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

The art of communication

bu_mailchimp_communication.png

Communication is easy right? We all do it, pretty much all day every day. We talk to our loved ones, we message our friends, we send numerous emails and take calls throughout the day at work.

But how effective are these interactions? Are you picking up the right information? And are you missing anything important from them?

This is something I’ve been thinking about, and working on developing for the whole time I’ve run blueumbrella. As we’re a virtual company, with our team all working remotely and with clients from all over the UK and Europe, communicating clearly and effectively is one of the most important aspects of my business.

Our clients often have a very short time to brief us on a project or, as many are entrepreneurs, they have a million things going around their heads at one time! Extracting the right information at the right time is imperative for continued success. We’d all love to be able to chat leisurely over a coffee and set our plans for the next weeks and months, unfortunately life, and business isn’t like that!

The two main areas where we’ve worked hardest with our communication methods here at blueumbrella are how to actively listen and the art of asking the right questions, at the right time.

We all know the saying, ‘the best communicators are the best listeners’, and I wholeheartedly agree. But how to you learn to listen effectively? We find the following tends to help us:

  • Ask the right questions – this comes with experience – see below
  • Wait for the answer, don’t assume anything and ‘jump in’ with an answer
  • Continue to actively listen to your clients

Secondly, how do you ask the ‘right’ questions. The wrong question is almost guaranteed to generate the wrong answer. The right question asked at the wrong time can also be equally useless.
Asking effective questions can be quite a tricky skill to master so we’ve put our heads together to come up with a few tips which might be helpful:

  • Effective questions are open-ended and not leading questions
  • Sometimes asking ‘why’, can make people defensive, try to use ‘what’ or ‘how’
  • Try not to make assumptions

Communication seems to be easy, but it is actually complex and something that needs constant work. Here at blueumbrella we constantly strive to be the best and provide the services you need, not what we think you want and we so this by actively listening to you and asking the right questions, at the right time. 

Networking: The power of connections

I’m not going to lie. I used to hate networking, I mean really hate it. Just the thought of being in an environment full of strangers, all being pushy with their own agendas and different approaches, would make me feel sick in the pit of my stomach! I would pretty much do anything to avoid this scenario. That was until a dear old colleague of mine pointed out to me, that I successfully networked every single day.

Not in the way I feared as I so eloquently(!!) describe above, but in a very different way. This colleague explained to me that they saw me chatting, making introductions and connections in the office and that was fantastic networking. I just hadn’t ever thought of it that way.

Fast-forward several years. Soon after I set up blueumbrella, I found myself in the exact position which used to make me so anxious, in a room, full of strangers, feeling a little intimidated. But this time it was different. I remembered what my colleague had said to me, took a deep breath, smiled and dived right in. That evening I made some of the best connections I have ever had, two of whom are still intimately involved in my business to this day.

That conversation all those years ago, made such a difference to me – and my business. In fact, if I hadn’t had it, I doubt I would be in my current position! Networking now plays an integral part in blueumbrella and its success, be it in a formal situation or a chat with someone at yoga, making connections can open a world of possibilities.

However, it did take me some time to actually get good at ‘professional’ networking. It’s not something I ever had the opportunity to train to do, so my development was more trial and error! Through this process I did manage to gather a few top tips which I use to help me out:

  • Don't wait around the edges of the room, waiting for someone to approach you. This always made me feel like I was on the ‘back foot’. Be positive, get the conversation started, ask a simple question such as, “May I join you" or "What brings you to this event?"
     
  • It may sound terribly cheesy, but don’t forget to smile. Not only does it help relax you, it puts others at ease too. Always think ‘warmth, curiosity and generosity’.
     
  • Focus on others. People always like talking about themselves, and you’ll quickly learn what’s important to them.
     
  • Don’t forget to follow up any connections you make, even a simple ‘nice to have met you’ email may lead to new opportunities.

These may not work for you, but I find them invaluable. As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any wise words or thoughts on how to network better.

Outsourcing with confidence. It's all about collaboration.

2017 is just a month old and we’re firing on all cylinders! We’ve got new clients and some fantastic projects getting underway. It’s a great time of year for us at blueumbrella, we look forward with energy and optimism to all the opportunities that a new year brings.  

We’re sure that you feel the same and are looking at your business and thinking about the next 12 months – and beyond. Whether you’re looking at starting a new business, new projects or initiatives, we want to let you know that blueumbrella are here to give you that extra helping hand along the way.

Recently we’ve talked about time management and productivity in our newsletters and blogs. But what happens if you still need a hand operating and growing your business? This is where blueumbrella come in. A great way of freeing up time to work on key areas of your business is to share some of the more routine aspects with us. We quickly get up to speed with our understanding and can offer solutions which can make you operate more efficiently.

Recently Jordan Cohen of PA Consulting interviewed businesses in Europe and the US in a study for Harvard Business Review. The results are startling. He found that 41% of an entrepreneur's day is filled with activities which could be competently handled by others.

So what could you do with 41% more time?

•    Focus more on your customers
•    Increase capacity for faster growth
•    More strategic planning
•    Find and recruit the right people
•    Something fun that isn't work related - go to the gym, meditate..? 

These are only a few examples. Just think how different your business would be if you had this extra time.

There are many other benefits in working with us and letting us take care of some of your more routine tasks. We offer the experience, quality and flexibility which really benefits both you and your business. We can also advise on what not to ‘outsource’ from your business. 

