PODCAST – Helen Aguiar
As an experienced Project Manager at Virtualplicity, I oversee the planning and implementation of multiple projects and ensure that the task is completed and on time. I have worked in the administrative support field for more than 20 years, with various industries in Logistics, Healthcare, Sales and Marketing for Fortune 500 companies and government agencies. I specialize in providing administrative services for entrepreneurs and small business owners worldwide.
By partnering with Virtualplicity, you can delegate some of the tasks that keep you from having the time to focus on your business. We offer a variety of administrative services that are designed to help busy professionals and business owners get organized and stay on track of their business goals.
See Helen’s website here http://www.virtualplicity.com/
Full transcript of the podcast is below.
DYAN: Hi Helen.
DYAN: This is Helen Aguiar talking with Dyan Burgess today. Helen will talk through how she helps bring books to you, to the audience. So Helen, we were going to start with the first question or the first statement – Describe your process. In particular, what you do and how you do it, what tools you might utilise in order to get your job done?
HELEN: Well, I’m a project manager. I do most of my work from my home office. However, it is not unusual for me to work at a Starbucks or a café while I’m out. I have a set of hours that I normally operate my office. But I have found that my creative sparks have come more often in the odd hours of the day.
For those reasons, you will find me working late at night or early mornings when the mood strikes. So it depends on my moods. So at times, you find me calling someone at 3am in another part of the world. So it’s odd hours of the day.
For the process, how I work with my clients, how it started, it’s especially when a client contacts me asking for help in managing their projects. I would schedule a meeting to discuss their needs. I feel that it’s important to me that I have a good understanding of my clients in order to assist them effectively. I will then create a strategic plan based on my clients’ needs and managing every stage of the project to ensure it’s a complete success.
I believe that almost anything and everyone is a possible resource to my project management process. So the tools that I use, you know it is amazing how many online tools are available nowadays. I use different tools for different tasks. There are some I use on a daily basis to manage my projects. I use Basecamp, Asana, Google calendar, Skype, DropBox and Buffer. Each of those have unique ways of performing the task. The list can go on and on. But these are some of the tools I use on a daily basis.
DYAN: As you said there Helen, very much in particular with the book publishing, it is very much about at the beginning putting that scope together. That’s probably why the project management has worked so well with us meeting up a number of years ago and then starting to work together. It does go hand in hand – having the idea that the book publishing is a process.
If you sit down at the beginning and look at what the steps are that you need in order to get to the end, then it becomes that process. That’s what we … over the last number of years, four, five years have done is use those processes. Understanding that it does constantly change, however you still have a basic process that you can follow and tweak it as you need. A place like Basecamp and DropBox becoming valuable with respect to being able to share documents with whomever you work with in the world. As you say, the time zones … like even now, you’re at night yesterday whereas I’m in the morning today.
HELEN: I know. That’s weird.
DYAN: Yesterday to me, today to you, actually I’m tomorrow to you.
HELEN: I know. It’s confusing.
DYAN: It has been amazing to be able to utilise those tools to work with anyone in the world at the time zone that is convenient for all parties. That has meant that it can be more flexible to the routine – because things do come up. As you say, you have a general set hours. But you also know that you can plan around that. I think what you mentioned about the ability to plan and scope a project out means that when you know what you’ve got coming up, what flexibility and inflexibility you have within that timeline.
Moving onto the next question that I had, how you fell into your profession?
HELEN: Well, it was by coincidence that I began working from home as a virtual assistant. I started by organising and planning a wedding event as a favour for a friend of mine. From there, people began asking me to do it for them. It just grew from that point on. It was like wow, I can do this.
So I found that there was a need for someone with my particular set of skills and that I could help people better manage their business goals or personal goals. When I first began in my field, I really had a strong interest in doing this type of work. But as I gained more experience as well as completing projects, my feelings have become insanely passionate. Sometimes, I’m so into my work and my husband has to pull me out of my office. I’m not kidding. I really love my job. I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
DYAN: Yes. I think that as you say things when they do click like that, it gives you that energy to get up each day and be passionate about what you do. That’s not to say there aren’t days when you think oh my goodness, why did I choose to do this job? Because there are times when you do wonder why you chose it. But more often than not, there is that feeling and thankfulness and gratitude that you’re able to help people achieve their goals that they wouldn’t otherwise have done if you have not crossed paths.
It is great being able to find likeminded people to fill that need and to allow them to achieve their goals. That leads into the aspects of the work, your favourite parts and least favourite parts. Although it sounds like your least favourite part is when your husband comes in and pulls you out of your office by your ear.
HELEN: He’s my reminder. He’s my alarm clock. He’s like you know red flag, time to go.
