Category Archives: Virtual Office Tools

Getting The "Message" Out

In my never-ending quest for easy and quick ways to maneuver around Microsoft Outlook, I came across these two gems from Heinz Tschabitscher.  He writes a weekly column on Microsoft Outlook for About.com.   Normally, I read his tips and sock them away for a later date for my own personal use; however, I felt these two tips were worth sharing. 

I don’t know about you, but one of my pet peeves is getting an email with misspellings.  It drives me bananas and if I have to forward that same email on….what’s a girl to do?  Fortunately, I have found the answer, thanks to Heinz Tschabitscher:

  • Double-click on the message that needs to be edited so it opens up fully in its own window
  • From the toolbar, click on “Other Actions”, then “Edit Message”
  • Next, make all the changes you want or need within the body of the email as well as the subject line (if necessary)
  • Finally, press the “Control” key and the “S” key (to save it)

Now you can forward the email with confidence!

Now, have you ever received an email or a forwarded email with another email sent as an attachment?  I have and I’ve always wanted to know how to do that.  Not only because the email looks “cleaner”, but because it makes more sense, organizationally, as well.  Let me explain.  I am all about simplifying things and that extends to emails, too.  When I receive an email that has several forwards to it, I usually end up deleting it.  I don’t have the time, nor do I have the patience to read clear down to the bottom of the email to see what was so important.  However, if someone was to attach the original email and then send it on its merry way, I bet, it would get read and answered more quickly.  The message is considerably shorter and therefore, would seem at least to me, of more significance.  So, I went on a hunt and found out how this “cleaner” way to forward an email can be accomplished:

  • From the menu, click on “Tools”, then “Options”
  • Select the “Preferences” tab
  • Next, click on “Email Options”
  • Under “When forwarding a message” make sure to select “Attach original message”
  • Then, click “OK” and then once more
  • Next, highlight any messages you want to forward and click “Forward”
  • Finally, address and send the email with the original messages as attachments and include any comments in the body of your email

These two tips were definitely “AH HA” moments for me and I have been utilizing them ever since.  I hope they are as helpful for you.

Are You Following These Habits????

A few months back I came across an article written by Sarah Stebbins for “O” magazine, called “The 10 Habits of Highly Organized People.”  Now, I’m not normally an “O” magazine reader, but my mom is and she’ll mention articles of interest to me every so often.  As a matter of fact, I’m astonished she didn’t tell me about this one!  LOL 

At any rate, the article is pretty short and simple, which I happen to like, but makes total sense.  It’s relatable and easy to follow.  So many times when you read something about the habits of successful people, they seem so….unobtainable.  These don’t.   There are ten (10) insightful habits in all, but I’m only going to share a few of them with you.  The rest you can check out for yourself. 

  • Make peace with imperfectionI know this is a hard one, but I promise you, you’ll get the hang of it.  As long as you put forth your best effort, that’s good enough!  Striving to be perfect is exhausting and boring!  Besides, a little imperfection never hurt anyone, right?
  • Schedule regular decluttering sessionsWhy wait for a build-up?  Do you like feeling overwhelmed with stacks of paper everywhere?  Try scheduling 10-15 minutes of your time, say at the end of your day, going through your office, sorting through your mail or finally going through that pile of magazines on the floor that seems to continue to grow.  Even the littlest of things that you can put away in their rightful place will help you feel more at ease.
  •  Separate emotions from possessionsEver heard of the term ‘pack rat’?  Most of us know of someone or is that certain someone who can’t seem to get rid of anything because it reminds us of something or someone else.  Sentimentality has always been my weakness, however, I have learned over the years, that most of the material items I was holding on to were just that…material.  My memories won’t fade if I let go of that old sweatshirt from my father nor will my feelings for my husband fade away if I get rid of the dried up flowers from our anniversary.  There are memories attached to these things, yes, but honestly, I don’t need them and they are just taking up space.  So, I let them go.
  • Never label anything “miscellaneous”This one rocked my world!  Who doesn’t have a file somewhere labeled miscellaneous?  Do you know what all is in that file?  I sure didn’t.  But, the habit makes sense.  If you go through this folder, you’ll find either things you don’t need or things that should be filed elsewhere.  The article suggests making specific groups and then sorting your files that way.

I don’t know about you, but these habits are extremely easy to understand and follow. I love personal growth articles that only take a few minutes to read and motivate me for personal change.   I am looking forward to re-reading this article again and putting those thoughts out into the universe.