How do you do this with confidence? We know how hard it can be ‘letting go’, but we also know how liberating and transformational it can be. With our experience in the industry you can trust us to provide fantastic solutions which help you grow your business. Simply give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk for a free consultation on how we can help transform and grow your business.  

Doing the right things at the right time

As we enter the festive period, many businesses suffer from a drop in productivity. This seems inevitable as we all have parties to go to, gifts to buy and people to see. We often end up over-committing and spreading ourselves too thinly, as we try to complete projects, think about the upcoming year AND fit all these niceties in. 

But is it really unavoidable? Surely there must be a way to stay work focused and enjoy the festivities?

This got me thinking about how we work here at blueumbrella and what steps we take to continue working efficiently – even in December! The team here debated their various strategies and methods which keep them producing quality work. We concluded there seems to be two aspects to this. Firstly, there are many practical steps you can take to make yourself (and your business) work efficiently and the second being what we termed a ‘productive mindset’.

Our five practical top tips for productivity are:

  1. Schedule everything. Don’t just add something to your to-do list, allocate some time to make sure it happens.

  2. Have a ‘to-don’t’ list. Tom Peters developed this idea in his seminal book ‘In Search of Excellence’. As the name suggests, this itemises all the things you shouldn’t do.

  3. Keep your workspace tidy. According to Harvard Business Review, a clean desk helps you stick to a task more than one and a half times longer. 

  4. Meet smarter. Know what you want to accomplish before going in to a meeting, and keep them short! Try limiting the agenda to three or less items.

  5. Write it down! When you write things down, you’re more likely to see them through. It sounds simple, but it really works.

We had real trouble narrowing these tips down to just five, if you have a method or way that works, we’d love to hear about it.

The second productivity ‘discovery’ is a bit trickier to nail down. We think it’s more about attitude than a process which you can learn and implement.

Our most successful clients have this ‘productive mindset’. It’s a way of thinking where they achieve their goals, no matter how busy they are or how difficult the task at hand is. 

We looked at how they achieve this success and what separates them from the rest.

Here’s what we found they have:

  1. Laser focus on what they are great at, and honing those skills to near-Olympian standard.

  2. The ability to identify the correct goals at the correct time to focus on their business.

  3. Understanding time is their most precious resource.

  4. Knowing what to let go of, and being happy outsourcing to those who are more skilled.

  5. Staying continually motivated. 

As we march towards 2017 we’re looking forward to keeping our fabulous clients operating at peak productivity. We’re also super excited about working closely with all our new clients and helping them achieve success. Our team of personal virtual assistants are able to support your business by taking care of the things that often get in the way, leaving you to focus on what you’re good at. We work with businesses of all shapes and sizes on projects both big and small (and every size in-between).

We’d love to hear from you and see if blueumbrella can help your business grow. Contact us any time on info@blueumbrella.co.uk or on 020 3021 0503.


If you have time(!), I urge you to watch these two funny and insightful talks on productivity.

If you don't have time to read this... read it twice

Time: the one thing EVERYONE wants more of, and how you can manage yours more effectively.

I was recently reminded by LinkedIn I have been running my business, blueumbrella, for fifteen years. Where does the time go? I mean, really? This reminder also made me pause, look back and reflect.

Throughout this time, we have had the privilege of working with many fantastic people and amazing businesses. Businesses of every size, sector and shape you can imagine. I've learnt so much from these clients and from running my own business, that I wanted to take this opportunity to share some key insights we have discovered along our journey so far.

Business is only going to get faster and more complex. Technology, new challengers and constantly changing priorities affect how we operate and what products and services we provide. However, many of the same business issues arise again and again, whether you are a FTSE100 company, a small business or a sole trader.

The most common recurring theme we encounter is how to manage time effectively. We're all busy living complicated twenty-first century lives, and often it's easy to feel overwhelmed. We recently took time to speak to some blueumbrella clients and colleagues and gathered useful tips to help overcome these challenges.

A great and instructive exercise to start with is to analyse your time. Spend a week noting what you actually spend time on, rather than what you think you spend it on. You'll soon have a realistic picture of your schedule. Please see below for our five top tips on time management.

  • Don't just start. Take the time to plan your upcoming day/week.

  • Prioritise. It's often better to tackle the hard tasks first.

  • Learn to say no. It's impossible to do everything, be realistic.

  • Delegate. Learn to delegate properly and to the correct people.

  • Disconnect to reconnect. You're probably not going to make the best decisions at 2am!

Even Google, home to some of the smartest people on the planet, have issues with time management. So much so, that this amazing email, 'If you don't have time to read this email... read it twice' was sent around their people. You can also watch the video one Googler produced below:

I was particularly taken with their insight into how your energy levels 'run the course of a wave throughout the week' and how you should try to plan accordingly. The advice is to aim to do the following:

  • Monday: Energy ramps out of the weekend — schedule low-demand tasks like setting goals, organizing, and planning.

  • Tuesday, Wednesday: Peak of energy — tackle the most difficult problems, write, brainstorm, schedule your Make Time.

  • Thursday: Energy begins to ebb — schedule meetings, especially when consensus is needed.

  • Friday: Lowest energy level — do open-ended work, long-term planning, and relationship building.

I hope you found these tips and insights useful. If you have any time management methods you use, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line anytime at info@blueumbrella.co.uk

Best wishes,

Jill Hughes
Founder & CEO, blueumbrella

Contact us anytime at the following:
Call: 020 3021 0503 | Email: info@blueumbrella.co.uk | blueumbrella.co.uk