How to Be Productive

I sat down this evening to make a list of “stuff that I do.” The idea was to have a somewhat balanced list. On one side, I’d list all the productive activities. On the other side, I’d list all the unproductive activities. Then, when I finish something I have to do (like work), I can decide what to spend time on next by picking from one side or the other.

I don’t know if that would have worked or not because a funny thing happened while I was making the list. I was able to think of eleven productive activities very easily, but when I moved my pen to the other side of the paper I could only think of three unproductive activities. I sat. I thought. I checked my favorite search engine. I looked around the room. Nothing. Just three things.

My list is so unbalanced.

But here’s the other funny thing: I spend more of my non-work hours on those three unproductive activities than I spend on the eleven productive activities!

I guess it’s time for a change. I get 8-9 hours each day (most days) to live my life outside of work & sleep, and I want to be more conscious of how I’m spending my time. Play is good, but there needs to be a balance. And my productive activities aren’t all work. Some of them are (cleaning, for example), but many of them are just good, constructive uses of time that are plenty enjoyable.

After all, I’ve been thinking lately about who I want to be, especially now that I’m closer to 30 than 20. Unless the person I want to be is an unkempt bum who wastes most of her free time, I should probably start using my time more wisely.

That is all.

Any thoughts? Please share!!

What I Do (Introduction to Virtual Assistance)

My regular “day job,” if you please, is as a personal/executive virtual assistant. A lot of my friends have been curious what my work entails and why I love it, so I thought I’d share. This goes along with this week’s re-launch of Ocipura.com, and serves as a chance to kind of re-introduce myself to you all!

I’d love to hear from you if you also have an amazing job (online or offline) that you’d like to share! Or maybe you have some more questions about my work? If so, leave a comment below!

What Others Think I Do – What I Really Do

I hate being asked, “So what do you do?”

It’s hard to give a simple answer! When you hear that I work from home as an online assistant, you may think that what I actually mean is that I spend all day on Facebook and Reddit. Not so. I have real work, and I have real clients, and I get real money for it. In essence, what I do is manage my client’s lives, to one degree or another! Here are a few examples of tasks that I complete on a daily basis for my handful of clients:

  • Schedule meetings, doctor’s appointments, car maintenance, home repairs, coffee dates (and manage super-busy calendars!)
  • Book/purchase flights, rental cars, train tickets, et cetera
  • Make reservations for hotels, restaurants, retreats, dog-walkers, et cetera
  • Shop for and purchase gifts, home necessities, cellphone or cable plans, concert tickets, et cetera
  • Research (examples below)
    • Competitive analysis of hiking websites
    • Options for payroll management
    • How different companies manage/maintain great customer service
    • Things to do/see in Buenos Aires
    • Restaurants to try in [city]
    • Incorporating a business in [country]
  • Run payroll
  • Send invoices
  • Track expenses
  • Send money / Make recurring payments
  • Email management

A Day in the Life of One VA

I am a self-employed contractor, meaning that my clients hire me for my services, but I’m not their employee. As a VA, my schedule can be as flexible or rigid as I choose to make it, but you know me: I’m all about routine and predictability.

I’m working on making my workday a balance of regularly-scheduled work times intermixed with breaks.

Here’s an idea of what a day in my life is like with a full client load:

0615 -0745 – Wake up, walk with the dog, take care of personal hygiene

0745-0830 – Quiet time & Bible reading, planning to-do list for the day

0830-0900 – Begin going through my email, prioritizing client tasks, responding to emails

0900-1100 – Client work + break (for breakfast, to relax a little, & to work on some chores)

1100-1130 – Writing time

1130-1330 – Client work + break (for further writing, lunch, chores, & relaxing)

1330-1530 – Client work

1530-1630Break time

1630-1800 – Client work (finish early and head to the beach, maybe???)

1800-2100 – Time with Marty, Dinner, TV/games/whatever

2100-2300 – Personal time, journal time, get ready for bed, etc.

michelle zirtual shirt

Why I <3 My Job

Why do I love my work? First of all, working from home and communicating primarily via email works perfectly with my introverted, Aspie nature. I can handle a small office setting, but interacting with more than a couple co-workers in the same space stresses me out. And, let’s face it, I’m not great with face-to-face interactions. I don’t always get my facial expressions or tone of voice just right. Nope! Communicating by email is where it’s at.

