Life can be stressful, right? Particularly over the last year or so when the world has been in turmoil with Covid-19 and lockdown.

Life as a small business owner is hectic, busy, time-consuming, challenging, satisfying… to name a few… and yes, it can be a little stressful at times. When you’re in business on your own, it can be lonely and you don’t have a boss, a team or other departments that you can liaise with or rely on. Of course on the flip side you don’t need anyone else to authorise your decisions – a definite plus point. But when you are shouldering all the responsibility it can weigh you down.

I became self-employed largely to fit around my family and other life commitments, so when I’m not working it’s certainly not down-time, it’s parenting time, or housework and general life admin. It’s not time off.

I recognise that I don’t take time off – I’m always doing something – in fact I’m evening writing this blog on a Saturday night! And I think it’s the same for a lot of other small business owners. We have a lot of plates to spin, and to keep them spinning it means minimal or no time off. In which case, how do we relax? How do we unwind and dissolve our stress?

I’ve been thinking about this!

There are 2 components to it, to a small business owner leading a stress free life – reducing stress in the business, and taking time out to de-stress.

Reducing the Stress in Your Business

What causes you stress in your business? I have found that for a lot people it is their lack of time, or the fact that they have too many things to do. OK, I can’t give you more time in the day, but I can certainly help you with having less things to do!

Ditch and Delegate

I’ve been talking a lot recently about Covey’s quadrant model for priorities – and this comes into play here because ultimately we want to reduce the amount of things that you have to do in your day.

Look at each task on your to-do list and put it in its place in the quadrant; this will cut down what’s on your list. Half of the quadrants will have things that you don’t need to do, they are either to be delegated, or they can be ditched. If you can think of just one thing that doesn’t need to be on your list you will make your life a tiny bit easier!

As a small business owner delegating can be hard. You’re letting go of a little bit of responsibility for your business; of course it’s hard. I am a firm believer in outsourcing, but I still find it a wrench handing things to others, however capable, so I completely understand how you feel. However, once you’ve done it once, realised the freedom and seen that it does give you some time back you will keep doing it.

If it Doesn’t Feel Right, Don’t Do It.

When you are going against your gut feelings, your instincts and in some cases your values and morals, it can create internal conflict leading to a feeling of stress. Just in case you need the reminder – when you are your own boss, you make the rules and you can say no! If something isn’t working for you, you can investigate why and make changes if you need to. It is your business, you can make these decisions and you can change your mind. If there is something like this in your business, causing you stress, look into it, seek advice and reduce the stress.

Take Time for You

I find it hard to take time off. There, I’ve said it! I came into self-employment so that my working hours were flexible, which they are, but I do recognise that I need to take some time out too. Time for me; time to unwind; time to rebalance myself so I don’t feel stressed.

It’s this side of things I struggle with more than making working life easier, but it’s just as important. Looking into ideas of what to do to relax was therefore some self-development for me, and some reminders of things that I already knew! You don’t need to have a huge amount of time, take little bits here and there and it will keep you balanced.

Here are some ideas which can take from 10 minutes to an hour of your time – every little helps!

Add small things in throughout the day, and remember that you also deserve time off work. Personally, I cannot wait until the spas are open as I am well overdue a day off, chilling out in a peaceful spa. Just me and my book. No phone, no distractions. Bliss!

We’ll all have our ways of dealing with stress and overwhelm, mine revolves a lot around planning, and having a clear idea of what is coming up that I can control. Things out of my control crop up, but being prepared for the usual things makes it easier to deal with the unexpected. I hope that I have included some things that inspire you, or that are simply a reminder of things you already know.

Life can be complicated and unpredictable, but everyone can feature a little calm into their lives.

Now, I’m going to take a few minutes out to throw the ball for the dog, followed by strokes and cuddles; pets can be the perfect de-stresser!


It’s Spring! Whether you fall into the meteorological camp that believes it’s on the 1st March, or the 20th March as being the official first day, we are there! It’s Spring – my favourite season. There are signs of spring coming through in nature – the daffodils bursting through, trees laden with blossom; the longer daylight hours; the promise in the air.

It is the season for spring-cleaning, and whilst this is just accepted as tradition, you can read a bit more about its history here.

Even organised people will have a space where clutter collects, whether that’s the kitchen drawer – you know what I mean, we all have a drawer in the kitchen that just accumulates stuff – or the under the stairs cupboard. These are both places that I have tackled this month, and boy does it feel good!

