- Hannah Dixon became a virtual assistant nine years ago and now earns six figures in income.
- She manages her workload and her team using a scheduler, tech tools like Trello, and “Me First” days.
- Here’s how she keeps everything organized, as writer Robin Madell once said.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Hannah Dixon, a 34-year-old virtual assistant and VA coach in Bangkok. The insider verified his earnings with documents. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I don’t believe there is a “one size fits all” solution when it comes to designing workflows as a freelancer – but we can certainly learn from others.
I became a virtual assistant nine years ago, and now I make six-figure profits a year and manage four other freelance virtual assistants.
Here are three ways to stay organized to save time and money.
1. I use my own custom daily planner
I initially went through tons of planners every year hoping to discover something that worked, to no avail. That’s when I realized it wasn’t the fault of the “bad” planners – it was just me. I needed to create a unique scheduling system that worked for me.
I am someone who gets easily overwhelmed and I wake up every day with a brain full of thoughts, ideas, anxieties, and an endless list of things to do. I recognized that what comforted me and enabled me to perform at my best was taking care of all those things first so they didn’t bleed into my day and dull not my energy.
So I designed my own simple daily planner called “The Daily Dump”. It starts with a written release of anything and everything that gets my attention, like a client’s needs or doing the laundry.
Under the “dump” section, I have four boxes. The first box contains my priorities: the things that need to be implemented today without compromise. It’s ultimately my daily to-do list, which I’ll later turn into a project management tool. The next box contains the tasks that I can delegate. This could include outsourcing something to another virtual assistant that I manage or asking my partner to handle a domestic issue.
In the third box, I discern things that are not an immediate priority. (I call this my “Not Today Satan” list because I like to make things fun.) Finally, the fourth box is the “Let It Go List.” These are things that don’t deserve space in my mind, things that don’t matter, or ideas that I can realistically say will never come to fruition. I honor them momentarily by putting them on the list.
When done, delegating is my first task, followed by taking action on my to-do list with clarity.
2. I manage my time and my projects using technological tools
Without project management tools, I don’t think my business would exist.
My favorite is Trello for its simplicity kanbanstyle boards. My team uses different boards for different needs: our main team overview board in Trello is where our big goals are broken down into manageable milestones and where team members are assigned tasks based on their expertise field. We keep track of all important processes, tasks, and information, such as standard operating procedures, meeting notes, quick links, and branding templates, so everyone has easy access to them.
Our launch board includes all the assets and steps to execute our launch strategies. A launch strategy consists of defining steps from A to Z to deliver a product or service to the market.
In my case, I work with people who want to become virtual assistants in order to have more time and money and a location-independent career. As I have built a large network over the years, my launch strategy is a bit different for our main product.
Through my community, word of mouth, my newsletter and affiliate referrals, I run a five day free program which teaches people the basics of becoming a virtual assistant. Upon completion, participants are invited to work with me further in my paid and comprehensive virtual assistant training program, the Virtual Excellence Academy.
Every two to four months we are able to easily execute a launch like this – our Trello board being the place we can rely on to detail the whole process and make sure everyone knows how. and when to trigger certain actions.
I even use boards for personal projects. I’m in the process of acquiring Italian citizenship through my ancestors, and Trello has been a useful tool for storing the insurmountable documents, photos, and information needed to do so in a structured way. As a digital nomad, I also use it to detail my favorite things about a given destination so I can pass on the information or refer to it when I return.
One of my favorite time management tools is To toggle, allowing you to easily track your time down to the nearest second. It’s great for invoicing clients on hourly projects, and it can be a great tool for identifying when you’re working best. Knowing what time of day you are most efficient — and knowing, in general, how long it takes you to complete certain tasks — will help you better plan your days.
I also use time blocking, which is especially useful if you work with multiple clients. Blocking time allows you to reserve separate blocks of time throughout your days and weeks where you only work on specific client projects. It can help you stay focused better instead of throwing yourself into tasks that require different ways of thinking.
3. I set aside ‘Me First’ and ‘CEO’ days
One of my favorite organizational hacks is to take the first two days of the month for what I’ve called “Me First Day” followed by “CEO Day.”
Me First Day means putting myself first every first of the month. On this day, I intentionally take the time to treat myself to a new haircut, a restaurant meal, a long bath, a massage, or maybe all of the above. You can easily forget that the very thing that can become the bottleneck of your business is you, so taking care of yourself first will allow you to navigate easier and better ideas.
On a daily basis, I also take intentional work breaks using various modalities to support myself. More recently, I’ve been taking breaks in virtual reality.
“CEO Day”, the second of each month, is a day when I report only to myself. No one can book a call with me, I don’t have to be anywhere, and on that day I perform these tasks:
- Plan the month ahead in my project management tool
- Take a closer look at finances and set goals
- Pay everyone who needs to pay
- Writing notes for my team’s monthly call
- Close all unfinished business from the previous month
- Take the time to learn everything I wanted to learn to achieve my goals
This is truly an opportunity for me to feel caught up and emotionally ready to start a new month with clarity and direction. Since implementing these two days, I’m less likely to fall prey to distractions or veer off course with projects that aren’t a priority.
Are you a successful virtual assistant and want to share your story? Email Alyse Kalish at [email protected]