Email Management in 2024: Utilizing Inbox Zero

Email Management in 2024: Utilizing Inbox Zero

Do you dread opening your email? Does the ever-growing inbox number send shivers down your spine? You’re not alone. In today’s digital world, email overload is a common struggle, impacting productivity, focus, and even mental well-being. But fear not, fellow email warriors! There’s a path to email zen: Inbox Zero. We have touched on Inbox Zero in a previous blog post, but with new AI tools scraping data from every corner of the internet, your email is on way more lists than ever. Without the proper tools, it can be a full-time job managing your inbox and we can guarantee important emails are being flagged as junk or missed altogether. Let’s learn about Inbox Zero along with a few tips to manage your email better.

Email Management Tips

What is Inbox Zero?

Forget the literal interpretation. Inbox Zero isn’t about a constant state of zero emails. It’s a mindset and method for managing your inbox efficiently, minimizing clutter, and reclaiming control over your time. As productivity guru Merlin Mann puts it, “Inbox Zero is the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.” You may never get down to “zero” emails in your inbox, but you will get to a place of having less of your energy spent on your inbox. That is the overall goal of Inbox Zero.

 

Keys to Unlocking Inbox Zero Bliss:

1. Embrace the "Touch it Once" Rule

When an email lands, decide its fate immediately. Reply, delete, archive, or delegate – don’t leave it lingering. This also removes the stress of having to get back to someone or putting out a fire. Get it done or delegated right away.

2. Batch Processing is Your Best Friend

Don’t check your inbox constantly. Schedule dedicated times to process emails in focused bursts. We usually recommend it before lunch or the end of the day. You will usually have an extra urgency since you want to eat or log off.

3. Folders & Labels

Use folders sparingly for long-term storage and quick review. Having labels for filtering and quick access are more valuable.

4. Unsubscribe Ruthlessly

Feeling overwhelmed? Unsubscribe from unnecessary emails – newsletters, promotions, anything you don’t actively use. I find myself constantly deleting emails from the same company before reminding myself of the unsubscribe button.

5. Set Boundaries & Communicate

Let colleagues and clients know your email checking schedule and preferred communication methods. Many of our clients utilize the autoresponder to communicate the times they will be checking email and if there is anything very urgent, to contact their Executive Assistant.

6. Leverage Technology

Tools like filters, autoresponders, and email clients with advanced features can automate tasks and streamline workflows. Shift is a great software that houses all of your browsers, email and apps. It also allows you to silence notifications which keeps you on task.

 

Why Choose Inbox Zero?

The benefits of achieving Inbox Zero are numerous:

1. Enhanced Productivity

Having constant notifications and emails needing your attention pulls you off task. Having Inbox Zero in place with the support of your virtual Executive Assistant to manage it, you will stay focused on the task at hand, without interruptions. No more being pulled away to see if that “ding” was important or spam.

2. Reduced Stress & Anxiety

Constant unread messages trigger a fight-or-flight response. Inbox Zero brings only the most important emails to your attention while the rest are taken care of.

3. Improved Work-Life Balance

Define email boundaries and avoid work bleeding into personal, family, hobby or vacation time.

4. Sharpened Focus

Eliminate distractions and channel your energy into meaningful tasks. Inbox Zero helps you create time blocks in your day without distractions pulling you away.

5. Boost in Motivation

Seeing a clean inbox is psychologically rewarding, fueling further action and creativity. It’s like having a clean workspace, car or home…it just makes you feel better.

 

Beyond the Basics:

1. Tailor the System

Inbox Zero isn’t a rigid formula. Experiment, find what works for you, and adjust as needed. Like anything we recommend and as we did in our “15 Minutes a Day of Self-Care for Business Owners” blog, try different methods and tweak them to fit your season.

2. Prioritize Accordingly

Use a system like Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize emails based on urgency and importance. This should be done utilizing folders in your inbox. My virtual Executive Assistant (virtual EA) does this first thing in the morning so when I get to my computer, I only check email in the “For Review” folder.

3. Automate Where Possible

Set up filters, canned responses, and autoresponders to save time and effort. If you are not sure how to do this yourself or would rather have a professional take over your email, book a call with our team.

4. Remember, it's a Journey

Don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Consistency and progress are key. Inbox Zero takes learning and as mentioned above, you will need to tweak it to work for you. Sometimes important emails will be moved to junk or the wrong folder. Keep tweaking the filters and communicate with your EA on what requires your attention. As time goes on, this process will be a well-oiled machine saving you hours and hours.

 

Conclusion

If you haven’t tried Inbox Zero, give it a try with a few folders in place and start creating filters. Don’t forget to unsubscribe to emails that don’t add any value to your life. Within the first week of setting up time blocks, folders and filters, you will see more tasks getting done, higher levels of focus and less time spent scrolling up and down your inbox.

Derek Burbidge
Manager of Sales and Marketing

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15 Minutes a Day of Self-Care for Business Owners

15 Minutes a Day of Self-Care for Business Owners

Business Owners, Solopreneurs and Entrepreneurs, whatever role you fill, your day is full.

It could be working in the business doing day-to-day operations, managing emails, and doing the bookkeeping or working on the business where you are goal setting, meeting clients, forecasting, and doing sales. With all the tasks on your plate, your self-care is usually the first thing to be put on the back burner.

When you find your mental health declining or if you are having a difficult time during your day, here are 10 tips to turn your day around.

Infographic

Before I go into detail on each one, I want to mention that I am not a dietician, a counsellor or a guru. I have however utilized each of these steps and spent some time over the past 10 years trialling each for myself. These are what works for me, but what works for you will be unique to you. Give yourself time and grace to find what works for you.

Here are 10 self-care tips that you can do in 15 minutes or less. If you can’t justify taking 15 minutes for your health, book a call with VEA to start delegating tasks.

 

1. Eat a Healthy Snack

I have gone through seasons of eating terribly and have worked on bringing the right foods into our home. Instead of ramen for a snack, I cut up veggies for the whole week on Sunday night. It takes 15 minutes to cut them up and gives a healthy option to reach for when that impulse for convenient junk food comes in.

2. Call a Friend

Whether you are having a hard hour, day, or season, having a trusted friend or friends you can call is one of the fastest ways to turn it around.

3. Read

As much as we share our favourite business books this might be the time to pick up something else. Self-help or fiction books can take you away from being “on” all the time. If you are like me and have a hard time thinking about anything but work, these two genres will help you disconnect.

4. Go Outside

Nature bathing always works for me. But, to keep it short and sweet a walk around the block without my phone gives me time to breathe and jolts me back into productivity mode. Another favourite of mine is sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee or taking a few shots on the basketball hoop.

5. Meditate

Get away from electronics and find a quiet place to meditate. If you need your phone for a guided meditation set it to “do not disturb” and give yourself time to rest and reset.

6. Nap

My personal favourite and something I consider myself an expert in is power naps. When I was younger, I used to lie down and wait for my body to wake me up. This led to that confused wake-up where I didn’t know where I was or what time it was. Followed by the feeling of grogginess and not sleeping well at night, creating a cycle of naps, and not sleeping at night. When I started setting alarms, I found my perfect nap window of 13-16 minutes. I wake up feeling recharged and energized.

7. Journal

If your mind is circling with the same thoughts, get it out and onto paper. This has always helped me process my thoughts and change my mindset from problems to looking for solutions.

8. Exercise

I had a great exercise routine, then I had kids. It has taken me a long time to find a routine that works for this stage of life. Currently, it is 3 times a week after the kids go to bed and I am only at the gym for 30-50 minutes, but I am still seeing less stress and big body composition changes.

9. Deep Breathing

If you’re stressed and you know it take a breath. *Clap, clap* Slowing down your heart rate brings your body back to a calm state and away from anxious thoughts. This is another way of taking 15 minutes to slow down so when I get back to work, I am more productive than trying to force myself to battle through the stress.

10. Go For a Walk

This goes back to going outside as mentioned above but a big piece of removing yourself from work and resetting with some fresh air.

 

Conclusion:

As you can tell, most of these activities are meant to be a quick reset. By removing yourself from your current state or task and making a healthy choice for yourself will help clear your head. Allowing you to step back into work refreshed, recharged, and motivated. If you are facing a larger issue that can’t be resolved with a reset or break, find a trusted friend or counsellor to begin dealing with the bigger issue at hand. Being in business for yourself is rewarding but can lead to overwhelm, stress, burnout, anxiety, depression and/or trauma that can be avoided.

What is your plan of attack to prioritize your health? Write it down, share it with a friend and get started. But remember to give yourself time and grace to find what works for you.

 

Derek Burbidge
Manager of Sales & Marketing

Mistakes Business Owners Make When They Hire a Virtual Assistant

Mistakes Business Owners Make When They Hire a Virtual Assistant

Through our countless sales calls with business owners, c-suite executives and entrepreneurs, we’ve heard the many reasons why hiring a virtual Assistant hasn’t worked in the past.

We even had a lot of turnover in our first three years for the same reasons virtual Assistant (VA) services hasn’t worked for a lot of people. It is why we created our onboarding process a few years ago, it comes with your own Onboarding Concierge who asks targeted questions to understand you, your business, and your goals. From that call we hand match you with one of our talented virtual staff and discuss the game plan with them before you officially get started.

Whether you are looking for a virtual Executive Assistant (virtual EA), virtual Bookkeeper (BK) or Online Business Manager (OBM). If you’ve tried and failed in the past, we see your pain and understand what the main issues are. Thankfully, we have grown VEA to help you learn how to hire a virtual Executive Assistant to ensure a long-lasting relationship.

Guy in front of a computer

The mistakes and hiccups of hiring a VA stem from the following:

1. You Didn’t Have Enough Work for Them

This can lead to you spending more time finding work for your virtual Assistant than the time it takes to complete the tasks you create for them. So, how do you find and create work for your virtual Assistant?

Rule #1 is to give your virtual EA recurring work that takes your time but doesn’t need your attention. An example is to hand off your email and calendar management. You spend too much time reading through, responding to, and deleting emails that don’t really require your attention. If you are like many of our clients, you also spend a ton of time setting up meetings, booking appointments, and playing email tag trying to “find a time that works.”

Your virtual Executive Assistant can double as a Meeting Assistant which allows you to jump from meeting to meeting without having to set up, take notes or follow up, saving you hours in a week. Having your virtual EA managing your calendar, meetings and emails are three simple ideas to give them re-occurring work.

2. Your Communication Was Sporadic

In many cases, the first point of not having enough work leads to sporadic communication. If you don’t have enough work or are too busy, meetings get pushed which causes a breakdown in the relationship and any trust that has been building, starts to decline. We recommend that all our new clients meet with their EA every day for the first 2 weeks. Even if that is only for 15 minutes. Each day in those 2 weeks should have a theme.

On Monday you get them an email address with your domain and have them connected to your inbox to clear out unwanted emails, set up filters and ensure you no longer have to spend hours a week managing your inbox. On Tuesday, you give them access to your calendar; Wednesday is invoicing…every day for 2 weeks there is a goal. This gets your EA set up quickly and starts to build the relationship. From there, you can go down to a meeting once or twice a week, whatever your needs are. Without set meetings, communication will be sporadic, any changes that need to be made won’t be and tasks will start piling back up on your plate.

3. You Didn’t Know What to Hand-Off

This usually applies to your virtual Executive Assistant. For a Bookkeeper you don’t need to think twice about what to give them and our OBM services have an initial strategy call to set the pace of the engagement. Without the Onboarding Concierge setting the pace for your launch with your EA, it is easy to go aimless without a clear plan. If you are not utilizing VEA for your virtual services the same answer from question 1 applies here but to expand on that, add in your to-do lists.

Whether that is for work or personal. Your virtual Executive Assistant can double as a Personal Assistant by placing grocery orders, buying gifts, setting personal appointments, and blocking off time in your calendar to ensure you don’t miss important life and family events.

4. They Were Too Inexperienced

During our initial call, we always ask if you’ve worked with virtual staff before. If the answer is yes, the main reason clients have ended services was because their virtual staff were too inexperienced to complete the tasks. They are usually offshore VA’s or family members completing their bookkeeping.

As your business grows, you need a higher level of support which is where we come in. Our virtual EA’s and BK’s have over 5, but most have over 10+ years of experience in their role. Our OBM’s have up to, if not over 15 years of experience. If you’ve settled in the past

Call now

Conclusion

If you are giving it a go again, ensure you have tasks assigned to them. For example, every time a new client request comes into your inbox, they set them up in the CRM and schedule the call/appointment. Having your virtual Assistant managing your email is also a time-saving task that keeps you in front of what is important. By handing off repetitive tasks, you ensure that your VA will have work to do and keep the relationship going

Derek Burbidge
Manager of Sales and Marketing at VEA

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

As small business owners your world is fast paced with hundreds of tasks landing on your plate, leading you to work evenings and weekends. You have quickly discovered that this new life is not sustainable and look to outsourcing various tasks.

Usually, you want to hire a Bookkeeper to take those tedious tasks off your plate, next, is your administrative tasks. Removing data entry, research, calendar management, email management, travel booking and ensuring that meetings go smoothly with an Assistant who doubles as a meeting assistant. Now that you are looking to outsource, an Administrative Assistant, virtual Assistant (VA) or virtual Executive Assistant (VEA) become search terms you are familiar with. However, what is a VA, or virtual EA and how do you hire one?

Shaking Hands

What is a Virtual Assistant or Virtual Executive Assistant:

A VA or VEA takes over tasks much like an Administrative Assistant, however they are strictly online. A VA will have less experience and generally requires more hand-holing and back and forth. A virtual Executive Assistant is highly experienced working with c-suite executives and business owners. Our clients usually call us because they are doing the tedious, time-consuming tasks that don’t require their attention. Those tasks can be travel booking, invoicing, setting up rules and filters in your email to remove junk or spam before it reaches your inbox, CRM management an countless other tasks on your to-do list.

What to do Before Hiring a Virtual Assistant:

Recognize how much your time is worth and tasks that are draining your energy. If you are unsure of where to start, our onboarding process helps create a plan of action over the next 6 months to ensure your launch with VEA is successful. Our Onboarding Concierge asks pointed questions to draw out your needs, your loves, your hates, your dreams for your business and discusses them with your virtual Executive Assistant before you begin with us. The last thing any of us wants is to waste time for weeks discovering the gameplan as we go, let’s create it before we start and tweak it along the way.

How Much Does a Virtual Assistant Cost:

That all depends on experience. If you don’t mind handholding for the first few months and waiting 24 hours for a response, hire overseas. This is usually the start for companies looking to hire for only a few hours a week. If you are looking for a highly experienced Assistant who will be client facing, the price can go up. If you are hiring a less experienced Assistant, the price can range from $5-$30 USD per hour. If you are hiring an experienced Assistant, the price ranges from $35-$60 USD per hour. Most of these Assistants will be hired on contract so you don’t have to worry about benefits and perks.

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant:

You need to first discover what you are looking for and how many hours you need. Once you have your gameplan in place, it is easier to discover more tasks to hand off and how many approximate hours you need. From there, decide whether you want someone experienced or inexperienced, this factor will most likely be determined by your budget. If your budget is lower a lot of these factors like location and experience will be decided for you. A higher budget comes with more experience and on shore Executive Assistants, where a lower budget (under $750/month) will take you offshore with less experienced virtual Assistants.

How Many Hours Does a Virtual Assistant Work:

This is all based on how many hours you need and can limit the pool of Assistants. If you are looking for only a few hours a week or close to full-time, you may have a harder time finding or keeping a VA. Most VAs are remote and prefer to control their hours, having close to 40 hours a week makes that harder for them to be flexible with their schedules. Hiring someone around 2-3 hours a week makes you less of a priority and normally means you have 0 hours for them in one week and 5 in the next. With the unpredictability or hours and pay, many VA’s end up firing you as a client. At VEA, we have 20 hours a month as a minimum to ensure that you are consistent with your EA and their hours are guaranteed. If you need full-time, we offer that as well. Our team of over 70 virtual staff are all over the map with their desired hours, ensuring that we have someone experienced to fit your needs.

Hiring a Virtual Assistant, Again:

We’ve heard the many reasons why hiring a virtual Assistant hasn’t worked in the past. It is why we created our new onboarding process complete with your own Onboarding Concierge. If you’ve tried and failed in the past the main reasons, are you didn’t have enough work for them, your communication was sporadic, you didn’t know what to hand-off or they were too inexperienced. If you are giving it a go again, ensure you have tasks assigned to them. For example, every time a new client request comes into your inbox, they set them up in the CRM and schedule the call/appointment. Having your virtual Assistant managing your email is also a time-saving task that keeps you in front of what is important. By handing off repetitive tasks, you ensure that your VA will have work to do and keep the relationship going.

Conclusion

If you are looking for highly experienced virtual Executive Assistants, meet VEA. Our EA’s have over 5+ years, but must have 10+ years of experience, working for C-Suite level executives, business owners and Entrepreneurs. If you have tried alternative routes and failed, our onboarding process will give you the perfect jump start you need to make this time around successful. Book a call with VEA to get those time-consuming, energy- draining tasks off your plate so you can get back to what is important.

Derek Burbidge
Manager of Sales & Marketing at VEA

Busting Top 5 Myths About Outsourcing Bookkeeping Services

Busting Top 5 Myths About Outsourcing Bookkeeping Services

I say it all the time, 99% of business owners did not get into business to do bookkeeping, you got into business to sell your products and services. Bookkeeping is usually the first task to get pushed down your to-do list and the task that gives you the most headaches. Which means, it is the first task that should be outsourced.