Having Calendar Issues? Try These Tips!

As many of you know, I am in love with the Microsoft Outlook calendar.  It’s functions are endless and for me, putting everything I do in one central location has been a tremendous help.  I can track the time I spend on all my work projects, schedule my available time for household errands and still see where I have free time for me.  Yea!!! 

I recently came across a great article from The Crabby Office Lady, who wrote about some unique tips for the Outlook calendar that I thought were worth sharing.  Here are just a few:

  • Change the time periods in the Calendar gridYou can change the default setting for 30-minute time slots to 5-, 6-, 10-, 15-, or 60-minute time slots by right-clicking the actual calendar, click “Other Settings”, and then click the number you want from the “Time Scale” list.  I chose the 15-minute interval since that works better for me.
  • Quickly change an appointment into an all-day event – Once you are in the calendar, switch to “Day” view and drag the appointment to the day heading.  This works great for when the cable guy will be at your house anywhere between the hours of 8-5. 
  • Quickly switch to viewing by month in Calendar – Click in calendar and then press ALT+EQUAL SIGN.  Loved this tip!  Talk about quick!

There are several other Outlook calendar tips from The Crabby Lady that I did not share with you, as well as tips ranging from silly thoughts on life to office and work tips that are great.  The added humor she uses puts things into perspective nicely.

I hope these tips have come in as handy for you as they have for me.  Enjoy and happy scheduling!

Do You Know What Time It Is? Yes, It’s Time to Get a New Watch!

[polldaddy poll=3286182]

Remember this little “joke” from elementary school? :D It fit well with my post today because I am sharing some different ways to help you keep track of your time. (Especially if your current ways aren’t working for you.) It is so important to make sure you are keeping track of your time. The first step to efficiently planning any sort of activity (including work) is to know how you are spending your time.

Get a Timer

Go down to your local Radio Shack or electronic store and buy a digital timer that you use only for your office.
timerTrack time spent on:

  • client calls,
  • tasks,
  • research,
  • email, and anything else you can think of.
 

Find a Browser Plug-in to Track Productivity

This will help you keep track of how long you are spending on certain websites. (Take note WordPress & Joomla developers!)

Chrome Plugin:
Stay Focusd

 

Firefox add-on:
Rescue Time

 

I couldn’t find one for Internet Explorer, however, the next timer is the next best option if you prefer IE.

Download-able Desktop Timers

Cool Timer is a free download for your PC to clock your time. * If you do download this product, I recommend that you uncheck the installation for the browser toolbar.

 

Online Project Management Tools


Zoho’s CRM online service is free for up to 3 users, and offer very affordable month subscriptions for larger teams. You can create contacts and log calls, tasks, etc.

 


You can also check out Google Sites if you would like to try another robust project management system. All you have to do is create a new site and choose the project management template.

 

Conclusion

Last week I posted a poll to find out how many years of experience our readers have in virtual business. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that we have a very good mix of fresh newcomers and seasoned veterans who read our blog. As any experienced virtual assistant will tell you, in the beginning, time will be your greatest asset. So remember that your time is very valuable, and you must learn early to keep track of it. Many of the tools I have shared with you today are free or offer free trials. Remember that free is only a place to start. As your business grows and your time becomes more scarce, invest in quality products and services that save you time so you can focus on your customers.

Mind Mapping: Draw Your Conclusion


Mind mapping is an activity that might be very familiar with those who understand that they are visual learners, though it could help many of us.Think about a story you read as a child.
Do you remember the words on the page?- or -
Do you remember the pictures that you were able to build in your mind with each of the author’s details?
Because most of us retain pictures, I am convinced that we are all “in-part” visual learners. Mind mapping could be a very effective way for us to develop a more efficient process to develop our ideas. Students, entrepreneurs, and group leaders can use this tool to learn, develop business plans, and even break down group projects visually.

An Example of a Mind Map

Figure 1: How students or professionals can use a mind map.

Figure 1 is a sample mind map that I put together as a visual aid to show (1.) who might use mind maps and (2.) what they might use them for. The stars represent a way that might be most obvious to start mind-mapping.

How to Start Using Mind Mapping

When you begin to work with mind maps, it is important to keep it as simple as possible, and build on the skills you develop. I used a free program called FreeMind. This is a program from SourceForge used to create, view, and save mind maps in XML and HTML. There are many programs available to draw maps like this. However, all you really need to start drawing a mind map is a piece of paper, a pencil, and a central idea.

