Admin Help for Small Businesses

In this section we’ve included some practices we use within our virtual secretarial services, around some of the most common and time consuming admin tasks, such as email management, diary management, minute taking, arranging meetings and time management. We detail how you can be more efficient in each of these areas yourself.

If you would like to learn how a Virtual Assistant could help you in these areas, please download a copy of our e-book ‘The Small Business Owners Guide To Streamlining Their Business’ by clicking here.

And if you have any questions about anything discussed here, please get in touch.

Email Management

8 Easy Steps To Transform Your Email Inbox From A Nightmare To Reassuringly Empty… Even If It’s Currently Full With Over 10,000 Messages!

Is your email inbox a nightmare?

Inboxes can become a dumping ground, where it’s easy to miss the important messages. Consequently, they waste time, clutter up your mind, create stress and even avoidance, which just compounds the problem.

Being disorganised is one thing, but…

I’ve read that research into how employees use email found over 30% of people check their emails 30 to 40 times an hour! That’s every 1 ½ to 2 minutes!!

Apparently, it’s also only 6 seconds before 70% of emails receive a reply! How are people getting any work done?

Whatever the statistics, emails can certainly be a huge distraction.

1. So let’s start with a few tips to remain proactive during your working day:

    • Turn off your message alerts. Be in control of your day and don’t let every incoming email take your focus away from productive work
    • Set specific blocks of time each day to look at your emails. As research carried out by Ashish Gupta, Ramesh Shard and Robert Greve has found, checking emails between 2 and 4 times each day is optimum for the balance between productivity and responsiveness
    • I’ve marked emails as high, medium and low priority in the past but it never worked for me. Simply highlight those you feel are your highest priority, nothing more. Once those have all been dealt with, go through what’s left and highlight those you now consider your highest priority. Deal with these and then repeat. Having one single priority keeps you more focused

2. How does having zero emails in your inbox sound?

I know what it’s like having a seriously ‘out of control’ inbox. On the other hand, I found reducing it to zero emails gave me far greater clarity of thought. 

I did this by creating 4 folders:

    • Action
    • Delegate
    • Filing
    • Reading

Tip: When labelling the folders, use a character before the title, e.g. !Action, so they’re immediately below the inbox.

Next, go through each email one at a time.

The golden rule is if you can deal with it within 2 minutes, deal with it.

Now, decide if it can be deleted or dealt with. If you cannot delete it or deal with it within 2 minutes, do the following…

    • Put any action you have to do, that will take over 2 minutes, into the Action folder
    • If you can ask someone else to do it, forward it to them, adding the email to the Delegate folder
    • Is it information only with no action? Then it’s the Filing folder for these
    • Is it an article or similar you want to read but isn’t urgent? Add it to the Reading folder

Schedule between 2 & 4 times each day to do this, not forgetting to also schedule times to do the outstanding actions.

This simple system helped me be more organised and saved a lot of time.

3. What if I’ve got 1,000’s of emails in my inbox?

Now I bet you’re saying to yourself “that’s all well and good, you’ve probably only got 10 or 20 emails in your inbox. I’ve got 100’s, I’m probably into the 1,000’s!”

If that’s the case, the answer is to set up a ‘Temp Archive’ folder and then do one of two things.

You can either:

Take the drastic approach

Put all emails into the temp archive folder. Now you’ve got an empty inbox and you can commit to starting the good habits from now.

Although this is drastic, you’ve not deleted anything, so you know where to find any email you may still need.

Or:

Take the considered approach

Sort emails by oldest to newest and put all emails older than 12 months into the Temp Archive folder. What’s left? Still got over 200 emails?

Repeat this again, this time putting all emails that are 9 months old into the Temp Archive folder.

Still have over 200 emails left?

If so, repeat this for all emails over 6 months old and then over 3 months old if necessary.

Why 200 emails?

This is a manageable number to handle properly, i.e. to put into the Action, Delegate, Filing and Reading folders.

Keeping your inbox under control, i.e. empty, allows you to be more focused throughout your working day.

4. If this all sounds a bit too drastic for you, here’s another idea we’ve used for clients.

In fact, we used this for a client who had over 10,000 emails in his inbox when we first started working together.