My favourite part, let’s talk about my favourite part first has to be the satisfaction that I gain when a project is a success. I also enjoy the challenge that each project presents. I particularly enjoy forming a strategy to overcome any possible obstacles that may arise from each project. Things just change with no warning.
My least favourite, besides my husband pulling me out, I have major issues when communication channels breaks down. Nothing will fail a project faster than communication breakdowns.
So during the initial planning process of each task, I place the largest amount of time in reviewing the communication channels and how I will manage them. So from an administration standpoint, I believe everyone must know their role and what they mean to the project. Seeing the big picture or as I prefer, the global perspective is something that everyone needs to understand. I truly believe that collaborate team working is the only way to be successful long term in today’s business environment.
All team members, I think that they must have the final goal on their mind, if a project is to be successful. So what works best for me is to welcome change, push boundaries and be open to new ideas and be relentless. Keep pushing boundaries and collaborate with your team and make sure everyone is on the same page. That will ensure a project is complete and meet the deadlines.
DYAN: Yes. I think that particularly where you found in book publishing, we’ve certainly had some cul de sacs that we’ve hit at times because we thought we were headed down the right track with the people that we’ve chosen to work with or the processes we had in place, and then found we had to change things.
As you said it’s important to keep reviewing where you’re going and what you’re doing. Sometimes you need to reset your goals. Sometimes the timelines aren’t going to stick. Sometimes things come up that need to change the way the process is done, whether funding has been cut off or the person you hope to work with isn’t available, or whatever else might go in a general day-to-day business.
Rescoping and resetting the goals to what may be more realistic. As you know, there have been a number of things that we’ve had to sideline with our book publishing side of things. We said “Those ideas at the moment need to be parked to the side”, and that’s okay, because we know they’re there and they sit in Basecamp and as a to-do sometime in the future. But at the moment, they need to be put to the side in order to ensure that whatever the main goal is of the business at the time actually makes it across the line. Helen has put up with a lot of my moments.
HELEN: Fun moments. There are crazy moments sometimes.
DYAN: Yes. I think that’s one of the great things about our relationship. I’ll have, as you know, tonnes of ideas come in and I can get a bit tangential. You say “Hey Dyan, what’s happening this week?” and I say “Oh, I don’t know”. You just say “Can we just look at these things?”
You having that focus has helped me realign where I’m setting my work for that week. Sometimes things can be a bit slow for me to understand and comprehend where you’re trying to get to. Again, your patience with just gently reminding, “Hey, where’s that happened, what’s gone on with this, can we just put this to the side because I think we finished it”.
Is part of that overall skill set in the project management. In book publishing, you need to publish books. So you sometimes need to put other projects to the side to allow the completion of the book publishing. Otherwise, the book will just sit there in its manuscript format and not actually get out the door, which is not what you want either.
It has been … it is complex at times when there’s different people collaborating and different viewpoints and people see things differently in order to … as you say, understanding that communication between all parties and who’s responsible for what component. As soon as that becomes blurry, that’s when things start falling off track.
You regularly need to step in and clarify the goals and reset where it’s at. You also know when to let it go. Success is not necessarily finishing the project. Sometimes, success is actually understanding that you need to put it down and get back to another project.
It’s all part of the fun and not so much fun at times. Which brings us to the next couple of questions. The biggest challenge that you face professionally and personally, which you’ve touched on a little bit. If you could expand a little bit more ?
HELEN: Okay. Well, professionally, it’s very simple. It’s time. There never seems to be enough hours in a day to complete what I want to accomplish. So time is definitely a challenge for me, especially when … for example, book publishing. Things change. As soon as you think that a book is done and it’s going to go live, it is not. When you review the final proof, you will find thatthere are some minor errors and you just have to stop and go back to your previous steps and start all over again.
It seems like time is a challenge. Besides that, however, I enjoy my work so much that I have to remind myself again to keep my boundaries.
As for personally, my biggest challenge is making sure that I balance my work time with my family time. I think it’s important to spend … leave a day, just have time to spend time with my kids, my husband. Sometimes, I know it can be very easy to make an excuse about a deadline or a workload to push off family time for later. But that is when I rely on my set boundaries to keep me in line.
DYAN: As you say, it is hard when you know that you potentially only need an hour or two to finish a project and you think “Oh, but I could just do this.” As you say, then you say that two hours I was then going to spend with my children, or my family, you can’t get it back. Now yes, the work is completed, but you’re not going to be able to catch up with the time that you had promised your family.
