I’ve always been good at time management. But when I left Corporate America and started my virtual assistant business, I found out pretty quickly that time management in a virtual world is different than in an office environment. It meant that I needed to learn how to restructure my day to be the most productive.
Of course, in the early days, time management meant using shorthand to take notes, and carbon paper to create duplicates. The advent of the computer changed all that. It’s only gotten better and better from there. Today’s administrative professional has a wide array of tools at hand to help them organize their work day. When I worked in an office environment, some of the time management techniques I used included sorting the mail into stacks before I opened or distributed it; making sure that when I got up from my desk, I ran all of the errands I needed to while I was already up and about; converting as many paper systems to electronic systems as I possibly could. I always enjoyed finding ways to streamline a process. I came up with some pretty crazy ideas; but I was usually lucky enough to have bosses that allowed me the rope to try out my ideas, and they always worked.
Once I started working from home, where literally all of my work was done on the computer, many of my time management tactics no longer applied. It was a bit frustrating at first, since I had always taken pride in my organizational and time-management abilities. I couldn’t quite seem to get a handle on it. It was out of character for me. I finally decided I needed to take a couple of days over a long weekend to get things organized and develop a routine.
- I started with my computer. Up to this point, it had only been for personal use. Now, it was my primary work tool. I set out to organize my desktop, my documents, my files, etc, to allow me to work more efficiently; help me find things easier; have a filing system that made sense. I deleted files and uninstalled programs I didn’t even remember saving or installing, freeing up space I didn’t even realize I had. I ran my computer maintenance regimen. Whew, that was a lot, but soooo worth while! My computer now runs faster and smoother than ever before.
- Next, I went to work on my calendar, task list and email. I had things here, there and everywhere. I consolidated everything into my Microsoft Outlook program and organized folders, lists and daily schedules.
- After that, I took inventory of the software applications I was using, and what I would need to add to my collection in order to be productive in my new work environment. After all, I was now responsible for all that, instead of the company I worked for, as it had always been in the past. I researched what I could use that was free of charge, and added the higher quality applications as I was able to afford them.
- Backup – the final thing I had to do was to devise a backup system for my computer. I never really worried much about it before. But I couldn’t risk losing valuable work, as it was now my livelihood. That’s now one less thing I have to worry about.
Now that I had things in order, I was enthusiastic to go to work. Even though my work day went more smoothly after having done these things, I found I still had some work to do. I was still not making the most of my time; I had to look for ways to further improve. After a period of experimenting with different things, I have finally narrowed it down to some things that work very well for me.
- Email – I figured out how to tame the email gremlin; by organizing my mail, just as I used to do when I worked in an office, only now it’s on the computer. I flag high priority mail for follow up (if I don’t handle it then and there), file it in a folder, print it, forward it (delegate it), or delete it. If it requires adding something to my calendar, I do it right then and there, and then I’m sure not to forget to schedule it in later. Good, that’s out of the way. I schedule this first thing in the morning, and then usually check it a couple of times throughout the day.
- Schedule – having a schedule of my day laid out first thing in the morning is crucial for me. I know what I need to get done, and have a pretty good idea of how long it might take me, so it’s not that difficult to schedule my day. I use my calendar in Outlook, and set a reminder to pop up for me. This is the best method I have come up with to make sure I don’t miss or forget anything really important.
- Family – It took some time get my family used to the idea that just because I’m home doesn’t necessarily mean I’m readily available to meet their needs. I still have a job do to, and a timeframe in which to complete certain tasks. Besides that, I charge many of my clients by the hour; therefore, it’s important that the time I spend working on their projects is devoted wholly to that project. Once I made it clear that my work time is “do not disturb” time, they completely understood, and my work day now has far fewer interruptions…
- Speaking of interruptions, that’s another thing I had learn to get under control. Although it was hard to do, I had to learn to turn off my cell phone, close my email, put my desk phone on ‘do not disturb’, hold off on doing the laundry, etc. An important part of time management for me is being able to focus fully on what I am working on.
It’s a work in progress. By nature, I am always looking for better and more efficient ways of doing things. I expect I will never stop tweaking it. But, it’s much better now than it was before. Now, I have time to take on new clients!