussed a couple of other areas to make meetings better. There is a growing trend to hold either walking or standing meetings to ensure they do not last too long. Another idea was to ban all technology! We think this would stop many unnecessary distractions. Most importantly though, we agreed the quality of drinks and snacks needs to be better! 

If you have any tips or tricks on how to run effective meetings we’d love to hear from you.

Give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk