Typing text from images (scanned receipts, etc.), occasional web research Looking for someone who can type in text from scanned receipts and other images into a spreadsheet. Should be proficient in Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice/LibreOffice. Should have a Dropbox account and be comfortable using it. To show your attention to detail and give me a basis for comparison, please start your reply with your approximate WPM. Around 1-2 hours a week, no urgent requests so you can fit this around your other contracts.By afternoon, 150+ people had applied. I narrowed it down to a shortlist of fifteen applicants based on whether they followed my application instructions, avoided gendered assumptions (so many people start their applications with “Dear Sir”; yes, I have an ambiguous nickname, but still!), and had competitive rates and typing speeds. I interviewed a few by e-mail, then hired a couple of assistants for a short trial. The task I assigned to the first person was that of typing in line items from the grocery receipts that I scanned. I shared the folder of scanned receipts using Dropbox, and I created a sample spreadsheet with a few items. He asked a question to clarify what to do, and I answered it before going to bed. By the time I woke up, he had completed the spreadsheet and moved the receipts to the “done” folder. Total time for eleven receipts: 0:50, or roughly $0.70 of work. By golly. (I gave him a $2 bonus for good work and to start the relationship off well.) I added another eleven receipts, and he completed those in 0:50 too. Here's the spreadsheet. See the INSTRUCTIONS tab for details. I filled in the Lookup table afterwards so that I could easily categorize the results. There are some web and smartphone apps that digitize receipts, like Shoeboxed or Lemon. The premium plan of Lemon can extract the item-level details, but the FAQ / help forum says that item-level export is still in the works. I haven’t found anything that has great item-level export. Having someone fill in a spreadsheet handles all the edge cases, like crumpled receipts or handwritten notes. I'll share more delegation experiences as I experiment!
Mel suggested that I write about delegation and outsourcing to virtual assistants because I approach it in a different way. I've read many of the same blog posts and books that she must have read, mostly written by entrepreneurs trying to squeeze as much value out of their time as possible and who want to eliminate pesky necessities like housekeeping or cooking.
I happen to like cooking. I get intrinsic value from many of the activities that people typically outsource: cooking, gardening, writing blog posts, responding to e-mail, developing websites… I also don't mind living a small-scale life, a life where there's room to breathe. I don't have to do it all or have it all.
What are my reasons for delegating, then?
I want to learn how to give instructions and let go of tasks, because the feeling that I need to do everything myself will be a bottleneck if I allow it to be.
I want to get things done better than I can do them myself, taking advantage of skills that take people years to develop and experiences that I will never have.
I want to work around the limits of my attention. Sometimes I shelve projects or procrastinate tasks. Paying someone to do things not only gets those things done, it also strengthens my own commitment to move things forward.
Part of this motivation to learn how to outsource things comes from more deliberate choices about what I want to focus on and more awareness of what tends to fall to the bottom of my to-do list. In my sketchbook, there's a page divided in two: things to say yes to and things to say no to. For example, I accept that I'm not going to invest the time into drawing realistic figures or painting work as beautiful as the ones I see hanging in the art galleries ("no" pile), and I'm going to focus instead on simple, quick drawings that capture ideas ("yes" pile).
Deciding not to try to do it all - picking some things I'm going to focus on, at least for the next year - makes it easier to choose tasks to outsource. If I want something done but I've chosen not to budget the time to learn how to do it well, then the real question is whether I want it strongly enough to pay someone to do it this year or whether it's something I can postpone until I reevaluate my learning priorities. Here are the reasons why I might delegate something:
Here's a short list of activities I've been thinking of delegating:
I'm also interested in local assistance for:
I'll gradually work up to delegating different activities. Gotta work on my comfort level and ability to give instructions, after all! =)
The Great Big Extract of top-rated posts will wait a little while, as I'm working with a WordPress developer (in Bulgaria!) to make a plugin that will allow people to filter my blog by the ratings I've set. That way, it's not just a one-off export. I want to be able to quickly filter my blog posts like the way people filter photos. Wouldn't that be nifty?
I can probably figure out how to write my own plugin, but I also want to learn about delegating technical tasks. Delegating might involve more time, more money, and more risk, but it's useful to learn how to delegate on small projects before I end up being the bottleneck on large ones.