In my mind decluttering and spring-cleaning go hand in hand. You declutter, clear out the unnecessary things, and then you clean and put what’s staying back in an organised fashion. It’s having a bloomin’ good sort out and clean! And if you’re not convinced about doing it, let me tell you about some of the benefits that you get:

Quite often it’s easy to identify where in your home you want to sort, but going ahead and starting the project is more difficult. It can seem like an overwhelming task. You can be put off from starting it because it just seems so difficult. Well, I’m going to help you with that. Take it one step at a time and you’ll get there.

The first thing to do is pick the area you want to declutter carefully. Don’t be tempted to jump straight into the massive job – for me that’s sorting through the children’s toys – choose something smaller, something manageable that will give you the confidence to tackle the big things. That kitchen drawer is perfect!

Wherever you pick, there are some simple rules to follow: 

Touch it once

Pick one item at a time, and decide what you’re going to do with it. Put it in its correct pile and you’re done. The decision is made.

Make decisions, one item at a time

The choice, ultimately, is do you keep said item or not. But that is too big a decision to make a lot of the time, so think about the facts. This simple flow chart will help you make the choice – be honest with your answers!

Now to tackle the Get Rid Pile...Do you  - throw it away, give it away or sell it?

Decluttering can be an opportunity to make a little cash by selling suitable items. Sales avenues to consider are – Ebay, car boot sales, Facebook groups, specialist listing sites.

Items in good order can be given away, maybe as a hand me downs to friends and family who would find it useful, or to your favourite charity. At the moment charity shops aren’t accepting donations, however there are clothes donation bins and doorstep collections that are still operating.

Broken and damaged items can be thrown away responsibly i.e. recycled where possible. If you do think that something is repairable you may be able to find someone who will take it off your hands.

The keep pile should be significantly smaller than the starting pile.

With all the contents of the drawer, cupboard, room now out in the open and greatly reduced, it’s time to have a clean before you put everything back in an organised fashion. Don’t rush into putting the keep items back, consider the best way to organise everything. Separate the commonly used items and have them in an easily accessible space. Why not use baskets to organise and keep things neat. I’m a fan of baskets and boxes, as you can see from my decluttered kitchen drawer, as well as labels.

I’ll give you one get out clause! There may be some items that you genuinely cannot make your mind up about. Maybe it’s something sentimental or something you think you might use in the future – put these in a box, seal the box and put it out of the way (in the garage, loft or similar). If you have no need for that item in the next 6 months, get rid of it. A note of caution though – you shouldn’t put all of your things in the maybe pile!

The garage is a great place to get your teeth into when it comes to decluttering, it’s often a place when things are dumped for storage. I went through ours at the weekend and, although I can’t action the get rid piles at the moment, I still have a lovely clear, usable space now. This one isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s definitely satisfying!

You don’t need to wait until spring for a good declutter, why not tackle one area a month?

Along with planning, I love decluttering. If you need help getting your home in order, keep your eye out for decluttering services from Silver Lining Services when we can be face to face.

Right, I’m off to tackle the toys now!

In many ways Christmas day is no different for us, but the festive season in general is and, like many others, we are missing seeing our family this year, and missing the usual gatherings and traditions. We’re at home, just our family of 4 (6 if you count the furries), on Christmas day, and you’ll not be surprised that the day is planned! I’m organised and love a list, so let me tell you about my Christmas plans, and there may be some ideas for anyone who isn’t a planner like me. 

The lists have started! Making lists is my way of making sure that everything is remembered, and I can plan getting things actioned. 

Christmas Card List

Yes, we are sending Christmas cards this year. There are the usual family members on the list, and this year a lot more of our neighbours are getting them as we have a Whatsapp group in our road, created shortly before Lockdown 1.0. A list of people, no one forgotten and written at the weekend with a Netflix series on. All that’s left is for Hubs to drop the local ones in. That’s on his todo list! 

The Present List

In the last couple of months I’ve been picking up bits and bobs for presents and stashing them away. It turns out I’d accumulated a little more than I realised, and an inventory was taken at the weekend. The present idea list was already in progress, jotting down ideas as they came to me. It has its own dedicated page in my BuJo. Cross referencing the ‘already got’ list and the ‘ideas’ list, I then had a shopping list for a Christmas shopping list. List in hand, a note of the shops to in, we were able to whizz around Centre:MK in a couple of hours and nail that list! I thought I’d track the walk, and I went over 3 miles round the shopping centre!

Also purchased – a TV guide. It’s the only time of the year that we bother with one, but I’ll be leafing through it later folding corners of pages over when there’s something I want to watch or record. 

christmas planning blog silver lining
christmas planning blog silver lining

The Grocery List

I managed to get a delivery slot – woohooo – so we’re stocking up for the next few weeks. I saw a slot, booked it by putting several bottles of vodka in the basket, ready to update later. I have a meal planner, with a tear off shopping list, on my fridge – we now have the next 2-3 weeks of meals planned which meant that I could plan the shop and hopefully only need to go shopping for a few fresh things a couple of days before Christmas. 