That time you spend with your family doesn’t have to be out and about extravagant. It can be as simple as reading books or preparing a meal together or whatever it may be that is important to the people that you’re spending time with. May be that’s something that I think … as you say, the simple things that become important and to step away from what you’re doing.
I do also wonder when you … like as you said, the creative sparks come to you at unusual moments. When you step away from something, a project that you’re working on, you’ve still got it tossing around in the back of your mind. By doing something different then what you were … so for example, spend time with family, doing an activity outdoors. Now you can go outdoors in sunnier weather – the resolution can present itself much more quickly – rather than the time of you spending it away from your family when you’ve made that commitment. Because I think the other thing that is distracting is that guilt that you can feel thinking “Oh I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be spending time with my family”, and you can’t think straight anyway. So you might as well put it down and go from there. That’s a really … I see that as a daily challenge because “things” come up.
HELEN: Things come up. Yes.
DYAN: Things that aren’t unplanned.
HELEN: Yes, things change. That’s what I have learned.
DYAN: You do need to be able to stay focused, yet knowing that there will be tweaking required, which moves into that balancing the parenting and self-employment commitments. The daily routine that you mentioned that you like to have set hours generally for your office. But as you said, that doesn’t always work.
HELEN: No. Full of surprises, let’s say that.
DYAN: As you said, taking time to be you, to be Helen, not to be the mother, to be the wife, to be the daughter, to be the sister or whatever other role that you need to be. What’s your way to be Helen without having any other external factors pushing onto you and trying to make you some other role.
You mentioned there’s you “mother Helen” to the kids, but then is there also a time that is just Helen? Helen not as a project manager, Helen not as a mother. So that moment that you that you are just you … so for me, I will, for example, find a particular book that I want to read and I will read for 15 or 20 minutes. I’m not anyone else’s person at that moment except me. Or I do a hot yoga class or I’ll go for a walk. While I’m in that process, I’m me. I’m not Dyan the mum, Dyan the author, Dyan the illustrator. I’m just me.
HELEN: Well, for just Helen time, I would just go to the park, take a long brisk walk. Especially, in my line of work, there are a lot of pressures because of the timelines. So when I feel pressure, I stop what I’m doing. I would just go take a walk, or listen to my favourite music. Then once I’m refreshed, I pick up from where I left off.
DYAN: From what you’re saying, it doesn’t have to be an extended period of time. It can be 10 or 15 minutes to reset yourself.
DYAN: Yes. And just clear the … it’s almost like just wiping down the bench. You’re just clearing everything away. And then you say ”Right, let’s get back to it.” I think that ability to be able to reset yourself in a short period of time is actually really critical to the longer term success of any business and personal relationships that we, because as you said, there are so many different demands and processes and ways that people do things these days. Being able to reset like that really saves your sanity. Otherwise, you really can go mad.
HELEN: Oh yes, go mad. And you know, it takes a toll on your health too. You sit in front of the desk for what, eight hours, sometimes even more. It becomes … if you type too much, your hands can get a little stiff, or your leg. It’s just bad blood circulation for you. It’s just good to get up, take a walk for 15 minutes or so and recharge your body. So it really helps sometimes. That’s what I’m trying to do. Every may be an hour or so, I would just get up and take a walk.
DYAN: Yes. As you say, it just gets you moving and refocuses the energy from where you were. Sitting around for extended periods is not a good way to be, in any component of your life. It makes you tired. You feel zapped of energy when you do that as well. So that movement is really critical to continuing the flow of work and ideas and keeping you alive and well.
DYAN: Now we’re probably at the hardest part Helen, a crazy fact that epitomises who you are.
HELEN: Well, this is not related to work. I guess this thing has been a thing of me for a long, long time. This is going to sound very odd. But I do the opposite of what everyone else does when it comes to weight. When most people start their New Year with a resolution to lose weight, I began my New Year with a resolution to gain weight. It drives my friends and husband crazy. But I really have a difficult time gaining and maintaining my weight.
In a normal setting, I can eat more than anyone else. I’m not kidding. My husband … I could eat up two to three hamburgers with a milkshake and I still cannot gain weight. No matter what I eat. You know pasta, dairy, bread and pizza, you know I never gain an ounce. So far this year, I’ve failed with my 2016 resolution to gain weight yet again. Any ideas for me? I’m open to suggestions.
DYAN: It says you’re a contrarian person, that you like to follow the opposite trends. I had a theory that if you’re around people who need to lose weight, you just need to breathe in harder and you’ll pick up some of their weight. So that’s one of our funny things. I don’t know if you’re used to reading Garfield comics.
HELEN: Oh yes, I love that.
DYAN: The issue that he kept on putting on weight was because all the thin people in the world kept on breathing out their weight and he would breathe it in, hence he was always rotund. So may be you can pick up some Garfield tips.
