Archive for the ‘Project Management’ Category

Worth Repeating – October posts from New Leaf News


Still fresh, still good for you! (Farmer's Market, Granville Island, British Columbia. Photo by Margaret Lukens)

I’ve dipped into the New Leaf News archives to share a few posts that still seem as fresh and relevant today as they did in Octobers past. In case you missed them the first time around, here they come again!

I’m still using mind-mapping as a technique to organize and view more information than is possible with a list or outline. And since I wrote about it last year, I have begun making some mind-maps using a piece of free software that couldn’t be easier: MindMeister. I recently used it to develop the curriculum for my new teleclass/workshop PortaVault Prep. It enabled me to fit essential notes for three hours of class time on a single page.

Do you believe that multitasking is a useful productivity practice? My work with clients indicates you’re not alone. Still, research on how our brains execute tasks is yielding stronger evidence that we need to stop interrupting ourselves. Read this advice from an 18th century father to his son, and take it to heart.

Want your productivity instructions boiled down like a concentrated sauce? Here is last year’s light-hearted look at the main ingredients of getting more done.

Wishing you a happy October!


Need a Net Nanny? Rescue Time Provides the Loving Discipline.

How do you waste time at your computer? Are you an obsessive email-checker? Do you while away hours playing solitaire or backgammon? Are your achievements in Farmville and Mafia Wars huge compared to your achievements in the real world? Are you a connoisseur of funny pet videos on YouTube?

image courtesy of

With temptation never more than one little mouse click away, our best productive plans can easily be derailed. I can always divert myself from work that is difficult or tedious by clicking over to something amusing (I’m a solitaire and backgammon girl, myself.) Even when I’m not trying to avoid work, it’s easy to be drawn from one site by a link, that leads me to another interesting link, that leads to…. Day’s over and nothing’s accomplished.

Did you ever wish for something that would help to keep you on track, a sort of nanny to remind you of what you should be doing right now? Enter Rescue Time. Rescue Time bills itself as time management, productivity, and project tracking software. Running in the background on your computer, it’s basic function is to track what you’re spending time on – business, email, social networking, meetings and phone calls, and so on.

Time Rescue provides pre-assigned categories of activities, which are surprisingly easy to customize, allowing you to change the productivity ranking (“Being on twitter is required for my job – I’m the social networking guru, honest!”) and fine tune the reporting.

One feature of Rescue Time that can be especially helpful is the Focus Time tool. If I need to write without interruption for 30 minutes, I tell Rescue Time to put me on Focus Time, which means it will block any category that I have rated above a certain level of distraction. If I try to leave my work and open a browser window on, which I have rated as “very distracting”, the browser window will roll over to Rescue Time, with a reminder of why the site is blocked for me and, just in case I really need to look at facebook right now, a message detailing how I can unblock it.

If you are motivated by upholding your personal best, you’ll probably enjoy checking your Rescue Time stats and making sure you haven’t dropped below your average, or the score of the average Rescue Time user.

Of course, Rescue Time can’t enforce productive habits against your will. What it can do is to helpfully remind you of your intentions if you should falter for a moment and provide feedback about how well you’re sticking to your goals. And when it comes to forming good time management habits, that’s a lot of help.

The basic Rescue Time application is free.

How I interviewed a virtual assistant for my team

I’ve written before about virtual assistants and how having a partner — someone who has skills to complement yours, who owns their own business assisting others, and who works from their own office — can be a boon to solo entrepreneurs.

After wasting more hours last year than I like to admit by trying to format my own email newsletters and e-books, set up my own shopping cart, and compare online class registration systems, I admitted that I was working WAY too far outside my expertise, and that I really had to get help.

This month I’ve hired a virtual assistant, and I’m really looking forward to this working relationship. Though a virtual assistant is not an employee, the process of choosing one is very much like a hiring process. I wrote a complete description of what I need, how many hours per month I want the person to work, what my business is about, and what my working style is like. (For example, in dealing with complex issues, I really dislike email. I need to pick up the phone and have a short conversation with the other person rather than spend hours writing an email that addresses all the variables in a complex problem.)