Christmas Dinner List

We know what we’re having – it’s in the meal planner – and there will be a list on the day. We’re changing things up on the day and having a later lunch than usual; this is a total change with 2 young children you are used to an early lunch. There will still be the same prep and cooking, this will be on a list with timings to do it. We’ll be doing presents, chilling out and walking the dog in the morning, and then it’ll be knives at the ready in the kitchen. 

Reflecting on my planning and lists habits, it’s made me conscious that I might actually sound really boring and rigid, and totally lacking in spontaneity. So let me address that point, because I can assure you I’m not! If I don’t plan, I don’t have a meltdown, but planning helps me feel in control at least to some degree. There are of course things that you can’t plan (Covid!!!), but in every situation there are things that you can control; if nothing else you can choose your mindset and choose how you let things affect you. If I forgot to get roast potatoes for Christmas dinner, it’s not the end of the world, but having them on the shopping list means that I probably won’t forget them and there won’t be complaints about it on the day. It’s not a life threatening situation to not get all the Christmas presents, but it makes life a little easier if there are no crying children on Christmas day. For me, planning is about making life easier. It’s not always life-changingly easier, but just a little easier. And when we have all the stresses and challenges around us, especially in 2020, why not make your life a little easier if you can. 

I choose making my life easier when there’s an opportunity to do so. I choose planning and lists. 

My first proper job was at Carphone Warehouse. This was many years ago now, worryingly I can now say that it was decades ago, and it was well and truly before smart-phones existed – can anyone else remember that? 

I feel lucky to have experienced this technological evolution, I was selling the first iPhone on the very day it was released, and now look where it is. Clearly then we just did not know where we were heading – a bit like this year then! 

In the Milton Keynes museum there is a communications section, and part of that is a display of mobile phones throughout the ages – and goodness did I feel old being able to recognise, if not own, all of the models on display. Odd really, as I often don’t feel I’m old enough to be doing a lot of the things I am doing, but hey ho! 

Our phones are now with us all the time, mine is looking at me from right beside my laptop and no doubt I’ll leap on it if it buzzes. That single device in our hand enables us to phone and text, yes, but also send emails, access the internet, go on social media, take photos, the list goes on. There are a myriad apps available, and a lot of those are designed in one way or another to allow you to organise and plan your life and habits. 


But what about the times before phones were connected to the internet? How did we cope?

When mobile phones were just for phone calls, there were other gadgets that were on the market to keep us organised. I remember having a Palm Pilot PDA, and when I client said to me that I was like the human version of an original Palm Pilot, it resonated, and I knew that I would be taking her idea and running it with it! 

PDA – Personal Digital Assistant

This little gadget was perfectly sized to fit in a pocket, Filofax etc, and it organised your life. Notes, diary, reminders… it was the perfect tool to keep you on track, efficient and accountable. It was all about the organisation. Sure, it could do other things, you could get games for it and there was a specific app to simulate a mirror, but it kept organised!

Executive Assistant 

I will keep you on track, efficient and accountable. A human might not fit in your pocket, but the mobile technology now means that I am just at the end of your phone – whether that’s a call, video call,, email, text, Facebook or Whatsapp message. So yes, I’m pretty much there in your pocket or handbag. I work with you on your plans, create todo lists, remind you of things. I hold you accountable and will nudge you  - some might call this nagging – when you need to be getting on the job in hand. 

I hope it goes without saying that as a human I provide a much better service than the PDA. I won’t distract you with games that you can waste time on; I’m proactive and get to understand you and your business; I have a variety of tools I use, but I’m able to tailor make my service and solutions to you and your business and personal challenges; I can read between the lines; I evolve in a way that no software upgrades could match. 

You might say that your mobile phone can now perfectly easily do the job that PDA did. Maybe, and if that was the case we would have a world full of organised people, and you would never procrastinate about anything… What you need is the human element!

Apt for both the situation and my general outlook on life, and the reason for my business name.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s enough of a return to normality to look back and really be able to see that silver lining of lockdown. 

A big shift, business-wise, for me has been the one over to online meetings. Many of us have embraced technology so that we could carry on business, and many families have done the same so that they could remain connected. We had a family zoom quiz on Sunday evenings through lockdown and this meant we actually saw more of the family that we normally would when we can meet in person. 

I don’t for one minute think that it’s just me who’s experienced, indeed experiencing, this change of working, but my personal experience is now changing the outlook of my business. 