Secondly, I’m utilizing my strengths! Writing? Organization? Technology? Spreadsheets? Emails? All things I’m great with!

Third, I love my clients, and I love helping them out. I take many tasks off their plates so that they can focus on the things they’re great at. It’s satisfying to help people. It’s satisfying to see my clients become more successful and more productive because of my actions.

Finally, I have to bring up the flexible schedule. If I need a day off, or an afternoon off, I’ve got it. No problem. No saving up vacation days. If I want to work from the poolside, I can. If I want to take a break in the middle of the day and hit the beach, I can, and I have! If I want to get all my tasks done in the morning and finish up work early, I can. If I want to go back to school and take classes in the middle of the day, I can. If I want to work from my RV and travel across the country, picking up wi-fi where I find it, I can. Seriously. It’s hard to get any better than this.

Putting Work into Life

Oh, how I wish I’d learned a better work ethic at a younger age. I feel like maybe if I had learned earlier it wouldn’t be such a struggle now. Now, I feel like an old dog trying to learn a new trick, and it feels very much like an uphill battle. In fact, it has me determined to make sure I try to teach my kids this lesson from early on…

Life is Work

And Americans are lazy.

Or maybe just people, in general, are lazy?!

At the very least, I’m lazy, but I’m also pretty sure I’m not the only one!

My mom did her best raising me alone, and I’m so grateful for all that she taught me, but I still grew up lazy. I didn’t learn work ethic. I didn’t learn that life itself is work. Rather, I waited for everything to come to me. I never cleaned my room because I was happy to live in my own mess, I didn’t have to put in much effort to excel at school, and I didn’t even bother trying to get in shape though I was overweight from a pretty young age. In other words, I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and played all the time, and never did anything that required effort unless I was literally forced into it.

EVERYTHING is Work

  1. Cleaning
    Now I’m grown, and I’m no longer happy with messes, but I am often too lazy to do anything about them because – well, because it’s work! And it’s not just a little work here and there, like when I was little and cleaned my room once every few month (yes, I know, lucky me – you probably had to clean every week). No, it’s not just a now-and-then thing; it’s a daily effort.
  2. Exercise
    I never exercised as a kid, despite being unhappy with my body. I never played sports, either. I just played with my friends once in a while and basically did what I wanted to do without worrying about whether I was active or not. And I didn’t know – that is, it never even occurred to me – that such a lifestyle wouldn’t be sufficient for my body. Even as a teenager, when I started to realize that some people may need to exercise to control their weight, I thought it was a last-ditch attempt, only to be really considered if dieting alone couldn’t fix the problem. I really thought I could continue my whole life this way! But God didn’t make our bodies to sit around inside all day on the computer! I believe He made our bodies to work and to play, and as our work becomes less and less active, we have to make an effort to exercise in order to stay healthy. Because it’s GOOD for us. It’s not a punishment, as I once believed. It’s not something you do because you have to in order to control your weight. It’s just a good, healthy habit that happens to require daily effort.
  3. Eating
    When I was younger, food was very much an instant gratification kind of thing. My single, working mother rarely had time to prepare a meal from scratch, so we ate a lot of frozen pizza, instant macaroni and cheese, and other such things. Now, I’m ashamed of all the junk I’ve put into my body for over 20 years, but at the same time I realize that in order to eat well, I have to intentionally work at it! And not just once in a while, but every day! I have to think about what I’m eating as well and when and why I’m eating it, and I have to take time out of my day to prepare it.
  4. Relationships
    Even my relationships take work! Who would have thought? In grade school, if you’re in my generation, you called your friends when you were bored, and you were allowed to talk, to maybe one of you would visit the other’s house – simple. The only potential problem was having one or the other set of parents say no for some reason. But as a grown-up, it’s not so simple any more. Friends all come with their own problems, and to have a good relationship, you can’t just call them when you’re bored; you have to be there for them when they need you. And sometimes you have to learn how to love people in spite of their flaws, or in spite of distance, or in spite of lack of time to “hang out!”