When candidates emailed in response to my request for a proposal, I reviewed their websites and blogs — all of them, including those that weren’t directly related to their VA business. Then I scheduled times for interviews with the final three. Here are the questions I asked each of them:

  • How long have you been a VA?
  • What was your last job before starting your VA business?
  • Do you use a Mac?
  • What days & hours do you work?
  • Tell me about your experience in helping clients with e-commerce.
  • Understanding that there is a lot of variability among the projects you work on, can you give me a range of long it takes you to set up a landing page? format an ezine? set up a new shopping cart for one product?
  • Do you have any services you recommend  or prefer to use for shopping cart? blog platform? web host? autoresponder?
  • Do you take a referral fee when you recommend platforms to your clients?
  • Tell me about a recent client success.
  • Tell me about a recent client challenge and what you learned from it.
  • Tell me how you charge — hourly rate? monthly retainer? arrangements for extra hours?

Each interview took about 40 minutes (10 minutes longer than I had expected). All three were fully qualified, but by the end I felt that I had a good sense of which of these candidates would work best for this project at this time.

One final note: I took the time to write to the two that I didn’t choose and let them know that I wouldn’t be needing their services at this time. After all, I had asked for information, and each of them took the time to compose an email response and then clear their schedule to talk to me. They deserve the courtesy of a final decision. I hope more people adopt this standard of communication. I continue to be surprised by the solo entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes that request proposals, then fail to follow through to a final decision.

Have you hired someone recently? Do you want to? Write your experiences here.

Recipe for productivity

Bon Apetit!

Bon Appetit!

Like a featured recipe in a cooking magazine, productivity has many ingredients. Some are obvious (oh, there’s beef in the beef stew!) while some are subtle (who knew that excellent doughnuts actually require a whisper of nutmeg??) We can leave something out, we can make substitutions, but the dish won’t achieve the same heights without all its parts.

Here’s the ingredients list for productivity:

  • Be clear about your priorities
  • Funnel everything into one system
  • Manage your time and energy
  • Know how to delegate and discard
  • Play to your strengths

Are you missing any ingredients? Is there something you’d like to add to your recipe?

The Virtues of Virtual Assistance

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Word is spreading rapidly about virtual assistants, often known as VA’s – assistants who work from their office, not yours, to give you help with the projects and tasks you need to delegate.

I sometimes suggest that my small-business clients consider using an assistant – either virtual or in-house – so they can delegate parts of their work that aren’t their core business. I’m aware, though, that hiring and management of help can be a time-consuming and expensive process.

In my own business I have used online services such as to hire VA’s to help with projects, but I have been frustrated at the amount of time I spent sifting and sorting through online resumes to locate the right assistant to match my needs. I was looking for a less hit-or-miss way of getting essential help for my clients and myself.

Enter Assistant Match, a company that matches busy people with virtual assistants. Recently I spoke with Katie Gutierrez, owner of Assistant Match, to get her tips on how to get help when delegation is the right thing to do.

asstmatchimage11New Leaf News: Why did you start Assistant Match? Katie: I saw that there was a need. People would build their businesses and then hit that wall. They wouldn’t have the expertise to do what they needed to do, but finding, screening and working with the right person was pretty overwhelming. People would put an ad on Craig’s List for an assistant and get over 100 responses in 24 hours. There wasn’t a flexible, reliable way for people to get help.

NLN: How does Assistant Match work? Katie: First we work with the business person to find out what they need, what they want to delegate. We also learn about their work style. Then we find people who we believe can be top candidates. We do the entire screening process.

We do reference checks before the client ever talks to the VA, and we do criminal background checks if they’re going to be handling any personal information, online passwords, or bookkeeping information. If applicable, we get work samples. Then we summarize the information for our client.