For a long time, I have extolled the benefits of video calls, they:

I’m sure that is not an exhaustive list, but despite the benefits video calls just didn’t fit in my comfort zone; I wanted to meet people face to face. Of course there are the cons too, but we’re looking at the silver lining NOT the cloud! 

silver linings zoom meeting

Lockdown forced me out of my comfort zone, and it’s definitely turned out to be a silver lining for me and my business. Online meetings and video calls mean that I have been able to keep my business going, but more than that, I have been able to grow and develop my business. I have participated in courses and business coaching. And all this while being able to spend time with my family, which was a priority yes, but actually I needed more, I needed to work 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to meeting in person; sitting down with a cuppa and having a chat and seeing all the non verbal language that we often miss on a small screen. But I’m not missing the commuting, the time and financial costs of going to a meeting or 121. 

With this in mind, I’m going to be moving forward with a hybrid approach to meeting and connecting. I am currently the member of 3 ladies’ networking groups and while we are currently meeting over Zoom they will return to being face to face. That will be my predominant in-person fix along with some drop in networking, I’ll keep my 121s over Zoom in the main, with the odd catch up at a coffee shop. I work remotely for my clients, with the odd exception, but at some point I will be able to have the odd meeting with them too.  I can’t wait!

If I needed a moral to this story it is the reminder (because I did already know this fact!) that growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone. Yes, you feel all secure and, well, comfortable in that little bubble, but pushing your boundaries makes you try new things, take advantage of new opportunities. I’m glad that I have been pushed into changing how I work, and I’m truly seeing the silver lining for it now. 

I’ve been inspired to write this blog by the wonderful Lesley Jones. It has become part of my business development, defining the identity of my business and its services. I was intending to discuss the differences between a VA and PA, but my research has thrown another possibility into the equation, and even whilst working through this blog, I have been learning and developing. 

When it comes to networking, my industry seat is for the VA, but I’ve always called myself a PA. What are these PA and VA terms that we bandy about?

VA - A Virtual Assistant is an independent contractor who provides administrative services to clients while operating outside of the client's office. A virtual assistant typically operates from a home office but can access the necessary planning documents, such as shared calendars, remotely. 

PA – A person who does office work and administrative work for someone. It is an abbreviation for Personal Assistant. 

EA – An Executive Assistant a person employed to assist a high-level manager or professional with correspondence, appointments, and administrative tasks.

To a degree all these terms can be interchanged, but there are subtle differences and each one has its own set of benefits. So, does that mean they’re all pretty much the same? No. 

A big difference between VA and the other two is that a VA is a freelance, contracting position whereas, typically, a PA or EA is an employed role. In these times the fact that a VA is virtual is less of a defining point with so many people working remotely from home, however it’s not usually a permanent employed position and they will work with multiple clients. A PA and EA are employed and work with one person or a team. 

All assistants have their unique experience, skills and niches, so while I’m about to talk about tasks of each in general terms these aren’t black and white categories but it gives you an idea of where the differences are.

A VA will do the following:

va or pa blog image ann little silver linging
ann little about me image

As a VA works remotely on an ad hoc or retainer basis there are reduced labour and overhead costs. There is increased productivity and flexibility when contracting a VA. 

In addition to everything above a PA will:

As a PA you build a strong relationship with your manager and learn the company’s core values and industry terminology. 

In addition to everything a VA and PA do, an EA also:

Similarly to a PA, an EA works closely with their manager to be an integral part of the business and understand the values and ethos of both the individual and the company. 

It’s at this point that I was expecting to tell you that I personally prefer the term Virtual PA for the way I conduct business and the services I undertake; I have a number of clients, but each client feels as though they have my undivided attention. I maintain the right number of clients to allow me to give this personal service. But, this is where my learning comes in. 

The level of work that I do for clients goes across the board – covering VA, PA and EA tasks. I am not an employee, and on that basis I over a high level of productivity and you only pay for my working time; if you don’t need me, you don’t pay. I consider that I offer a hybrid service, and this includes the EA role as well. Mulling this over with a client, I think that I will have to re-title myself and change a description of my business and my services. Virtual PA doesn’t quite seem to cut it now when I know I provide Executive Assistant level quality. 

To sum up, Silver Lining Services offers the following benefits to each and every one of its clients:

These thoughts have all ultimately stemmed from working on business and personal development during lockdown. Researching for this blog has help solidify my business’s identity and in turn means that I can focus on the change in direction that I am taking. I know without a doubt that quality of service is the priority for me; my business is on a journey of growth, but built into that growth is provision to allow clients to still have the personal touch. 

References from Oxford Languages, Collins Dictionary, Investopedia and LinkedIn Article by Karen Hannon

professional virtual assistants image
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