Geography is no boundary…

Hilltop Secretarial

What I’ve Learned After 23 Years in Business

Peaceful Treehouse Office

Or should I say what I haven’t learned?!?

I’ve learned that time management doesn’t mean juggling multiple things at once. I’ve discovered that with few exceptions, multi-tasking doesn’t work. When I’m working on a project for a client and have the timer going, I can’t just keep it going when I’m interrupted with another task, or call. It all stops one timer and starts another.

The ONLY exception I know of is to be on hold for a client and working on a task for another client. In that case, that’s a quick multitask since you’re listening for the person on the other end of the phone to come back. The illusion of multitasking drives me crazy. I might sometimes give off the impression I’m multi-tasking but I’m really just moving from one project to another in quick succession.

I’ve learned I have swiss cheese memory and if I don’t write it down, or set a task (and REMINDER) in Todoist, I will completely forget it. I like that set-it-and-forget-it method. I like running through my to do list completeted items and realize how much got done. (Or not!)

I’ve learned to take breaks. Quick trips out of the office for a couple of days at a time are wonderful for a fast recharge. I’ve learned to not deny myself time away from the office. I’ve also learned to pack the laptop in case of client emergencies – which makes them and I feel better about being away. I cherish my time away now as much as I cherish this business I built and nurtured from the infancy of the virtual assisting industry I helped forge, to where it is today.

I’ve learned to cherish my clients as well. I have clients I’ve been working with for nearly twenty years and some that are relative newcomers with only a couple years of time in. My clients are loyal and my client turnover is low. We work together seamlessly and I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them. When its time to retire – IF I ever decide to! – I will hand them off to trusted professionals I’ve personally trained to do my clients’ work.

But honestly, I can’t see myself retiring for some time. In this business, I can literally be anywhere there is a connection and work. My husband and I can be on vacation and if I schedule in a couple work days here and there I can do both vacation and handle my client needs. For the most part, I still have some who have in person needs (bank deposits, or mail handling) and for those I’ll enlist the help of someone local.

I’ve learned to relish the workday because it gives me purpose. I am a person with chronic illnesses for which working remotely is ideal. Because of this, I’ve learned to tolerate my illnesses, and work through them, and with them. I no longer feel inadequate or that I’m a burden.

Hilltop's Office Helpers
Office Helpers

I’ve learned to appreciate my little ‘helpers’ Mac & Ginger. Their need for little ‘walkies’ has assured me that I have a break – or several – during the day. Rain or shine, Winter or summer, I get to get outside and breath the fresh air.

I’ve learned that freedom is everything. Freedom to work the way I want, and where I want. I can be in the office, at the dining table, sick in bed, or my favorite place in the spring, summer and fall, in the Treehouse Office. Where I live I am surrounded by beauty and tranquility. Yes I can hear my neighbors doing lawn work, but most often its the sounds of nature and breezes through the trees. Its magical.

And one of the last things that I’ve learned, is who I am. It’s only taken a lifetime but now I know I’d never change a thing.

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A Change in Perspective

The Treehouse Office[/caption] This week I’ve been blessed to work outside my office. Literally, outside in our lovely forested backyard on the screened in balcony. Everyday I’m treated to a cacophony of birds and other sounds of nature. Enjoying breezes and warmth, the occasional dog barking and squirrels yelling at each other. Its delightful! This morning I saw a brilliant cardinal on my porch rail, so beautiful! Yesterday, two deer walked calmly through the backyard that is carved out of the forest, then back into the trees, pausing to nibble at little green dainties along the way. This is the first time in the lifetime of my business that I’ve had the space and the surroundings to create an outdoor office. Nearly twenty-one years in business and only since 2011 have I had this perfect space with which to work and be productive while taking in nature’s bounty and refreshing my soul.  Sure, its only good in the spring and summer before it gets too hot in the day, and rainstorms drive me indoors. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thanks to technology such as Splashtop for ‘remoting in’ and VoIP phone systems like my RingCentral, I’m able to do all this and still get everything done I need to. Makes me realize how much I missed before moving to our amazing home in Pennsylvania.  🙂 I hope you’re enjoying your office wherever that may be.  ]]>

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Effortless Collaboration with Shared Folders

Effortless Collaboration with Shared Folders Managing a project that requires a lot of back and forth of files is a harrowing experience. Email works for the first round or maybe two, but after that, it quickly gets out of control. You’re working on version “c” while your client is already on version “e” and soon important revisions and notes are lost. A better way to work from a single document is to simply add files to a shared folder. This way, as you or your client make changes, they’ll appear in real-time, leaving no doubt about which version anyone has, or what changes were made when. There are several players in the folder sharing market, making it easy to find one that will work not only for you but for your clients as well. Dropbox A favorite in the shared folder race is Dropbox. The simple setup and generous amount of free storage space (2GB) make this a top choice for many people even if sharing files isn’t on their minds. If you work from multiple computers, need access to files on your mobile phone or iPad, or just want the extra security of knowing your important documents are backed up in “the cloud” then Dropbox is a good option. The free version includes 2GB of storage space, which is plenty to get you started, but you can earn more space by Tweeting about Dropbox, referring friends, and connecting other applications. You can also upgrade to 100GB for around $10 per month. Google Drive Not surprisingly, Google has its own document sharing system. Formerly Google Docs, Drive now operates similar to Dropbox in that you can view your files in a folder on your computer. However, opening a file requires a web browser and the use of Google Apps. If you want to edit a spreadsheet in Excel, you’ll have to download it first. Google Drive offers more free space than Dropbox does, starting out with 5GB. Upgrades are less expensive as well, with 100GB available for just $5 per month, compared to Dropbox’s $10 fee. One noteworthy difference between Dropbox and Google Drive is how files are stored. With Dropbox, files exist both on your computer and in the cloud, meaning you can work on them without an internet connection. As soon as Dropbox detects a change to a document, it syncs the new version with that on the Dropbox server. If you and your client are both working on a file at the same time, this can result in a “conflicted copy” showing up in your Dropbox. Google Drive is different in that only one copy of each file exists. When you’re working on a file, you’re actually editing that file on Google’s server. You can see this in action if you have a file open that your client is working on – you’ll be able to watch as she makes changes. There are a variety of other file sharing services available as well, and chances are your clients will have their own preferences, so you’ll likely use several in your business. But to start out, Dropbox and Google Drive offer a simple solution for collaborating with others, or just sharing files between computers.]]>