Create folders for each year you have emails from, e.g. if you have emails going back to 2019, create separate folders for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Within each yearly folder, create sub-folders for each month. To avoid them being placed in alphabetical order, number them as well, i.e. 1 January, 2 February, 3 March etc.

Now sort emails by oldest to newest and put all emails from the oldest month into its appropriate folder. So if you have emails going back to May 2019, put them into the May 2019 folder.

Repeat this month by month until you are left with emails from the current month and the previous month, e.g. July and August 2021.

When you get to 1st September, put all emails from July into the July folder. Repeat this process each month.

While this doesn’t get your inbox down to zero, this system keeps it under control. You haven’t deleted any emails and they can still be found easily.

And by the way, our client with over 10,000 emails doesn’t miss them from his inbox!

5. Inbox Rules

Another way of becoming more time efficient with your emails is to set up some inbox rules.

This is where emails automatically go into a specific folder rather than your inbox.

Creating rules has several advantages:

    • They don’t get caught up amongst the general emails you receive, running the risk of getting missed
    • There are less emails building up in your inbox, saving you time when you process the emails in your inbox
    • You save time searching for important emails because you know where they’re going to be

There are two main categories of rules we can create:

  1. All emails received from a specific person goes into their own folder.

    • This makes it easy to see emails from people who are important to your business and it is clear if you have an unread email.
  2. All emails containing a specific word or phrase in the subject goes into its own folder.

If you send an email to several people, when they reply, the subject line will put the replies into the same folder. This helps keep emails about a certain subject in one place. Again, any unread emails will be highlighted.

Hope this is all helping. If you have any questions along the way, particularly about email rules, please don’t hesitate to ask.

6. Scheduling an email to be sent at a different time

This next tip is not so much of an email time saving tip but more of a general time efficiency tip.

If you create an email outside of work hours, you can schedule it to be sent at a different time.

For example, you’re watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night and, for whatever reason, you think of an email you need to send to a colleague or client and feel you have to do it before you forget. You really don’t want to interrupt their weekend, so you schedule the email to arrive in their inbox on Monday at 9.00 am. This (a) makes you look efficient and (b) avoids you looking like a sad person for sending emails at 10.45 pm on a Saturday!

To do this in Gmail:

    • Type the email
    • On the send button, click on down arrow (More send options)
    • Click ‘Schedule send’
    • Choose your date and time
    • Click ‘Schedule send’ to send the email

To do this in Outlook:

    • Type the email
    • Click ‘Options’
    • Choose ‘Delay Delivery’
    • In Delivery Options, look for ‘Do not deliver before’
    • Add in your date and time
    • Close
    • Send email

This is a tip that can be useful in many cases, not just during Match of the Day!

7. How to stop emails being a time distraction throughout the day

Of course, email is vital in your business. It’s the quickest way to send and receive important and valuable information. But it can often control you rather than you being in control of your email.

Here’s a quick thought on how to regain control so you focus on what’s important in your business.

First, turn off all email alerts, which we talked about right at the beginning of this article.

Next, set specific blocks of time each day to process emails.

Research shows doing this between 2 and 4 times each day is the optimum balance.

This allows you to respond to emails in a reasonable timeframe and at the same time, giving you quality time to focus on important tasks and actions without constant interruption.

Setting the same times each day develops the habit of being in control of your emails. Otherwise, you risk falling back into the old habit of responding to every email distraction.

Doing this for the first time, you’ll probably feel most comfortable setting 4 times a day, e.g.

    • 8.30 am
    • 11.30 am
    • 1.30 pm
    • 3.30 pm

As you get to enjoy focusing more quality, uninterrupted time on your revenue generating actions, you may feel more comfortable reducing processing your emails down to 3 times a day, or even 2! 

8. How to ensure your email action folder doesn’t become a dumping ground for your inbox.

We’ve talked previously about how to be more time efficient with your email inbox, i.e. getting it to zero emails, by creating Action, Delegate, Filing and Reading folders. The trouble is it’s easy to focus on keeping your inbox under control and then forgetting about the emails that are in the action folder, your most important folder.

A good, time-efficient way to handle this is to schedule specific times during the week to deal with the emails in your action folder.

You could schedule 1 hour every day, or maybe 2 hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Whatever times you schedule, make them fit into your working week, not the other way round. If something comes up during your ‘action email’ time, then reschedule the email time.

