Search Up #vatip for Some Good Suggestions

A few tweets from the end of February, examples of #vatip posts.

A few tweets from the end of February, examples of #vatip posts.

Whether you’re swamped with your work and could use some administrative help or if you’ve ever just wondered what in the heck virtual administrative assistants even DO, Twitter has some answers for you.

Search for the hashtag #vatip, and virtual assistants all over the place are sharing what their skills are, what they’re doing for their current clients, ideas that have popped up while working on various projects, or things they wish they were doing more of.

When looking for a VA, you might want to consider a few important things.

Not all VAs are equal.

Sometimes the work that needs doing is something that also requires a bit of savvy or previous experience, something that needs some decision-making or creative problem solving. Maybe it’s a regular task you’d like streamlined while it’s done, and at the end you’d like a document that outlines a new standard operating procedure that any person could pick up and use to duplicate the process. Other tasks involve handling sensitive information, like company passwords, email addresses, or customer information. For these, of course you can get references and have your VA sign a non-disclosure agreement- but you should work with someone you really enjoy working with. Someone you can trust. I don’t totally want to dis cheap international VA firms, but having one person on some of these tasks is best for all those reasons you can imagine.

If you’re one of these people, you probably need a VA.

Creatives, sole proprietors, non-computer savvy people who work with their hands, artists… I’ve worked for all these sorts of people. In every case, they were amazing at what they were doing, but really needed someone to nail down systems or to help with their growth.

For example: an artist is great at painting. Then there are all these paintings. Assembling a statement with examples of recent works and sending that document along with a well-made press packet to a wishlist of galleries in other cities, thus landing new gallery shows and beefing up their resume, would be a great thing. The artist continues to paint, the VA takes on that press packet task. No struggling to find the time or to learn how to make a pretty press packet. Come up with a budget, hire a VA with previous experience who understands a bit about how galleries work. Done.

Know what you want, but be ready for advice, too.

Most times I’m working WITH rather than FOR my clients. As a person augmenting your passionate pursuits, virtual assistants have a unique perspective. I often have ideas for ways to expand, things to cut, and ways to streamline. I’ll have edits I want to make to documents or websites or I have things I think they don’t need to spend energy on anymore. I often find myself gently offering advice to my clients that saves them time, money, and hassle. In fact, beyond the tasks themselves, I see this as my chief mission as a consultant. I’m not here to be obedient. I’m here to make a positive impact.

Hiring a coach? Maybe you need a virtual admin.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, considering that last paragraph. If you’re feeling chaotic or like you’re running in circles, maybe you just need someone to take a look at HOW you’re working and actually do some of the legwork to make it better. Having a coach tell you what you maybe might need to do is all well and good. If you’re in the weeds or trying to get bigger, you need more hands. More brains would be awesome too, right?

How about you?

I have more thoughts about how admins could help you. Costs nothing to chat with me and discuss some ideas. An email back and forth with me could change how you think about your work and about the value another brain, another set of eyes, and another attitude along with you in your endeavors.

Taking Care of Your Electronics: Planned Obsolescence Be Damned

Oldschool mac buttons

“If you take care of your stuff, it will last a long time,” my dad has always said.

He’s right, because he still has his mac, just like the iconic one in the picture there, and he does a little part of his work on it. He also has a big iMac, too, but that little guy is still going strong.

There are some technical software things that you can do to lengthen the life of your technical gadgetry, but what about cleaning, handling, and protecting them so they physically last a long time? Having those things last for years is good for the bottom line and good for the environment.

Here are a couple of tips I’ve scrounged up and I’ve learned from experience. I hope you find them helpful!

1. Phone cases aren’t just jive turkey accessories.

Protect your investment with something that keeps gunk out of the crevices, buttons, microphone, and charging port. I suggest something that’s also, at least somewhat, waterproof and that would cushion a drop. It protects from much more than just accidents, but everyday that device is in your linty pocket, your dusty handbag, or your trusty-but-rarely-cleaned backpack. On that front, I’d suggest a lifeproof case. Treat that phone or tablet like what it is: an expensive little computer, deserving of your respect.

2. Cases for computers work pretty darn well.

I’ve had my incase┬ásleeve for my macbook (13″, celebrating our 7th anniversary together) and it’s helped protect it from my linty backpack and even played a role, I’m sure, in protecting it from a near-catastrophic fall early on in my ownership.

3. Cords need love too.

Cords have all sorts of crevices that can get crap stuck in them, and then subsequently, get crap stuck in your computer ports. Also, bending or crushing them will land you in a spot where you need a new $30 cord. Now there aren’t any particular things you need for this, maybe just a little, clean, drawstring bag with all your charging cords in it, which is what I’ve done. I did that mostly to keep my little usb bricks and phone charger, headphones, and handsfree all in one place, neatly in my handbag. As it turns out, mine is just a re-purposed, soft bag meant for a pair of sunglasses, to give you an idea of size. You can make your own, too. Here are a bunch of tutorials.