I picked someone with good ratings on the oDesk freelancing platform, told him what I was trying to accomplish, set him up with access to my development site, and backed everything up carefully just in case. Let's see how this goes.
It can be difficult to let go, so I've been working on identifying more tasks to delegate. I make long lists of different kinds of activities that I do or want to do - well over two hundred activities like "Analyze my data" in the blogging category and "Clean the litter boxes" in the routines category.
Now I'm fleshing the list out in more detail, starting with the business category. I organized the business activities into the "earn", "build", and "connect" subcategories, which I'd been finding useful for my weekly reviews. Focusing on the "business - earn" category, I listed quite a few tasks that I can eliminate, automate, or delegate. For example, while I might outline a talk, I could get an assistant to look up prices and trends, design nifty graphics, or transcribe the presentation.
After I analyze my "business - earn" tasks, I'll look at my "business - build" tasks. That will probably be harder to delegate, but maybe I'll find surprising opportunities.
Optimizing non-business tasks such as cooking can also free up time that I can use to build the business. I want to make sure that I don't end up tilted too far towards business, though, because life is awesome.
Listing all these activities makes it much easier to think about them. Which of these things are core? Where do I have an advantage, and what can other people do much more effectively than I can? What are my processes for these different activities, and how can I improve them? Can I estimate how much time I spend on these activities, and how can I time myself at that level of detail in order to verify my estimates?
One of these days – maybe after I've added some time estimates or measurements, or I have some more delegation experiences to report -- I'll put together a braindump of activities so that you can see what it's like.
In the meantime, you might enjoy playing around with the idea yourself. Think about the things you regularly do, and make a list of as many things as possible. For each item, ask yourself:
One of my business validation experiments has suddenly kicked into high gear. People love the sketchnotes I’ve been taking. Since they're interested in illustration and event coverage, I'm happy to take advantage of that opportunity to learn more about business. I want to see where we can take this. In addition, I want to connect with way more people and find out how I can help them.
I’ve been investing more time into delegation as a way to buy time and share opportunities. One of the small processes I’d like to delegate is scheduling, which can be quite stressful for me. I often review my mail on the subway, and it’s difficult for me to look up locations or refer to notes. I worry about time zones and missed connections, so I want to make sure that there are calendar entries at the right time, with the right people, and with backup contact information. As I dig deeper into validating business ideas and connecting with people, I’ll be trying to set up appointments with so many people that I’d worry about dropping the ball, not getting back to people, or not following up in case people haven’t gotten back to me.
Software tools such as ScheduleOnce aren’t quite there yet in terms of completely handling the scheduling process. I want to be able to delegate appointment-setting to someone who can arrange times, suggest venues, make sure important information is included in the event description, and follow up as needed.
One of my friends was open to the idea of working as my virtual assistant, so I set her up on oDesk and gave her access to my accounts. It's good to know people you can trust with your Google account. While you can delegate without giving full mail and calendar access, some things are just easier when people can find what they need. I did set up a separate email account for her so that she wouldn't have to clutter her personal mail with all the requests.
Even though we’re just starting out, it’s such a relief to be able to forward her mail and know that she’s going to keep track of things. We’re not quite at a smoothly running process yet, but maybe we’ll get there in the next few weeks. I’d love to get to the point where I have a few keyboard shortcuts for templates that explain what’s going to happen (including details she’ll need in order to plan), and she’ll follow up and make it happen. I’d also like to be able to keep track of the people that we’re trying to reach and where we are in the process. She’s been busy catching up with other work this week, but I hope that as her coursework settles down and we work out the kinks in the process, things will run even more smoothly.
I’m also experimenting with automated ways to make it easier to arrange times. ScheduleOnce seems to be the most promising of the bunch. Doodle often gets timezones quietly wrong, and Tungle is just about to close its doors. I’m not completely sold on ScheduleOnce, but people seem to have the fewest problems scheduling with it. There’s so much more to setting appointments, though.
If we’ve got a lunch, coffee, or call coming up in the next month or so, I appreciate your patience as we experiment with the scheduling process!