Take 5 minutes to scan through all the emails in your action folder and then prioritise them in order of importance.

Of course, some of these emails may already be on your daily or weekly to-do list, but it’s important to get into the habit of consistently handling the emails in your action folder. Otherwise it will just build up and become the mess your inbox used to be!

There you have it. 8 Easy Steps To Transform your email inbox from a nightmare to reassuringly empty… even if it’s currently full, with over 10,000 emails.

If your inbox currently has 1,000s of emails, which you are finding overwhelming, and you’re worried that sorting them out will take you away from your revenue generating activities, we can sort it out for you.

We can highlight each one that needs your attention and file the rest in folders that are easy for you to navigate.

Simply get in touch and let’s have a conversation.

Diary Management

I’m sure we’ve all been let down by our diaries in the past. Well, we’ve blamed our diaries anyway for missed, or double-booked, meetings, missing deadlines or forgetting tasks altogether.

There’s a simple solution to this, it just takes a little discipline.

It’s what we call ‘apply rigour to your diary.’

What we mean by this is take everything that’s in your brain and put it into your diary, and we mean everything!

Not just meetings but everything that’s important to you. This includes:

    • Prep time for meetings
    • Travel time between meetings
    • Project or research time
    • Everything with a deadline
    • Sales calls
    • All tasks and actions you’re responsible for
    • ‘Keep Clear Hour’ (see below)

Also, anything that’s in your personal calendar that is non-negotiable needs to go in your business diary as well.

Take 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the day to make sure your diary is up to date. Remember, you need to run your diary, and not the other way round!

Keep Clear Hour

Scheduling a ‘Keep Clear Hour’ every day gives you quality time for important things without interruptions. Here’s what we mean…

Block out an hour at the same time every day in your diary!

This hour can be for whatever you want it to be:

    • To get quality work done between meetings
    • Give you the time for some clear thinking space
    • To get some fresh air
    • Or refresh your brain
    • Brainstorm new ideas
    • Mind map business strategy
    • Allow time and space to think about, or action, things that aren’t happening

This hour is not set in stone and it can be moved if something urgent comes up. But avoid cancelling if at all possible, otherwise you won’t get into the habit and nothing will change.

One client, who had endless back-to-back meetings used this method and soon decided to block out 2 hours every day (can be two separate hours). This was after initially struggling to keep to an hour a day!

Once he’d got into the habit, he found it made a big difference because he was able to focus on getting quality work done between meetings.

Give it a name so that sub-consciously you know the hour is for a specific reason, and it’s not just frittered away. Even by calling it your ‘Keep Clear Hour,’ you’ll know what that means.

Further Ideas

An organised diary is the glue that holds a business together for an owner, entrepreneur or leader. On the other hand, a disorganised diary can spell disaster!

To help you, here are some further ideas we use with our clients:

    • Know your working preferences. By this we mean whenever possible, match your calendar to when you’re at your best, e.g. schedule key commitments  for when you’re at your most productive
    • When you receive a meeting request, check what else you’ve got scheduled around that time, before and after. Is there a conflict in any way? Ensure there is sufficient buffer time (travel?) and preparation time.
    • Always be aware of your commitments. You don’t want to be caught out with any changes or additions at short notice.
    • Understand the objective of the meeting and if it’s not clear, question it. This is more preferable than everyone wasting their time.

These are just a few ideas, of course there are many more.

Choose a method that works for you, i.e. one where you don’t miss the meetings and appointments you’re committed to.

You may hear about the latest all singing, all dancing software and how it is an absolute ‘must have’ but if something more basic works best for you, then use that.

And finally… use one ‘Master Diary’ only.

With all the technology available, it’s common for people to work from 2, or more, calendars. No matter how diligent you try to be, it’s easy to miss something when things get busy.

With everything in one place, very often you only need a quick glance to see what you need to be doing.

Minute Taking

Running an Effective Board Meeting

Anyone running a Board or Committee meeting, such as a business owner, CEO or Chairperson, will want the outcomes of the meeting to be constructive and effective. This requires the key points discussed to be recorded so that everyone is clear about what was agreed, long after the meeting has finished.