4. Develop a cleaning regimen.

Depending on the device*, there are good resources all over the web that can help you develop a good practice of cleaning your devices. No need to buy weird little towelettes, either. There are many tutorials and simple materials that make it possible for you to affordably keep up with this sort of mundane task that will make a big difference to your little glowing rectangles. Don’t forget that little can of air to shoot dust out of ports and keyboards! And set a little monthly reminder on your computer to take a moment to tidy up your devices.

I hope you find this helpful. Did I forget something, do you have a good idea? Pay it forward! Pass this on to a coworker or client who you think it would help.

*Refer to the user manuals or do a search about your particular device and what the best materials are to clean it with.

 

Stretching, Moving, Being Human

Day 26: Even Hands Need Exercise Sometimes

A few years ago, my hands were a wreck. My wrists had painful burning shots of pain that drilled into the very center of my elbows. I just figured that’s what happens when you work at a desk. I made it cute. I described my hands as “hurty” and sometimes talked about it valiantly like a battle scar.

It’s not cool though. It’s lame and avoidable. I want my body to function well when I’m older, and I’m sure you do too. Occupational ergonomics isn’t a cloudy science- you’re actually supposed to be out growing your own food and walking to sources of water every day. You’re supposed to lift and carry weight and feel the sun on your face. Heck, everyone heard about the research that sitting is pretty bad for you.

Beside the bike ride to work, your time on a treadmill, or an appointment with a massage therapist, here are a few ideas for how to spark a desk practice that’s mindful of your body. These are just a couple kernels to build a good practice from:

1. OSHA’s Ergonomics Resources

I’m self-employed, so that means that OSHA doesn’t apply to me. OSHA also doesn’t apply to folks like city workers, but most cities adopt OSHA rules as best-practice guidelines to keep people safe and healthy. You can too! The resources are readily available and we all pay for their hard work, so check it out.

2. Yoga and Stretching Breaks

Videos on youtube and free yoga in the park during lunchtime- everywhere you look you can get good ideas for what to do during frequent breaks. All I had to do just now was search for “stretching exercises for office” on youtube and I got this and this and this and this. There’s so much. Maybe you could build a playlist for the day.

3. Slight Distractions

I have a couple of things I keep around me so I get up and move more often. I have a squeezy ball that I keep next to the computer. Instead of keeping my hand on the mouse all day, when my hand doesn’t need to be there, I find that I’m drawn to play with the squeezy ball. You could have all kinds of stuff- some sort of puzzle, a tiny set of weights, one of these weird things or this neat thing.

I also keep a 1000 mL bottle full of water next to me at all times. Again, it gets my hands away from the keyboard, but my goal of drinking 2 of those a day means that I must get up from my desk from time to time to use the loo.

4. Schedule Breaks and Set a Timer

Three minutes every half hour, that’s what my friend does, and needed to do when his body was nearly broken from years of abuse. He couldn’t grip anything because of his repetitive strain injury (he’s a software guy, coding all day). It shouldn’t get that far, and I think you can give 6 minutes out of the hour to moving about.

During those three minutes, getting up is key. My friend has a bar he hangs from, a great stretch for your shoulders and arms. Various weights are spread around his house, and when the timer goes off on his computer, the notification pops up in a window over everything else and won’t go away until he hits snooze or cancel. He makes hitting cancel a no-no.

If you can get up more often or with a different scheduling regimen than this, that’s great. The idea is to use your free time to be human. Maybe you do tasks through the day that when completed, a break would not only be aptly timed, but a good mental clearing for the next task at hand. A brisk 5 minute walk and you’re back at it.

Do you already have a regimen you use to keep your body healthy or a stretching guidelines you love? I’d like to know about it!

Altruism in Your Everyday

When I need to procure anything for business- supplies, postage, travel, etc- I look to fill that need and do some good with the money at the same time. Here are a few things you should consider doing around the office, small changes that have big impacts.

1. Buy Postage Stamps from Island Post Offices

Here in Maine, our small post offices are endangered. Sure, they don’t have a terribly huge amount of mail running through them, but they’re important to the communities on these islands. The Island Institute has this great form you can fill out for your next order of stamps. I’ve visited some of these small outposts, and I have to say, they’re really great and deserving of your support.

2. Develop a Relationship with Your Local Office Supply Dealer

In Portland, ME there’s Wigon Office Supply. In Portsmouth, NH there’s Hoyt’s Office Products. In your town, I bet you’ve got one of these creaky-floored, lovingly-maintained office supply joints. They order from the same exact catalogs that the bigwigs order from, and you can get everything you’d ever need in about 24 hours lead time. Furniture takes a little longer, but that’s no big deal. Stay with them for a little while and most likely they’ll extend you a 20% or more discount on your office supplies.