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The All-In-One Communication Tool Every VA Needs

The All-In-One Communication Tool Every VA Needs The phone rings and you dash to grab it before your toddler – newly able to answer with a barely understandable “Hewo?” – can get to it. After all, it might be a client, or worse, a potential client. Such is the peril of publishing your phone number on your website. Yet many virtual assistants find that offering a phone number increases the inquiries, and consequently, new clients, they receive. Having a separate office line would be a good solution to the toddler-as-receptionist problem, were it not for the cost. The solution? Skype. You’re likely used to using Skype day in and day out to chat with friends, IM with colleagues, and perhaps talk to online clients as well. But did you know you can use Skype as a phone replacement? Skype offers two types of services: Incoming and outgoing phone calls, and you can purchase them together or separately, for maximum flexibility. Make Phone Calls If what you really need to do is call out to clients or others, and don’t want to eat up your cell minutes or reveal that number to the public, then Skype credit is just the answer. Purchase a monthly or annual subscription or a pay-as-you-go plan, depending on your needs. With Skype credit you’ll have the ability to place a call to either cell phones or landlines right from your Skype app. And if you need to call internationally, options are available for a variety of countries starting as low as one cent per minute. Accept Incoming Calls Want to publish your number on your website and answer it at your desk? The answer is to get a Skype number. For as little as $30 per year, you get your own phone number that rings right to your Skype desktop or mobile app. You don’t have to reveal your home or cell number, and you don’t have to worry about anyone else answering your calls, taking messages, or tying up the line. When you sign up, you’ll have your choice of available numbers, so you can choose one that’s easy to remember and that shares your area code. Combine with Google Voice for ultimate flexibility. Having an office number is nice, but what if you’re not in the office? A Google Voice number (available only in the United States) will allow you to control your incoming calls. You can forward your calls to your Skype number when you’re at your desk, or to your cell phone when you’re out of town. A Google Voice number also gives you the ability to block certain numbers, send others right to voice mail, or forward some to your home phone and everything else to your Skype number. You can even set a call schedule, so you only receive incoming calls during business hours. Google Voice is free, and like Skype, you can choose your own number from the available pool. You can also use Google Voice as a stand-alone solution, and make outgoing calls right from your Gmail account. Having a phone number on your website helps visitors feel more secure, but publishing your home phone isn’t always a good solution. With Skype and Google Voice, though, you can have the convenience of an office phone without the high costs.  ]]>

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Plan Your Time More Effectively With Shared Calendars

Plan Your Time More Effectively With Shared Calendars We’ve all been there—stretched too thin, with more work than we have time, and suddenly an important deadline is missed. And if you’re a busy VA with lots of clients, that might happen more than you like, unless you have a trusted system for tracking due dates. Google has the answer for you: Shared calendars. All Your Important Appointments in One Place Few things are a bigger time-suck than having to check and reconcile multiple calendars and apps just to see what’s on task for the day. When clients use different project management systems to record their deadlines, it can be challenging to remember to log in and check on your due dates. But Google calendars synchs with any app that creates an iCal feed, so you can easily “subscribe” to your task lists and have them appear all in one place. Not only that, but by sharing a calendar with clients, you can see what projects and appointments they have in the works as well, so you can plan accordingly. If your client is presenting at a telesummit, for example, you’ll know ahead of time and can keep that in mind when scheduling her social media or creating blog posts. Time Blocking Ensures Critical Work is Completed On Time Aside from knowing what’s on everyone’s schedule for the coming days and weeks, a calendar is a fantastic tool to help ensure all your important work is done. By setting aside time in your day to actually complete projects using a system known as time blocking, you’ll know exactly when you can get to that next project. No more guesswork or late nights trying to catch up when you overbook yourself. Time blocking works by actually setting appointments with yourself. If you have a project to complete, and you know it will take you two hours to do, you make an appointment. The key though, is that these appointments are sacred. You cannot use time blocking as a suggestion, you have to treat it as an unbreakable appointment, otherwise it becomes just background noise that you’ll ignore. Set your “appointments” with a reminder (either a pop-up or an email) and you will never have to ask yourself “What’s next?” You will always know, and you’ll find that you’re much more productive and efficient, too. Access Anywhere for On-the-Go Productivity Not in your office? No problem. Google calendars are available at any time from any of your devices, so you’ll always know what’s happening. Unlike printed planners, you won’t have to remember to take it with you, you can’t lose it, and you can check appointments and tasks not only for yourself but your clients as well, no matter where you are. A calendar is a basic tool that every productive virtual assistant should master. Sharing calendars with your clients will make your job easier (and make you a superstar in their eyes), but you have to make use of it. Getting in the habit of using a calendar can be a challenge. If you’re not accustomed to it, then make it a point to check your calendar first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Set reminders for yourself if necessary, until it becomes a habit. You’ll soon find that you truly cannot live (or work) without your calendar.]]>

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