Sack your PA: how to stay on top of your work life
With emails arriving every few seconds, phones ringing, and a to-do list longer than a Kevin Costner movie marathon, who hasn’t yearned for a personal assistant to sort the guff from the important stuff?
Alas, few of us – least of all PC Pro editors – are in a position to afford our own PA.
Mercifully, there is a barrage of digital tools that can do almost anything a human assistant would, bar picking up your dry-cleaning.
Whether it’s screening phone calls, prioritising your email, typing up your dictated notes or keeping on top of your daily calendar, we’ve sourced a variety of desktop and mobile tools to keep your work and personal life on track – many of them free.
Handling Phone Calls
The easiest way to streamline your call handling is to make and receive all your business calls from a single number. You can’t be in two places at once, and nobody wants to be constantly checking both landline and mobile voicemail inboxes to ensure they don’t miss vital calls; likewise, clients don’t want to be ringing around landlines and mobiles trying to get you to pick up.
One of the simplest and cheapest ways to achieve single-number nirvana is through Skype. You can buy a Skype telephone number from as little as £3 per month, and you’re not locked into a long-term contract.
You can use a number for a month and dispose of it, if you wish. What’s more, the number is activated almost immediately – there’s no two-week wait for a BT engineer to come round and install a telephone line.
You can buy Skype numbers for many UK regions and most major countries. This means, for example, that if you’re running a PC-repair business in Manchester, you can buy an 0161 number and customers in the region will pay only a local-call rate to contact you.
Likewise, if you’re a web designer hoping to attract clients from both the UK and US, you can buy a number in each country, so that your American clients don’t have to pay off-putting international rates. Each Skype account can handle calls from up to ten different Skype numbers, which should be plenty.
When someone rings your Skype number, it will ring on all the devices on which you have Skype installed – be that your PC, tablet or iOS, Android or Windows Phone device, or even a dedicated Skype handset – until the call’s answered on one of them.
If you don’t pick up, Skype calls can be diverted to a customisable voicemail inbox, or a landline/mobile after a set number of seconds – although you’ll have to pay for the duration of the call in Skype Credit. This can cost fractions of a penny per minute for forwarding calls to landlines, but 10p upwards to divert to a mobile.
If you’re running a small business and want multiple Skype accounts with different numbers assigned to different employees, you can download a piece of PC software called Skype Manager to handle the administration.
The software can be used to assign numbers and credit, and shut down the business accounts of employees, so that they don’t take your numbers with them. For more, Skype has a quick-start guide here.
Do not disturb
When it comes to screening calls on your mobile, the iPhone has an excellent Do Not Disturb feature. Primarily intended to stop nuisance phone calls waking you in the middle of the night, it’s also an excellent way to ensure you’re not troubled by all but the most important people in business meetings.