Taking the minutes at business meetings is important for many reasons, for example:

    • In many instances, Minutes are a legal requirement
    • They’re a record of the main points discussed at the meeting
    • They also record all decisions taken and the discussions that led to those decisions
    • The Minutes state all actions agreed and who is responsible for each action
    • They enable a business to measure progress and ensure accountability
    • They keep employees informed of discussions and decisions within the business
    • And they may be required in a legal dispute, or could provide legal protection

It goes without saying that minutes should be clear, to the point, unambiguous, and taken by a competent person but how do you go about achieving that? Especially when meetings are increasingly going virtual, or the minute taker is expected to actively participate in the meeting.

Before the meeting:

Of course, just taking the minutes is only one part of running an effective and efficient meeting:

Agenda
  • The Agenda needs to be created and circulated prior to the meeting
  • The Board/information pack then needs to be collated and circulated
  • Details of the meeting location (physical or virtual) need to be booked and circulated to the attendees
  • Now it’s time for the meeting which is to be minuted
Agenda

Of course, just taking the minutes is only one part of running an effective and efficient meeting:

  • The Agenda needs to be created and circulated prior to the meeting
  • The Board/information pack then needs to be collated and circulated
  • Details of the meeting location (physical or virtual) need to be booked and circulated to the attendees
  • Now it’s time for the meeting which is to be minuted

There needs to be disciplined timescales in place. For instance, the Agenda and packs should be circulated a week in advance of the meeting, to enable participants to study the documents fully.

Preparation for taking minutes:

Read through the minutes from the previous meeting. If you regularly attend this meeting, it is a reminder of what was said and agreed. If this is your first time, you will learn about the attendees, the nature of the discussions and the key points to be minuted.

Discuss with the Chairperson beforehand what they require from the minutes. Also talk to the other attendees, wherever possible, to get a better understanding of what will be discussed.

Key points that should be included in the minutes:

    • Date, time and location of the meeting
    • Purpose of the meeting
    • Names of attendees, with apologies from those unable to attend
    • Meeting agenda
    • Key points of the discussion, leading to decisions and actions
    • Decisions taken
    • Agreed actions, including any deadlines and who has been assigned to complete each action
    • Next meeting date

Tips for minute taking

Board Meeting

You’re not expected to write down everything that has been said verbatim during the meeting. One of the reasons for reading the minutes from previous meetings is to understand the format the Chair wants as, well as the amount of detail to be included.

Listen very carefully to the discussions to recognise when you should be making notes.

Board Meeting

During the meeting, you’re not expected to write down everything that has been said verbatim. One of the reasons for reading the minutes from previous meetings is to understand the format that the Chair wants with regard to the amount of detail to be included.

Listen very carefully to the discussions to recognise when you should be making notes.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or clarify what has been said. This is especially important during virtual meetings, where the signal may not be clear.

If it’s a virtual meeting using Zoom, Teams, or similar, have the backup of a dial-in option available in case of technical gremlins.

If it’s an audio only meeting, request everyone states their name when making a new comment.

Particularly for virtual meetings, ask the Chairperson to summarise the key points and actions before moving onto the next item on the agenda.

 

Virtual Meeting

Virtual Meeting

If it’s a virtual meeting using Zoom, Teams, or similar, have the backup of a dial-in option available in case of technical gremlins.

If it’s an audio only meeting, request everyone states their name when making a new comment.

Particularly for virtual meetings, ask the Chairperson to summarise the key points and actions before moving onto the next item on the agenda.

After the meeting…

Draft

A draft version of the minutes should be submitted to the Chair as soon as possible, usually within 2 working days.

Once the Chair has approved the draft minutes, these need to be circulated to all concerned within a reasonable timescale (as agreed with the Chair).This timescale is usually non-negotiable, and the minutes are expected within a set number of working days from the meeting..

Draft

A draft version of the minutes should be submitted to the Chair as soon as possible, usually within 2 working days.

Once the Chair has approved the draft minutes, these need to be circulated to all concerned within a reasonable timescale (as agreed with the Chair).This timescale is usually non-negotiable, and the minutes are expected within a set number of working days from the meeting..

There will undoubtedly be actions arising from the meeting, and the individuals responsible for each action, as well as the completion date, should be noted in the minutes.

