From reactive to proactive, from inboxes to goals; thinking about the big picture

There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.

Peter Drucker

I’m a couple of weeks into my experiment with outsourcing to and managing virtual assistants, and I’m thinking about how to take it to the next level.

After I had cleared my backlog of lots of little things I had been thinking of delegating, I found myself mostly outsourcing trivial tasks. There’s nothing wrong with delegating trivial tasks. Although I might not get as much leverage on time, I can minimize distractions and avoid getting frustrated with interfaces. But I’ve never been the kind of person who’s happy just reacting to the numerous things that come into my inbox. I like thinking about my own projects and planning what I can do to make them happy. The difference between reactive and proactive is the difference between doing only things other people want you to do, and doing things that you enjoy doing. Reflecting on what I want to accomplish in the long run will let me identify further opportunities to make the most of virtual assistance, whether it’s the 15-minute trivial task model favored by Timesvr or the more in-depth tasks favored by the other assistants and companies with whom I’m working.

On a related note, one of my virtual assistants in the Philippines has asked me if there’s anything else I’d like her to do. Yay taking the initiative! By thinking through and sharing what the big picture is for me, I can help assistants proactively find ways we can help each other succeed. I may even be pleasantly surprised in the process. =)

So, what do I want to do? Long-term is a good place to start looking. I’ve got a good idea of my current strengths and some ways I can get even better at them. Here are some broad themes in my life:

Energy and enthusiasm: I’m good at motivating other people with my energy and enthusiasm about technology and life. I’d like to someday be able to motivate thousands of people to make a difference, make a change, or make something awesome. =) I can get closer to that by:

  • learning from great speakers
  • learning from great coaches and practicing motivating other people through presentations, writing, and coaching, and
  • continuing to explore what I’m passionate about in order to expand my breadth and depth.

Communication: I’m good at writing and speaking, again about technology and life. Aside from what I’m learning because of my passion for developing systems and improving processes, I also bring my energy and enthusiasm. =) I’d like to someday be able to reach tons of people and share what I’ve been learning, and to help them share their stories, experiences and insights with others. I can get closer to that by:

  • practicing writing and speaking,
  • turning more thoughts and experiences into blog posts, articles, presentations, and maybe even (e)books,
  • trying other media, like podcasting or videocasting
  • developing tools and processes for organizing information and taking care of administrative details

Developing software and tools: I’m particularly good at figuring out people’s source code, remembering where things are, and writing things that generally fit within that structure, thanks to my open source background. I’m also good at coaching other people along the way, breaking problems down and pointing people to relevant resources. I’m good at improving our processes, too. The automated builds and regression tests I helped my team adopt are saving us lots of headaches. I hope to someday help lots of developers pick up all sorts of great habits and skills, so that they can make lots of great systems. I can get closer to that by:

  • working with bigger and more complex systems (perhaps looking into scaling up, too)
  • learning how to split up work and coach people
  • learning how to communicate more explicitly
  • sharing what we’re learning on my blog and in presentations
  • looking into even more advanced practices, like code coverage testing

Brainstorming and experimenting: I’m good at generating lots of ideas, at making ideas or processes a little bit better, and at combining wildly different ideas for fun. This helps at work, too – I often get asked to help people brainstorm. =) I hope to be able to look back and say that my life was one of constant learning and teaching. =) I can get even better at this by:

  • picking up lots of different experiences and metaphors
  • practicing relentless improvement
  • developing processes for trying little ideas out, and then growing that until I can experiment with big ideas easily

Connecting the dots: I’m good at thinking of other people, books, ideas, and tools that other people should know so that they can make things happen. I hope to someday have tons of stories about what people did and how I helped them. =) I can get closer to that by:

  • developing a contact management system and process that makes it easy for me to keep notes and to follow up
  • following up more effectively and in a more timely manner
  • finding a way to organize my notes so it’s easy for me to recommend tools, books, ideas, and other things
  • finding more opportunities to help
  • learning more about how to organize events such as virtual conferences

and I’m also slowly getting better at bringing people together to make something happen, which is why I’m experimenting with delegating to virtual assistants and figuring out how to make the most of their strengths. =)

I’m sure I’ll discover other strengths along the way!

That’s the very high-level picture of where I am, where I’d like to go, and a few ways on how I can get there. The themes are all related to each other, so it’s not like I’m being pulled every which way. Maybe they’re all facets of one thing I still have to figure out how to express. =)

So, what does that mean in the next year, in the next few years?

For communication, energy and enthusiasm: I would love to improve my processes and tools for organizing raw material for talks, and I would love to learn how to illustrate my presentations with my own sketches and photographs as well as material from the Net. I would also love to tweak my speaking style. I need to be able to slow down, use dramatic pauses, or lower my pitch when needed! ;)

A virtual assistant can do web research on how other writers and speakers organize their raw material (some people call it their morgue ;) ), help me get my old notes together, help me look things up, help me clean up my sketches or come up with inspiration, find stock photography and Creative Commons-licensed photos on the Net, give me feedback on my speaking style, edit podcasts, transcribe speeches, and so on.

For developing software and tools: Over the next few years, I’d like to learn how to help the developers on my teams grow even more. I could prepare webinars, presentations, and articles. Most virtual assistants probably won’t be able to help me with anything but formatting, but who knows, maybe the skills I develop during outsourcing will help me get work opportunities to grow teams too. =)

Brainstorming and experimenting: I think it would be fantastic to learn from virtual assistants who work with lots of clients and are exposed to lots of different working styles. I also enjoy helping people improve their processes, and it’s a great opportunity for me to tweak my own. I’d also love to figure out a process or build a system for quickly testing small ideas, like articles or e-books or webinars…

Connecting the dots: Oh, there’s definitely a lot here for a virtual assistant to help me out with! =) Managing my calendar (which I’m relieved to have someone else doublechecking), following up with people, reminding me of things, taking care of little tasks, helping me refine my process, looking for information related to people’s requests…

So I’m pretty flexible, and if a virtual assistant can figure out how he or she can help me create value, I’d be happy to share that learning opportunity with them. =)

What else am I missing? How can I make life even awesomer for people around me and on the Net?

  • Pingback: sacha chua :: enterprise 2.0 consultant, storyteller, geek » Weekly report: Week ending March 29, 2009

  • http://www.millionmyles.com Carson

    I have been working with a virtual assistant for a couple of months now. One thing I learned is that it is good to set aside time to create a list of tasks ahead of time, rather than feeding it one by one. I sometimes have trouble assigning 15 min. tasks, because sometimes it can take that long to communicate it.

    I agree that assistants need to be proactive. I sometimes forget I have the option to use my assistant, and a friendly gchat reminder or email helps.

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    I really like having recurring tasks (library, wake-up call, etc.) taken care of, for mostly the same reasons. =)