NLN: Do you give clients several candidates to interview? Katie: Typically we present just one candidate at a time to our client. The less people they have to talk to, the better.

NLN: What are some common tasks that business owners delegate to a VA? Katie: There are two kinds of situations. One is where the person has project work. For example, they need to set up email templates for their email newsletter. Or they’re creating workbooks, e-books, or finalizing workshop materials. They may have the content in note format and they need someone to pull it together. Or they have a box of business cards they want to enter into a database. These are some project examples.

Then there are people looking for an ongoing relationship. They’ll ask for a VA to set up appointments for them, screen their phone calls, format documents, do online research – things that aren’t the best use of the client’s time.

NLN: Where are your clients and where are your VA’s? Katie: Our clients and VA’s are all over the country. Alicia, who set up our appointment for this morning, is in Michigan. (Note: Katie and I are both in California.)

Sometimes a client will need a VA in their area. For example, one client does a lot of driving and needed a VA who knows the traffic patterns in her area in order to properly schedule her time. Others may hire a VA to coordinate an event and then want that person to provide on-site help with logistics and registration.

NLN: How does Assistant Match charge for your service? Katie: At this time the charge to hire a VA for ongoing help is $295. It’s less for project help, as little as $95. The hourly rates vary based on the responsibilities and experience of the VA. The average now is $30 to $35 per hour, and there are plenty who are less and plenty who are more.

NLN: I think many readers will be surprised that a VA can be that affordable. When I consider what my time is worth, I couldn’t possibly find my own candidate for that little. Katie: Yes, it’s very affordable. Also, we handle the billing and take care of all the tax forms, the 1099s and so on.

NLN: What are the advantages of a “virtual” assistant over one that works onsite? Katie: One of the things I think is so great is that there are no supplies, equipment or space to provide. If you have to buy a computer and a desk for your assistant, those costs would really add up. But those are things the VA has provided in her home office. And the arrangement is completely flexible, so if you need five hours one week and 10 hours the next week and no hours the week after that, your VA can do that, where an employee typically couldn’t.

NLN: I imagine that some people who know about VA’s first heard of them from reading Tim Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Work Week. Ferris writes about his experience working with VA’s in India. Any thoughts? Katie: We’re certainly grateful for the publicity that book has brought to VA’s. But a lot of people think they can work with someone in a different country and get the same results as working with someone in their area. I believe there are some important reasons to work with someone closer to home.

NLN: Thanks very much, Katie. It’s good to know that you make finding a VA so easy. Katie: I’m happy to help.

Following Through: Just Show Up

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

A lot of people want to write a book. Maybe you are one of them.

I spoke with a would-be author recently. She had begun her first book, determined to produce a sample chapter that would dazzle the publishers, who would waltz her across the dance floor to published bliss. Alas, the publishers had two left feet, trampling her dreams of a coherent book that would serve the people she had in mind.

Her goal was derailed. She felt frustration, sadness, even grief. It seemed impossible to once again find the will to move forward. How could she follow through on her intention to write her book?

One way to be true to whatever is within you is to “just show up”. Do the easy part of whatever it is you need to do, and see how far it takes you. Writer’s block is getting in your way? Fine, just sit at your desk doing nothing during your writing time. Don’t’ write, but don’t do anything else, either. No solitaire, no email. Just write or don’t write.

If exercising is one of your goals but you hate everything about actual physical exertion, fine, just go to the gym and be there for your allotted exercise time. When the time is up, leave. Either exercise or don’t, so long as you’re at the gym.

In order for this follow-up technique to be effective, it must be truly okay for you to go to the gym and not do a single rep. Otherwise, you’re going back on the deal that you made with yourself, and who wants to make deals with a cheater?

If you decide you want to quit and abandon your goal, fine. Make an affirmative decision to set that once-important goal aside and choose another. But if that vision still hooks you, follow it by just showing up. Have you tried this? Tell us about it by leaving your comments here.

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