In a recent survey conducted by PageGroup, respondents stated that they spend a third of their working days either answering emails or phone calls. In an 8-hour day that’s more than 2.5 hours. Whilst emailing and answering the phone is necessary to an extent, and an important part of professional communication, a vast amount of the emails and calls we receive on a daily basis are either complete rubbish, unimportant or non-urgent. Every time the phone rings or a new unopened envelope appears on your desktop, you’re distracted from the task at hand and then require a ‘recovery period’ to refocus on what you were doing before, losing even more precious minutes. Focus and organisation are key to keeping on top of your communications traffic, and unsubscribing to those unnecessary mailing lists is sure to bring it down significantly. One of the best solutions could be to outsource this to someone else, but I will come onto that later.
On average, employees attend up to 62 meetings per month. Considering that the majority of meetings last a minimum of 20 minutes, that’s a huge chunk taken from your day, particularly when the meeting is off-site and you have to factor in travel time, traffic and all the usual unexpected delays that inevitably strike. Meetings can be excellent creative and collaborative opportunities, but they can also be tedious and pointless when there’s no real agenda, focus or objective. Lots of CEOs turn up at meetings not even knowing who they’re going to meet. You really need to take the time to keep on top of your schedule to see if you can actually spare the time, then make the decision as to whether the meeting is beneficial or urgent, or whether a phone call would do the job.
Trawling through the internet for relevant, focused information can take up hours of your day, especially when you’re constantly led astray by the seductive headlines and false articles that fill the web. What’s more, it's exhausting. Naturally, all business leaders are expected to be and should be well informed on their industry, the surrounding industries and what’s going on in the world more generally. Therefore, it is imperative to work out a system that allows you the time to keep ahead of the conversations you need to know about.
Efficiently filing documents is one of the most time consuming office jobs for all employees, but also the task you most regret not doing when you’re trying to recall where you put the tax note from 2013. Staying organized is particularly difficult for CEOs who are constantly travelling and being handed business cards and documents to shove into the depths of their briefcase. Box files are outdated and to find the piece of paper you’re looking for, even if you’re using labels and dividers, still requires a fair amount of searching. You need to find a system that is not too cumbersome that can be used on the go, so that when you need to find what you’re looking for it is in a place that makes sense and can be accessed from anywhere – which is the beauty of the Cloud.
Multi-tasking is the biggest killer of productivity and your mind. A recent study from the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ score declines that were similar to what you’d expect if the individuals had been smoking suspicious substances or not sleeping. Normally, the issue is that we have too much to do and too little time so we attempt do everything at once, but that results in bad quality work and superficial results. You really need to be able to concentrate on one thing at a time.
As an ambitious entrepreneur who is looking to have a great work/life balance while still building successful businesses, I have personally found great value in having a virtual personal assistant (PA) – so much so that I was inspired to start a business matching virtual PAs with business leaders who like me, also want to ‘have it all’.
It is easy to over-communicate these days, given we have so many different ways to get in touch with each other, but a virtual PA can help introduce a filter system that deletes, orders and files emails according to your personal and professional priorities. They can act as a gatekeeper to pointless meetings, ensure your time is well spent and take on the burden of researching your industry so that when you do go to meetings you are ahead of the pack and can demonstrate your in-depth knowledge. They can also help by creating an efficient digital filing system that delivers exactly the document you’re looking for at the click of a button.
It’s great that technology has enabled us to work virtually from almost anywhere in the world, and by delegating all the niggly administration based jobs to a virtual personal assistant, you can allow yourself the indulgence of concentrating on one task at a time whilst knowing everything else is being quietly taken care of.
About the author
Richard Walton is the founder and managing director of AVirtual, which provides virtual personal assistants to entrepreneurs, executives and other professionals. The company was born out of Walton’s personal experience of trying to find a better work/life balance. Prior to AVirtual, Walton founded Global Vision International (GVI), which he grew to a 250-strong social enterprise operating in more than 40 countries.