HELEN: Okay, I’ll try that. Thanks for the tip.
DYAN: Yes be around people that need to lose some weight and breathe in their excess weight and see what happens.
HELEN: I’ll try that. That’s funny.
DYAN: That’s the Garfield tip. He’s always made me laugh.
HELEN: I know. I miss that.
DYAN: But I think that being contrarian is really important also in what you do, because as you say, you need to look at processes from a different way that are normally looked at in order to try to see if there’s a better way to do things. So that’s probably a good reflection of where you’ve ended up, what you’re doing, because it reflects fundamentally that process that you want to do things opposite to others.
It helps to be able to break down processes into steps that otherwise may not have been considered. So there you go. You were always meant to be in project management.
HELEN: I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
DYAN: It suits who you are. So it’s good that you have the opportunity to be able to do that. Now the last part was the Top 3 tips that you have for people.
HELEN: Okay. I have operated a home based business for several years now and I have used several different approaches. What I have found in my experience is that to be successful, you have to be 100% committed to what you do. You have to have support from your family and friends. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Go with your instincts. If you dream of something and you want to do something that you really want to do, go for it.
DYAN: Okay. It’s funny that you said go with your instincts, because you just said your contrarian attitude or personality has certainly been part of your instinct. Being 100% committed is definitely the difference between the contractors we have used over the years, the ones that have turned up and said “Oh yeah, this is a sideline business, I’m thinking about doing it.” I’ve never lasted very long with working with those type of people. The people that have lasted, we’ve had long relationships with are people who understand that it is a fulltime job. It’s not just something you do on the side that if you feel like it, you’ll turn up, because that attitude, then reflects in the quality of the work and the time turnarounds. So very much so, it is a business, and you need to treat it as a business, and you need to be 100% committed.
Now, you can then, say I’m only available 5 hours a week or 20 hours a week or whatever that may be. But it still needs to be when you make that commitment that that’s what you commit to as a minimum approach to the work that you do and that you can’t let other things get in the way of that.
As you mentioned, understanding what your commitments are and then planning around that and knowing where to stop, when to say no to other projects or to other work to ensure that you can still keep that commitment to the work that you’ve got on the go. That’s part, I guess, also of taking risks. The people that you initially work with when you start new relationships, with people, it is always a bit of a risk. You don’t really know how it’s going to turn out. But it’s part of the process that you need to do, you need to take risks, to then develop relationships over time. Some don’t work out as you and I know. But others do.
HELEN: You know the thing is if you don’t try, you’ll never know. So just go for it and see how that turns out. Sometimes, you’ll surprise yourself.
DYAN: Yes. I think that we found some of the people we’ve worked with, we hadn’t worked very well on some projects with. That’s a two-way street. That’s been as much at our end as at their end. Then we do another project with the same people and it’s worked out great.
Sometimes even reconsidering the scope and probably what you talked about, that communication breakdown is really a critical part of the success of a project. If communication does breakdown, if clear guidelines haven’t been given, then it’s not necessarily the people that you’re working with, it’s your processes. If you can tidy up your processes and then go back again and then work with the contractor again and then have success, you know that it was the process rather than the people.
Which again your contrarian view of things can help see that within a project. That’s usually just something that happens once or twice when the new process is being sorted out. But it’s still good to have that as a reminder on occasion that you do need to continue to revisit how you work and how you do things and the people that you work with and checking if you are keeping the communication clear, have enough of a challenge in a project, so that everyone is engaged To have change there to ensure that it is keeping people on their toes. The other thing is, as you and I have both seen, that if you get too familiar with processes, then things get missed as well.
HELEN: Yes, I agree.
DYAN: So you’ve got to be constantly rechecking these things to ensure that you do have the systems in place, but also rechecking those and reconsidering them. As you and I have seen, external factors change as well, the way that the government bodies that we have to liaise with for the processing of the books, they change the regulations, so then you need to change your processing based on those external factors as well. So it’s always something new.
HELEN: Something new. Again, in my line of work, challenge is with time and something comes up. You have to stop and just relook at it, refocus and replan.
DYAN: Understanding that is part of it, that there needs to be a level of flexibility in every project that you pick up. As much as you have a process in place, there will always be a little bit of tweaking as you go along. Like there’ll be general steps, but there’s still always a little bit of tweaking, depending on other things that come into the scope that you could not have foreseen that you need to retweak. Did you have any other wise thoughts or comments Helen before we wrap up?
HELEN: No. That’s all there is.
DYAN: Thank you so much Helen for your time today.
HELEN: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.