Mind Mapping for Business

In our very complex business world, we are surrounded by graphical representations of all kinds of information. We like pie charts, interactive menus, and even things as simple as before and after photos to show off our work. How are we using visual aids to develop our business? Mind mapping could be a great tool to develop and break down plans pictorially.

For example, if you have a small project that you can divide into two parts, you could create a mind map for each part. You could visualize when certain events needed to occur, and build on specific details that you think of later or after speaking to a client.

There are two very important questions that still need to be asked before deciding if drawing a picture is even helpful.

1. Does it help us retain what we’ve learned?
2. Does it really help us develop our ideas?

Pictures Help Retain Information

This is an example of short term and long term retention; the two ways that visual aid can help us recall information. I watched a television series on HBO called “The Alzheimer’s Project” this last winter; and I remember a nurse was asking each of three elderly Alzheimer’s patients (on separate occasions) to remember three words that were unrelated. Then the nurse would ask them a couple of more questions, and finally ask each patient to repeat the three words that she had told them only a few minutes before. Only one lady remembered all three. “Do you wanna know how I remembered?” she asked the nurse. “I made a picture in my mind of a table, and then imagined someone put down a penny, and then someone put an apple on the penny.” She was right; the three words were apple, table, and penny.

As I was writing about this past memory, I did not have to watch the television show again to remember this part. In fact I even recalled the three objects without looking up the show. (Except I must confess, I remembered the items as apple, table, and quarter.) I recalled this situation that I saw once, months later because this little lady helped her audience by giving them a really great tip. In its most basic form, she shared the wisdom that a picture (mental or not) can help us recall information. She represented how it can help with short-term memorizing, and I am a real life example of how those pictures can become longer term memory retention.

Developing Ideas in Groups

Mind mapping can also be used in groups to start planning projects. In her book, “The Manager’s Guide to Effective Meetings Briefcase Book”, Barbara J. Streibel describes a term called “displayed thinking” which is mind mapping as a group. Its purpose is to represent analytical and creative ideas in picture form using symbols, colors, and arrows to represent related pieces of the plan. She states that it as an “exploratory tool, rather than analytical,” and “spatial rather than linear”; and continues to accurately describe it as similar to storyboarding. Storyboarding is also used by many web developers to plan visual layouts of graphics and websites.

Conclusion

There are lots of ways to learn and remember information. Mind mapping is another way to represent and develop your ideas. It will not work in every situation. However, there are many situations where drawing a picture can help us work out problems on paper. The trick is to start small and then develop this skill just as you would develop any other, with practice.

Mind mapping is more effective the more personal you make it. Use symbols that make sense to you and bold text that are the most important or plausible ideas. Next time, when your clients or teammates don’t understand your plan or explanation, try drawing them a picture!

Work at Home Does NOT Mean Solitary Confinement

I have a “confession” to make. I live with a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder also known as “Winter Depression”. Depression is a scary word isn’t it? Here in Indiana we have a wide variety of weather changes. Sometimes there are weeks of gray winter days, one after the next; and those days can seem to last forever.

Due to a brief break during the holidays, followed by four months of burying myself in my work and my studies, I wasn’t really affected by it as much this last winter. The problem with this “solution” is that inevitably ends in a period of “burn out“.

Most of my trouble with winter is the fact that it’s difficult to get out as much. I have found lots of tools that help me work more efficiently, and help me “get out more”. I hope that sharing them with you will help you get out more as well.

  1. One purchase this last winter that transformed some work at home to become work on the go was a smartphone. Check out these smartphone resources:
  2. If you do not have a smartphone yet, but do have a laptop, look into places with free WiFi.
  3. Even if you don’t have a laptop yet, you can go to your local library and find out about the availability of computers and the internet.
  4. Many Virtual Assistants have also found this new cellphone application called Foursquare to be a fun “excuse” to get out more.
      It’s really fun to get the badges and points, but I do have some important rules that I follow for safety. Seriously consider setting boundaries that work for you when sharing your location with the world.

    • Never “check in” until you’re leaving, especially if your going to be there awhile
    • And never check in to someplace you visit on a regular basis. (e.g. school, book club, work, or church)

I am the type of person who loves to be around people, I get sort of energized by it. Therefore, the decision to work at home was truly a difficult one. I knew that I wanted to be at home with my children, but they are growing more independent everyday.

In order to stay healthy and motivated, it’s important for us all to make sure that we live active and balanced lives. Even if you begin to practice working away from your home office once a month, it’s better than not at all. New places and environments can really stimulate productivity!