Category Archives: process

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Outsourcing processes: Wake-up call

Here’s my process for my wake-up call:

Every day, at the wake-up time I specified, please:

  1. Go to start.sachachua.com and sign in.
  2. Sign on to the various boxes as needed.
  3. Call me on my cellphone.
  4. Greet me good morning, tell me the quote of the day and the word of the day, and the weather for today (weather description (sunny? clouds? rain? snow), and both high and low temperatures.
  5. Tell me about my appointments for today.
  6. Tell me about my tasks for the day, and ask if there’s anything else I’d like to add. If so, create new tasks.
  7. Tell me the word for the day and its definition.
  8. Go to http://www.wgz.org/chromatic/projects/microfiction/ and read me the latest assignment. E-mail the assignment to me as well.
  9. Wish me a great day!

Virtual assistance process: Manage Toronto Public Library books

  1. Visit http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca and click on Your Account. Sign in with the provided library card number and PIN.
  2. Click on Your Account, and then click on Checkouts. You will see a list of checked-out books sorted by due date.
  3. Click on the checkbox beside all items due by the following Saturday, and then click on Renew Selected Items.
  4. You should see a list of items that were renewed and items that failed to be renewed (maximum number of renewals, other users have placed holds). Copy the titles of the items that were not renewed into an e-mail under the heading “TO RETURN“, one title and date per line. Keep this list sorted by due date.
  5. Click on Holds. If there are any items under the heading Ready for Pickup, copy the titles and expiry dates to the e-mail under the heading “TO PICK UP”, one title and date per line. Keep this list sorted by due date.
  6. Click on Sign Out.
  7. Repeat steps for any other library cards indicated, summarizing the books to return and pick up under the same headings you’ve created.
  8. If there are books to return, log on to Toodledo.com. Click on Add Task in the upper left corner. Set the subject to “Return library books”, the due date to today, the context to Errands, and the note to include all the text (return and pick-up) from the e-mail. Add the task.
  9. Send me the e-mail with the title Toronto Public Library Report.

Virtual assistance process: Calendar management with Timebridge

Thanks to Ana Conception-Macatiag for documenting this process and including screenshots! =)

Setting up appointments:

  1. Log in to http://www.timebridge.com, see Accounts and Passwords section for the login information.
  2. The screenshot below shows an example of the personal Timebridge Home Page.  To set up an appointment, click on Schedule a meeting at the left side of the screen.

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  3. Fill in the fields.
    1. Type in email address of the attendees in the “Send Invite to” field.
    2. Indicate subject in the “Meeting Topic” field.
    3. Meeting Location (Note unless specifically specified on my meeting details, here are my venue preferences:
      • Lunch during weekdays
        • Ichiriki – Japanese – 120 Bloor Street E, Toronto – Hours: 11:45 – 2:30?
        • Camros Eatery (http://www.camroseatery.com/) – Vegan – Hours: M-F 11:30am to 7:30pm (no travel time necessary)
      • Weekends: Linux Caffe (http://www.linuxcaffe.ca) – 326 Harbord Street, Toronto. – Hours: M-F: 7am to 11pm, Sat 10am to 11pm, Sun 10am to 5pm
    4. Click the “More Meeting Options” and make sure the meeting reminder is set to 1 day before the meeting and that TimeBridge should automatically confirm the meeting time is also checked.

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    5. Click on the button “Propose Times” to propose meeting times.  The calendar as shown in the screenshot below is linked to my Google Calendar so you will know when I’m is available. Highlight available times or as instructed by me. (Orange highlights below are the highlighted proposed times.)

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      Additional Information in selecting time:

      • Offer 3-5 choices. Conflicts and double bookings will not be a problem with Timebridge because it is synchronized with the Google Calendar.
      • For in-person meetings, I prefer lunch (12:00 PM – 1:00 PM) or coffee/tea/hot chocolate (any time between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM), preferably on a Thursday or Friday
      • For work-related phone meetings, I prefer calls on Wednesday to Friday afternoons (3:00 PM – 5:00 PM).
      • For personal phone meetings, I prefer calls on Saturday or Sunday (9:00 AM – 9:00 PM), preferring Saturday afternoon

      My Google Calendar will be automatically updated as soon as invitees send back their confirmations.

    6. Click DONE.
    7. Check if the proposed times are as correct. Click Edit if you need to change anything.
    8. Make sure the cc myself on this invitation box is checked.
  4. For the personal message, refer to instructions below. Then click Send.
  5. Unless instructed otherwise, click No, thanks on the “Share Availability” message to be sent to meeting contacts.

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  6. You should see your created meeting in the home page as encircled in the screenshot below.

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Thinking of a travel dossier

I usually spend the evening before a flight putting together a travel dossier. It includes:

  • a map of the route from the airport to the hotel
  • a map of the route from the hotel to the meeting center
  • public transit routes for the airport to the hotel
  • some events and background information

This is something a virtual assistant can easily prepare, and he or she can add more information too. I’d love to have:

  • restaurants near the hotel, cross-referenced with reviews from Yelp or other sites
  • pictures, names, bios and mobile numbers of people in the area who are interested in meeting up
  • names and addresses of people in the area so that I can send postcards
  • taxi companies and phone numbers

In addition, the VA could update my TripIt and Dopplr accounts, so I can start tracking these trips better.