I used to call my gal up at a small place in Dover, NH back when they were an independent. Every time I moved to a new office, they’d extend me the discount at that new spot, too. The best part? I could call her for anything I needed, saying something like, “I need 300 envelopes that fit something with x, y, z dimensions but I can’t find it in the catalog.” She’d do the research, often pulling up some sale-priced thing that fit the bill and saved us tons. Relationships rule. The sale means the world to them, the service will mean the world to you.

3. Join the National Association of Railroad Passengers

NARP gets you cheaper tickets and gives you the opportunity to help rail. Amtrak provides convenient service between east coast cities in my experience. The service will only get better if we patronize Amtrak. No checked bags, no crazy fees everywhere, no weight limit to your bags, no creepy screening. GO RAIL!

4. Stop Buying Pink Crap

Please pardon this one negative item. Don’t buy that silly pink line of office products that says they’re helping to raise money for researching a cure to one of the plagues of our times. They’re not, here’s a little bit about why. A donation cup as you enter your office or perhaps a coworker team for the next interesting walk/run/bike event is better.

5. Consider Used, Rather than New, Office Furniture

So sweet on the bottom line and recycling in action. There are lots of showrooms that sell used office furniture, and sometimes you can snag a previously loved Herman Miller chair or a whole suite of matching pieces. You’ll save money and avoid throwing out more packaging into a landfill somewhere. Search it up- “used office furniture” plus your town’s name. Maybe try searching under chapter 11 clearing houses, too.

 

 

Well I hope these were helpful. I’d love to hear your tips, too!

What do you want your days to look like?

I have lots of aids to help me remember what I need to do any given day. I’m sure you do too. I’m interested in hearing about other people’s methods, because seriously, you people have your stuff together. Woo!

I’ve tried Evernote, glanced at Springpad, made a good college try at Batchbook. I’ve attempted to use my calendar as the Center of Everything… but still at the end of the day, it’s my little brown Moleskine with the graph paper pages and my trusty gel pen that really get it done. Little pocket for slips of paper or things to mail. Stamps if I need them (I write a lot of letters these days). It’s an object that I enjoy holding and using.

Flexible. The pages are unformatted and my note-taking is allowed to evolve. Right now I’m doing this great thing where I account for all of my time during the day. Above it is my to do list I wrote first thing in the morning, below I just bang out a ticker tape of blocks of time and what I did during them. If I screw off, I write it down. It’s ok to screw off a bit, but if I see an hour chunk where I didn’t do anything but sit at my desk and enjoy the internet, maybe I need to change that.

Meditative. Writing is doing, and for me writing is also memorizing and meditating. When I write down a to do list, I’m able to feel that word come out of the pen. The time it takes to complete that task becomes real for me in that moment. I might realize that it’s more important than something else, or that I can get it done quickly and first so it’s out of the way. I might also realize that it’s completely unimportant and I can let it slide to the next day. No big deal.

A client of mine writes herself notes, and her notes have made me change the way I write my notes. They’re here and there on post its, but they’re not to-do necessarily, and they’re not your run-of-the-mill reminders causing clutter. She writes work down in other places, like dry erase boards and an ever-open paper calendar, but those other notes are really something. They’re more like big ideas. “I want fun profitable work,” one says. Another reminds her to get outside and play, and even says how much time she should spend doing that every day.

And so I’ve adapted my lists too, because she’s on to something big. I don’t just write my work stuff down because I’m not two people. I’m one person who needs to play and pay bills and do fun work and maybe pick up a few groceries. So I have one notebook for everything. Dinner parties? In there. Reminders for me to invoice stuff? In there. Big thoughts like “Get Awesome?” In there.

If you’re writing two or three lists in a bunch of different places for all those people you think you are, maybe consolidating your goals and things to do into one list is better. You’re one person with 24 brilliant hours in which you need to garden, play, run to the bank, find new customers, walk the dog, write a blog post, research something… and for me, I’d like everyday to be fun, productive, full, manageable, and profitable. I want to waste less time and get to gettin’, whether that’s gettin’ more yoga in or gettin’ projects done for clients.

You know what doesn’t make the list? TV. Angry Birds. Thumb twiddlin’. No wait, I do have some time blocked out tomorrow for thumb twiddlin’. I also have something down here for whistling and looking innocent. It’s slated to happen right after I eat some cake. Ha!

I’d love to hear what you think of this. What do you think of keeping one list for personal and business stuff? What do you want your days to look like?

Banging Through It: What I’m listening to this week.

I really appreciate it when people share what they like to listen while working. It’s an ever-evolving thing, isn’t it? Here are three songs that are either running in the background or running the whole show. It’s a blurry line for me.

Fanfarlo, “Shiny Things”

This one’s a no-brainer. Added it immediately to my weekly listens. It’s on heavy rotation.

Phantogram, “Don’t Move”

Off that great EP that just came out at the beginning of the year. I’m still not over it. Here’s a nice little live version for you.

Mutemath, “All or Nothing”

I triple dog dare you to try not to bob your head.

Ok now your turn. What are you listening to?