Who is responsible for co-ordinating the status of these actions in time for the next meeting?  Make sure you know whether this is something that is expected of you as the minute taker.

And finally, for regular Board and Committee meetings, and as a one-off annual task, the calendar of meetings for the following year should be agreed and circulated at the same time every year.  This needs to be done early enough that attendees can arrange other commitments around these meetings.  

A good rule of thumb is to spend time in August agreeing and arranging the schedule for the following year – making sure to inform the attendees, sending out calendar invitations and arranging meeting rooms / refreshments where appropriate.

These are all aspects that ensure:

    • Meetings run efficiently
    • Accurate records of all meetings are kept
    • Attendees (and their assistants) are fully informed of meeting schedules
    • Participants know what is on the Agenda
    • Everybody knows what was previously discussed and the agreed actions and decisions

Support

Many companies will have in-house EAs / PAs who carry out these actions as part of their job. But, if your organisation does not have a suitably qualified person to do this…

… Core Minutes (part of Core PA Services) can provide this service for you.

Core PA Services Support

Core PA Services Support

Many companies will have in-house EAs / PAs who carry out these actions as part of their job. But, if your organisation does not have a suitably qualified person to do this…

… Core Minutes (part of Core PA Services) can provide this service for you.

We can provide a full service for you, which includes all of the actions mentioned above, including professional, independent and confidential minutes.

Alternatively,

You may not need someone to carry out all of the actions mentioned above and if that is the case, we offer a ‘pick and mix’ service. Simply let us know what tasks you want taken care of, to allow you to focus on running the business, and we’ll do the rest.

If you feel our service could support you, get in touch and let’s have a chat!

Arranging Meetings

Organising meetings sounds easy but it’s also easy to miss something.

Depending on the size of the meeting, it’s often helpful to have a check list on the lead-up to the day, which could look something like this:

    • Confirm everyone’s availability
    • Book the meeting room
    • Book refreshments and/or lunch where appropriate
    • Create/check video links (Zoom, Teams etc.) if it’s a virtual meeting
    • Confirm meeting details to all attendees
    • Send calendar invites to all attendees
    • Send directions for physical meetings
    • Check your emails for updates, meeting requests, cancellations etc.
    • Confirm attendance of attendees the day before the event

And if that’s not enough, there’s one final point to add to your list…

    • Follow up with attendees after the meeting

Yes, it can seem a lot when you list it out like this but if the meeting is important enough to arrange, then it’s in everyone’s interests to make sure it runs smoothly.

Completing Your To-Do List Everyday

How often do you complete your daily  to-do list?

Every day? Once a week? Once a month??

Isn’t it strangely satisfying when you do tick off that final task. Getting to the bottom of the list feels as if you’ve made great progress and had a really productive day.

The reality for most people is there are always plenty of tasks not ticked off at the end of the day, and it’s not unusual to find the list has got longer.

This can be a bit disheartening at times.

But here’s a way you can complete your daily to-do list more often than not. Imagine having that satisfying feeling most days…

1. Write every task down in one place

    1. Get it all out of your head, out of your email inbox and get all those scribbled notes on pieces of paper in one place.
    2. This can be via an app or good old fashioned pen and paper

2. Scan your to-do list

    1. Action anything that can be dealt with super-quickly, e.g. within 2 minutes
    2. Delegate all tasks that you can
    3. Identify if the remaining tasks are:
      1. Urgent – is the deadline imposed by you or someone else?
      2. Important – have a real effect on your business and business goals
      3. Not urgent or important and can be left until later without adversely affecting your business

3. Prioritise the urgent and important tasks

    1. Give each urgent and important task a completion date
    2. If a task comes with someone else’s deadline, your completion date can be different. Bring the date forward if that works for you but if their date will be a struggle, speak to them to understand what’s behind the urgency. Maybe it’s not so urgent after all!

4. Create a to-do list for today

    1. Create a separate to-do list for today only
    2. This should be your 4 – 6 highest priority tasks

5. Focus totally on completing the tasks on today’s to-do list

    1. If you do complete them before the end of the day, go back to your main list

Repeat this every day.

This focuses you on completing the tasks that will have the biggest impact on your business (none of us will ever complete every task that comes our way).

You also get the added bonus of feeling a sense of achievement by completing your to-do list every day (well most days anyway!)