So I’d give the VAs:

- my flight information
- my hotel information
- the location of the meeting

and they would prepare a document that contains:

  1. The weather forecast, if available, including temperature in Celsius and whether to expect rain
  2. The flight information (date and time, flight number, booking reference, terminal number if possible)
  3. The hotel information (name, address, contact number, whether there’s a courtesy shuttle from the airport, and what amenities are available)
  4. A map of the route from the airport to the hotel, including a large map and small maps with driving directions for each step
  5. A public transit version of that map (large map + text)
  6. A map of the route from the hotel to the meeting place, including a large map and small maps with driving directions
  7. A public transit version of that map (large map + text)
  8. A list of taxi companies and phone numbers that serve the area. If the meeting place is in a different city, get me taxi companies for that city too
  9. A list of restaurants near the hotel, ranked by their Yelp rating
  10. A list of restaurants near the meeting venue, ranked by their Yelp rating
  11. A list of my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Dopplr, and Google contacts in that city, as a table with names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and addresses (if from Google contacts), so that we can reach out to them and ask who’s interested in meeting up (maybe a Facebook event + e-mail for those not on FB)

I can then print this document out easily, and keep a copy on my computer for backup.

When people have confirmed that they’ll meet up, the VA can prepare a list of pictures, names, contact information, bios/interests, and blog URLs.

Sounds like an interesting idea!

Process: How to ask communities for help

Reaching out to communities can be a powerful way to find talent or resources. Your personal network may take a while to find the right person or file, especially if key people are unavailable. If you ask the right community, though, you might be able to get answers right away.

Here are some tips on asking communities for help:

  • Providing as much information as you can in the subject and message body.
    • Show urgency. Does your request have a deadline? Mention the date in the subject.
    • Be specific. Instead of using “Please help” as your subject, give details and write like an ad: “Deadline Nov ___, Web 2.0 intranet strategy expert needed for 5-week engagement in France” .
  • Whenever possible, create a discussion forum topic where people can check for updates and reply publicly. This will save you time and effort you’d otherwise spend answering the same questions again and again. It also allows other people to learn from the ongoing discussion. If you’re broadcasting your request to multiple communities, you can use a single discussion forum topic to collect all the answers, or you can create multiple discussion topics and monitor each of them.
  • If your request is urgent, send e-mail to the community. Most people do not regularly check the discussion forum, so send e-mail if you feel it’s necessary. You may want to ask one of the community leaders to send the e-mail on your behalf. This allows leaders to make sure their members aren’t overwhelmed with mail. Using a community leader’s name can give your message greater weight as well.
  • Plan for your e-mail to be forwarded. Because your e-mail may be forwarded to others, include all the details people will need to evaluate your request and pass it on to others who can help. Omit confidential details and ask people to limit distribution if necessary. Include a link to your discussion forum topic so that people can read updates.
  • Promise to summarize and share the results, and follow through. This encourages people to respond to you because they know they’ll learn something, and it helps you build goodwill in the community.

Good luck!

Process: Using Activities to organize workshop-related information

We regularly organize Innovation Discovery workshops that bring together experts across IBM and client decisionmakers to explore emerging topics. In the past, this involved a flurry of e-mail, particularly if we had last-minute substitutions. The flurry could get confusing, as we usually plan several workshops simultaneously. I refuse to keep all this information in my inbox. I’ve been setting up Activities for each of the workshops I keep an eye on, and we’re getting better at using the Activities to organize information.

Here’s what the workshop Activity needs to do:

  • Store planning information: agenda, logistics, etc.
  • Store workshop and output files: bios, presentations, and so on.
  • Store links to relevant resources, such as the associated Idea Lab
  • Share background information (both general and client-specific) with experts
  • Keep a record of correspondence related to the workshop, so that people who join the workshop late can see the context

In addition to storing information, the Activity can also help:

  • Organize bookmarked profiles and e-mail correspondence during the search for experts, so that organizers can see which potential speakers have already been contacted and what the status is
  • Remind people of the steps to take in organizing sub-activities such as the Idea Lab
  • Organize related resources for those sub-activities
  • Collect all final documents and share them with the group without filling people’s mail files

It’s easier to set up and add people to an Activity than it is to set up and add people to a TeamRoom, and with Lotus Notes 8.5, you can sync Activities for offline use.

NOTE: Although it works best when lots of people use it, the Activity works well even with just one person updating it (me). I keep others in the loop by using the e-mail notification features. This is good to know if the lack of adoption among your team members has been holding you back from using Activities or other nifty tools. They don’t need to use it if they don’t want to. It works even better when other people use it, of course, and someday it may even reach the point of mainstream acceptance. We’ll see. =)

Here are the ingredients we’ve been working with, and some improvements I’d like to try the next time we organize one:

  • README: How to use this activity – This entry is essential. This should be the first item on the list. It should describe the structure of the Activity, what’s in the different sections, and what to do when.
  • Planning: This section should contain the latest agenda. When logistics are sorted out (including which hotels people are staying at), include them here as well.
  • Output: Final presentations and output documents go in this section. We put this near the top for easy reference.
  • Client information: All the account-related information goes here.
  • Background information: Industry-related notes, and so on.
  • Finding experts: Any bookmarked profiles for experts under consideration. Also, e-mail correspondence for referrals, confirmation, etc. This helps us do the search for speakers even if a team member is suddenly unavailable.
  • Idea Lab: Checklist and related resources for the idea lab, if we’re running one for this workshop.
  • Discovery Lab: Draft presentations, more planning documents, related resources (such as the link for visitor wireless accounts), and correspondence. This is a work area that people can use to coordinate with each other.
  • Post-lab checklist: Post-engagement checklist that reminds us to do our lessons learned, case study, etc.
  • Minutes and archive: Meeting minutes, meeting invitations, other correspondence, and other files.

I love refining these tools!