Black BoxHave you ever felt like a “black box”? I think it’s one of the hazards of working virtually but I’ve learned there’s one or two ways to overcome it.

Before I made the decision to take the virtual working path I used to be a scientist and worked for years as a physicist. When carrying out any scientific experiments a “black box” is a system or a device that changes a particular input into a certain output, but it doesn’t really matter what happens in the middle, the internal workings of the black box are of no consequence at all. Some days I think it feels like I am that black box. Clients type in their requirements on their keyboard, press send, then sometime later they look again and there’s the work they requested, completed perfectly – and they just carry on with their day. Sometimes they even forget to mention they’ve received it. I don’t need recognition every time I carry out a task, but working alone (and I’ve done it for 10 years now) especially when working for people that are not alone – there are days when it’s possible to not feel part of the world you’re working for. Anyone that works from home can find it hard to set boundaries on when it’s time to stop thinking about work. If you’re always thinking about your clients it can become all the more frustrating if you think they aren’t thinking about you.

So if you ever feel lonely, unappreciated and down, here’s some mood boosting things I do that might help you too:

1. Track the good things. Our to-do lists for several clients can be overwhelming so write down the major things you’ve accomplished each day in a journal or pin them on to a wall board. Keep a note of the times when a client does mention a job well done. Do this often and you’ll be more mindful of the good times on a day that’s not so good.

2. Keep your working area brightly lit. If possible get half an hour to an hour outside each day. It’s easy to stay sat staring at the screen without a break. Go for a walk, if you’re energetic – a run, or on the best days just get a bit of sunshine sat outside with a cup of tea.

3. Get out some photos of people and places that make you happy. Surround your workspace and have your computer wallpaper made up of your favourite memories and things that make you smile.

4. Take a ten minute break and play some favourite music; sing along, dance. Make yourself smile, even if you have to fake it. Studies have shown that just the act of smiling can make us feel happier

5. Wear some bright clothes. Swap grey things and tracksuits for some bright colours and fabrics that make you feel nice. We don’t have to dress up to go to an office but don’t be tempted to always work in your pyjamas. It might feel rebellious to do so in the beginning, sooner or later it can feel more like you’re a patient or an inmate – and from personal experience if you start working before you’ve got dressed someone’s bound to come to the door a couple of hours later and ask if they’ve got you up!

6. Put yourself in  your diary. Try and find some time at least once a week where you can really get absorbed and engrossed in something totally different to work – a hobby, reading a novel, taking a class.

7. Find some time for talking. You might not have work colleagues but if you really don’t see anyone from one day to the next, engineer it. Meet up with friends for a coffee, for that walk. I use one morning to go to an art class. It’s something that doesn’t involve a computer screen and where I’ve met some new friends and found the company and chatting that I’m sometimes short of.

8. Communicate with other VAs. Find a forum where others hang out or perhaps a friendly group on Linked In. Join a conversation and contribute. You might well make new friends and colleagues. If you’re at the point where you’re collaborating with other VAs then try and get together for a chat now and again on Skype or a Google hang out, some place where you can let of steam and get some human contact with others that understand the way you work.

9. Eat healthily and drink plenty of water. Don’t get so absorbed in work that you forget to refuel properly.

10, Get a good night’s sleep. Before you finish in the evenings, clear the decks and plan what’s going to happen the next day. Stay in control rather than letting the next day just happen to you. Try not to overschedule yourself and be realistic about what you’re likely to achieve. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed can lead to not coping as well and depression, which can lead to being more over-reactive when work doesn’t go to plan.

You know what, call your client. If you don’t hear from them and don’t feel part of their plans, get in touch the real way. Always try and schedule some real talking each week in to each client relationship. It’s your job to remind your client to do business with you and you need to find out what makes them tick,what their plans are for their business and work out what you can do to help move their business forward, so making your work all the more enjoyable too. Oh, and if they don’t mention it, you can always ask them if they were happy with the last lot of work you did – and you shouldn’t feel like a black box any more…