But it shouldn’t be outsourced to anyone, the bookkeeper you hire should be experienced and you should understand the fundamentals of bookkeeping. A good bookkeeper will help you understand your financial statements but before you hire you probably have a few questions (or hesitations) about how bookkeeping works, how to find a great bookkeeper and where to even start the process. Let’s break down the top 5 myths of outsourcing bookkeeping.

Image with a calculator and spreadsheet in the background and "myth" written on the front

Myth #1: A Business Owner Should Do Their Own Bookkeeping

True…and false…A business owner will probably start by doing their own bookkeeping but if you don’t complete your bookkeeping according to standardized accounting practices’ and don’t know how to read the financial statements, you should hand it off immediately. Most business owners who engage us to do their bookkeeping usually have the same story: They are spending evenings catching up on receipts, categorizing expenses wrong and spending thousands more on an accountant who has to tidy up at year-end.

If you are not making mistakes and understand how to read the financial statements, great, but your time is still better spent elsewhere doing high-level tasks that grow your business. Your bookkeeping can be done by a professional who checks in to ensure you are sending the documents they need so that when it comes time for you to meet with them to review the statements, they are accurately prepared.

Truth #1: A Business Owner does not need to do their own bookkeeping, however, they do need to hire someone qualified and understand how to read the financial statements.

Myth #2: My Accountant Can Do My Books

At a premium, absolutely they can! Accountant rates are at least double the price of a bookkeeper and many accountants hand-off the bookkeeping to a trained bookkeeper anyway but still charge the accountant rate. (Not so fun fact, many Accountants don’t know how to do bookkeeping.) As mentioned above, if you are using an Accountant to do your books, it is usually done at year-end which gives you 12 months without proper data on how your business is doing. If you prefer higher rates and no financial picture for 12 months, hire an Accountant instead of a Bookkeeper to do your books.

Truth #2: An Accountant can do your books at a much higher rate.

Myth #3: A Bookkeeper Isn’t Trustworthy with My Bank Accounts

No one should have direct access to your bank accounts unless you absolutely trust them and review bank statements separately on your own. A Bookkeeper should have access to your bank account but with limited permissions. By giving them limited permissions this protects both of you. If a Bookkeeper is eager to have your username and password without limited permissions, you should find another Bookkeeper.

To get around having complete access to your accounts, Bookkeepers will receive your financial statements through software like QuickBooks Online (QBO), Zoho or Sage. This is outside of having limited permissions, but using a proper software and giving your Bookkeeper limited permissions means less work for you.

Truth #3: A Bookkeeper doesn’t want or need full access to your bank account.

Myth #4: Virtual Bookkeepers are Less Experienced

True and false. This should be a concern for you so only hire a Bookkeeper with years of experience, comes with references and never sign a long-term contract. Go month to month and if you don’t like what they are doing or feel they don’t know what they are doing, remove their access and move on to someone else.

At VEA Office Professionals, our Bookkeepers have at least 5, but most have 10+ years of experience working with business owners. They have seen it all and are not afraid of messy books. Our team will have your books up to date with financial statements coming out every month, so you know exactly where your business stands financially. Our team is also located across North America, so they understand the expectations of the federal government when it comes to bookkeeping. Whether you need a Bookkeeper in Calgary, a Bookkeeper in Toronto or a Bookkeeper in New York, our team knows the ins and outs to keep you on track and within the laws.

Truth #4: The right Bookkeeper is experienced and will help you grow your business.

Myth #5: I Can’t Send My Receipts to an Outsourced Bookkeeper

With the software that we use, you never have to send a physical receipt to anyone ever again. Dext allows you to take a picture of receipts or forward email receipts or invoices. From there it syncs up to your bookkeeping software, meaning those shoe boxes full of receipts are great but basically obsolete.  It also saves your Bookkeeper time from having to reconcile all your receipts, which saves you money.

Truth #5: You don’t need to send your receipts to your Bookkeeper.

Conclusion:

You should be hesitant about hiring anyone, let alone a virtual Bookkeeper, but you should also be vigilant about ensuring who you hire is certified, experienced and up-to-date on local regulations. If being clear on the financial picture of your business, not having to hand off receipts and not staying up in the evening to complete your books sound too good to be true, book a call with VEA to get back to high-level tasks while trusting that your books are well taken care of.

Derek Burbidge
Manager of Sales & Marketing