And the same is true for a relationship with God! As a child, my mom prayed with me before bed and before meals, and I went to Sunday school. As a teenager, I started to understand that it required more than that, and I started to try harder, but I still thought that it would be easy. Only now am I beginning to understand how much daily work has to be put into that relationship to keep it really strong.

Skills, and the maintaining of them, is the same way. Oy with the work already!

Teaching Work Ethic

How will I (eventually) teach my kids about work? How will I get them to understand good work ethic?

  • Well, I guess the first step is learning it myself. And I’m trying to – really, I am. For the past few months, I’ve been working on building one good habit each month so that I learn to do the things that are good for me. 🙂
  • And I think another part of it will be building good habits in them when they’re young. (I always thought that if I’d been made to play a sport when I was a kid, I would have had a much easier time learning a habit of daily exercise.) I can see it now… my kids will probably hate me for making them do things, and I will wish they could see how I’m doing it for their own good… and it’s probably going to be way harder than I anticipate. But hopefully I can help a little by teaching them healthy habits.
  • Finally, if I can teach them what my friends and I learned in our study of Ecclesiastes last year. All is vanity. Too much work is no good, but neither is too much play. BALANCE is important. So, have one hand of toil and one hand of rest. I think I can help to teach my kids a healthy work ethic by helping them rest and enjoy play- and rest-time. first time baking bread!

Just some thoughts…

Think about what goes into your body. Think about exercise. Think about your relationships. By not allowing play time to be all day, every day, it becomes more precious to me when I do get that time, and my quiet times are more able to fuel me for the work I know I must do for the rest of the time.

And the best part is that work doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Work is rewarding! And when I’m feeling lazy, that’s exactly what I try to remind myself of! lol

(An example of rewarding work: Me with my first-ever homemade bread!)

Passage of Time

I’ve been thinking about how deployment is changing my perception of time. I’m starting to realize that God’s using it to give me a whole new perspective, and I think in some ways I’m understanding God a little tiny bit better. Like I have a little more understanding of the idea of him being outside of time itself.

When I have to go a few weeks without seeing friends, I sometimes chuckle on the inside when they explain on our next meeting how much they’ve missed me, while I feel that hardly any time at all has passed. What’s the big deal? Next to having to wait a year to see my other half again, to feel him and look into his eyes… Well, let’s just say it makes all these little gaps of weeks and months feel like nothing.

I can’t really imagine what it is like for God to be outside of time, but if the (global) church is his passion, his love, his other half, so to speak, and he is separated from her for… well, a long, long time… Well, I can imagine that feeling now. She fell away from him, and he won’t be reunited with her until basically the end of this world. Like a year’s separation for me, and how impossible and horrible it seems to a normal married couple, God’s separated from his bride the church for… thousands, if not millions of years. How insignificant must other, shorter increments of time feel to Him? To me it gives new meaning to the verse that says a thousand years is like a day to the Lord.

I’m trying to apply this understanding to my prayer life. See, I’ve been getting frustrated with God for not answering my prayers. Sometimes I pray specifically for the same things for weeks on end, and sometimes I begin to lose hope that he’ll ever hear me and answer. But I have felt like he’s saying to me, “Just because I haven’t answered in a week, you think I’m not listening at all? Trust me! I hear you, and I will answer you. I will meet all your needs. Have patience.”

Sometimes, I’m afraid time won’t ever slow back down. If weeks feel like no time at all, will it still feel like nothing when Hubby is home for two weeks of R&R? Will I have trouble soaking in his presence and enjoying our time together? Will my life speed by too quickly, with this perception of time? I have hope because I’ve known women who have been through deployments with their husbands before who still ached terribly at their husbands’ absence for a week or two of training. So things must eventually return to normal. But hopefully when that happens, I’ll still be able to remember the lesson I learned. Mostly – the patience.

Do What You Want To Do

do not wantAs I was taking my walk today (in the amazing, wonderful sunshine and the awesome breeze!) I was thinking about some things I want. For instance, I want to be a writer. And I want to be close to God, especially through daily Bible reading and prayer.

If these things don’t happen, I have nothing/no one to blame. There is no excuse for not taking a few minutes each day to read a chapter from the Bible. There is no reason I have to let other things – things I don’t even care about – come before things I really want. I let it happen, and I have no excuse for it.

Am I not perfectly capable of choosing to do one thing instead of another? I am. I believe in myself at least that much.

There’s no reason for you or me to not do the things we want to do. I want to be a writer, so I choose to write. Just write! I don’t want to be the kind of person who sleeps till 10-11 every day; I do it because it’s easy. But I can choose to get up earlier, so I will!

Get More Out of Life

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say. I guess it’s something along the lines of this:

If you want good things in life, stop   and think for a moment about whether these are things you’re capable of. Singing, dancing, running, music-ing, writing, cooking, reading, sewing… Is there really anything stopping you from doing those things? Don’t you have a spare 10 minutes? Do the things you want to do when you can… I think that’s how we’ll get more out of life. Not really a profound thought, but oh well. It’s what I was thinking. Now you know.

Avon Testimonial

I started selling Avon in January of this year. I signed on as a representative right before the winter holidays, and I also signed on as an E-rep, allowing me to operate an online store and sell to people who would otherwise be too far away to deliver to. My experience thus far has been…interesting.

Starting Off

It wasn’t what I expected. The way my upline manager met with me, in my home and face-to-face, but still with an impersonal feeling, left me kinda feeling like… huh? What just happened? I had expected simply to meet with her and discuss what would be involved in the process, since she had pushed me to have that meeting, but I ended up going ahead and signing up that day. After my initial appointment with my upline Doris, I spoke to her only one other time, when she called a week later to check in on me.

There are good and bad upline managers. Some help you get going, maybe help you throw your first Avon party and get you started with some supplies. Some, on the other hand, do the bare minimum, sign you up with your initial “kit,” and expect you do go at it. Mine was one from the latter group, and so I was really on my own from the beginning.

Learning the Ropes

To supplement my lack of instruction from my upline, I turned to online resources. Avon supplies a very nice training section of their website which any representative can access. The Beauty of Knowledge courses go over how to make sales, how to enter your orders, understanding how much you’ll make off of your sales, et cetera. It was very useful. I also made use of the official forums to ask more experienced representatives for advice.

I knew I would run into one problem with selling Avon: I’m not an outgoing, pushy, make-the-sale type of person. I’d learned to be firm when talking to insurance companies at my former job, but talking to potential customers is a whole different kind of firmness. Still, I was ready to try, and so I started going out with my few brochures and doing what I could.

The first couple campaigns went well enough that I decided to start ordering more brochures. After all, I was mostly breaking even, so it was worth the risk to try and actually make some profit. Instead of 10 brochures per campaign, I pushed it to 20 and then to 30. Things got fairly busy at that point – on my end but not with incoming orders. I still received maybe two or three orders each campaign, but I was keeping myself busy with running around trying to take brochures to various places (and trying to share one car with Hubby).

Doing the Work

After a few more campaigns of this workload, I began to feel worn out. I seemed to only have time for Avon and blogging, and I wasn’t happy with it. I was stressed, feeling pressured to do more, and yet I was disappointed that I was not seeing any positive results from how hard I was already working. Around this time, also, my husband was having to spend weeks at a time doing field training, and I was getting lonely and somewhat depressed. I started to think that Avon just wasn’t for me.

Rather than giving up, I decided to cut back on what I was doing. I lowered my brochure orders to 20, then 10, and my orders stayed around 1-2 per campaign. The truth is, for the last month or two, I haven’t been trying very hard at all. There are so many things important to me, so many things to spend time on, and this just hasn’t been one of them.

I’ve enjoyed selling Avon, though. I really have. I got to meet new people and try something new, something I never pictured myself doing. I got to try Avon products for the first time for less than I would have paid if I hadn’t been a representative. And I like them a lot! I got to experience the fun of running my own business and organizing my time and my supplies the way I wanted them. And I really liked being able to provide people with products they love. That was the best part.

But I’m feeling now like I’d rather use my time and energy on writing, drawing, housekeeping, reading, and studying. And I’m starting to feel like my organizational skills would be of more use in running my website and my home. I guess I just feel like I’ve given it a good run, but it’s just not my thing. And, besides, I’m losing money at it.

Moving Forward

So here’s my plan. Unfortunately, it starts with dropping the online store and my status as an E-representative. The cost of maintaining that is not worth the one-per-month order that it gets. I apologize for the inconvenience to those of you who have been using my online store from time to time.

The second part of my plan is to stop ordering brochures. I have to pay for them, and I have to spend the time handing them out when I get them, and it’s just not something that I can keep up with financially or otherwise.

The third part of my plan, however, is to maintain my status as an Avon Independent Sales Representative, at least for now. Customers will still be able to email or call me with their orders, and I will still be able to submit orders and get products to deliver to them. They just won’t get their own personal copy of the current brochure with their order.

Managing 24 Hours

I’m having trouble managing my time. I actually sat down yesterday thinking I could create some kind of budget to account for all the minutes I have available to me in a day. But it didn’t work.

Why doesn’t budgeting time work like budgeting money? If I know I have so much money coming in every month, I can put each dollar in a category, even if one category is “extra” or “spending money.” But with my time-chart, no matter what, I never seem to have enough time. By my estimation, I need about 35-40 hours a day to live comfortably. But I can’t just go adding hours to the day, can I? I mean, maybe if I change my sleep schedule up. It would be pretty difficult, though.

I think it’s good to have ambitions and goals for using your time that you might not actually reach, but it’s hard to be content with not reaching your goals! The truth is there just aren’t enough hours in the day. So what should we do?

Remember to Be

Let me remind both you and me again of the Importance of Being. We need to savor life, not rush through it. Be happy about each thing you accomplish, and think about the benefits of having done that.

So far today, I’ve:

1. …made the bed. This is a new habit I’m trying to develop. It feels really good to walk into our bedroom throughout the day and see a neat bed. It is complete with the decorative pillows that came with our set of bedding (a wedding present from some lovely friends of ours – who I am reminded of when I look at the bedding, all neatly made). It also makes me feel like Hubby will be better able to see my effort to take care of the house, and it is nice to pull back the covers on a neat bed at night and slip between unwrinkled sheets.

2. …started another load of laundry. We aren’t going to run out of clean undergarments, tshirts, or uniforms today. And now that I’m doing a little bit of laundry every day (almost), it’s a lot more manageable to keep up with the chore.

3. …loaded the dishwasher. The sink is empty, available for washing things, filling glasses with water, or whatever else we need. No stinky, dirty dishes in our noses.

4. …wrote 750 words. I’m on a 13-day streak, and I feel pride in that accomplishment. My thoughts also feel more organized.

Don’t Budget Every Minute

Don’t be like me and try to account for 1440 minutes each day. Even if you could squeeze everything you want to do into those 24 hours in theory, you very likely wouldn’t be able to do it in actuality. It takes time to move from one task to the next. Things can happen that you didn’t include in your plan, such as phone calls or spontaneous conversations. You just can’t account for what might happen. You can’t plan it in. And unlike with finances, you can’t keep a separate emergency fund of a few extra hours in case something comes up. It doesn’t work that way.

We should enjoy a slower pace, in my opinion.

My advice is to alternate which tasks are important on which days. For instance, I would like to have time to write on my novel, draw, crochet, deep-clean my house, and hang out with my friends every day. But since I know I’d run out of time trying to do all of it on one day, I can choose to spend Monday’s free hours on writing, Tuesday’s free hours on art, etc. If you’re like me and trying to figure out how to fit it all in, that’s the only advice I have.

Any Advice is Welcome

Time Management has never been one of my strong points. I’d like for it to be, but usually I… well, fail. I fail. 😛

When I was younger, my time was always eaten by the TV. Then it was eaten by AIM and MSN Messenger. Now it’s eaten by Facebook, reading blogs, and reading novels. Is that ok? I don’t know. Don’t I look back fondly on those times I spent hours and hours on AIM? At least it’s a good memory.

What about you? Do you have any advice for managing time? Techniques? Thoughts? Or do you just sympathize with me? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

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