Category Archives: -Uncategorized

On this page:
  • Wake up calls
  • Tasks I’ve tried delegating to TimeSvr so far
  • Virtual assistance and a review of TimeSvr, ODesk
  • VA Days: Calendar Management
  • Waking up
  • Values

Wake up calls

I’m beginning to rather like wake-up calls.

I set up a recurring task in Timesvr to have someone call me at 6:30 every morning with an inspirational quote, the day’s weather, upcoming appointments, and a wish for a great day. This turns out to be surprisingly useful because:

  • The call is an alarm that I don’t feel like snoozing, because I know that there’s a real person on the other end of the line who’ll try again and who will probably send me an apology if he or she can’t reach me, even though it was my fault. For example, I set my alarm for 6:00. I ended up hitting snooze button twice, but I didn’t worry about over-snoozing because I knew someone would catch me at 6:30.

    Snoozing is particularly bad in this household. Once the cats have heard any wake-up sounds from our room, they’re immediately at the door, meowing and knocking. They don’t have a remote snooze button, so I really should get up as soon as my alarm goes off. =)

  • The call puts all the information together in one place. I could figure out most of this stuff by using my iPod Touch, but the call puts everything together and makes sure I don’t forget any of the important things.
  • The call brings a little bit of energy to the start of my day. All the calls I’ve had so far have come from cheerful people, and that little bit of energy gets my day off to a great start.

As a result of getting up earlier and with more energy:

  • I’ve been making breakfast for W- and J-. =) W- often makes breakfast, and it’s nice to be able to let him sleep in bed a little longer.

  • I’ve been writing in the morning. Thoughts are much easier to write when your mind is fresh. These schedule tweaks let me squeeze a blog post into that time between eating breakfast and starting work.
  • I have more morning-time to work in the zone. I’m most creative in the morning, when I’m not tired from handling e-mail and things like that. I love programming in the morning – it’s so much fun to blast through problems and figure out solutions. Starting early lets me have a good, long block of “flow” time before I get interrupted by lunch and meetings. I save e-mail and other tasks for the afternoon. =)

What would the wake-up call even better?

  • I can add my top priorities for the day and for the week. What if, in addition to reminding me about upcoming appointments, Timesvr reminded me about tasks due today (urgent), my top three tasks for today (important), and my top three goals for the week? I can do this by e-mailing the tasks to the account I’ve created for my assistant, tagging tasks as such on Remember The Milk, or blocking off time on a planning calendar. The call could even keep me accountable by reviewing the tasks for yesterday and crossing off the ones that I indicate are done, and the practice will help me make a habit of planning the next day before I go to bed.

  • I can slowly nudge my wake-up time earlier. What about nudging my wake-up call to 6:15 AM, and eventually maybe even getting it all the way to 5:00 AM? Wouldn’t that be cool?
  • I can add more motivation to exercise. Hey, if we’re building good habits, why not? =)

Hmm… =D

(Disclaimer: Timesvr link above is an affiliate link. I figure that if I’m going to advertise them for free because I like the service, I might as well get that tracked. Who knows, it might get me better service, or even a credit someday. ;) )

Tasks I’ve tried delegating to TimeSvr so far

Things that I think would fit into 15 minutes

  • Find me a virtual credit card that I can link to my Canada-based Visa, Mastercard, or Paypal so that I can outsource payment and buying things without exposing my real credit card details on this site
  • Find me multifunction black-and-white laser printer/scanners
  • Log on to Facebook and approve all the pending friend requests EXCEPT FOR people who found me through Friend Finder.
  • Log on to LinkedIn and approve all pending connection requests.
  • Log onto LinkedIn and e-mail me a list of the 5 latest questions in the Professional Networking category, including question text (click on each question to get to the full question text) and links to the questions.
  • Use search.twitter.com to search for tweets about “sachac” and e-mail me the contents of that page.
  • Find me a Firefox extension that lets me open Google results using access keys (pressing numbers to view the search results in the background). The extension must be compatible with Firefox 3.
  • Can you take the list of birthdays and contact information below, split it up by week, and send me each week’s upcoming birthdays and contact information every Saturday? Thanks!
  • Can you find me a free service that will automatically e-mail me or make an RSS feed for a website each day? That way, I don’t take up 15 minutes of TimeSvr’s time with something that can easily be automated, and I can use your service for more interesting things. =)
  • Please log into Facebook and add … to my Family list.
  • Please contact Pathable and ask them for a quote for a small event (~16 people)
  • One week from now, please submit http://interfacematters.com/atom.xml to http://www.feedvalidator.org. If the service reports that the feed passes, e-mail me that it passes. If not, reschedule this task for one week later, and keep trying until I cancel it or the site passes. Thanks!
  • Please contact Pathable and ask them for a quote for a small event (~16 people)
  • Please log on to Facebook and respond to the messages I’ve indicated below. My responses are in bold. =) Also, please find … and … and friend them (they’ll be in Toronto), if I haven’t friended them yet. Include the following personal message in each of those invitations
  • Please log onto Tungle and offer … Thursday and Friday afternoon slots for next next week. Thanks!
  • Please put together a simple set of Powerpoint slides with white text on a black background, with the following text as slide titles (one line per slide)
  • Please reply on Facebook as follows: …
  • Can you find out what % of Canadian jobs are created in technology companies?
  • Please email me a list of software program used by TimeSvr people so that I know what kinds of files you can work with and what tasks you can do. :) Also, does the company have people with graphic design or illustration skills? Thanks!
  • Please reply with the following, and also send him a link to the Study Hacks blog. Thanks!
  • Please send me an HTML email suitable for posting into a blog post, containing
  • Please encode the e-mail addresses, comments, and ratings in the attached ZIP of scans and send them to me as a spreadsheet, in an e-mail with the title “Making a name for yourself: evaluation forms”. Thanks! =)
  • Now that I’ve delegated a number of tasks to TimeSvr, can you give me specific feedback on how we can work together more effectively?
  • On Monday, can you look for immigration lawyers in Toronto with experience in handling Canadian Experience Class and family applications, preferably near … or …? Thanks!
  • Please find me a few dental hygienists around … or … and send me their prices for dental cleaning / scaling.
  • Please log on to the library, renew all my books, and email me the list of remaining items that are due this week.

To improve this:

  • Ask them to do time tracking?
  • Figure out some way to integrate with RememberTheMilk? Ooh.
  • Write down processes
  • Set up recurring tasks

Virtual assistance and a review of TimeSvr, ODesk

I’m starting to get the hang of this delegation thing, and I like it.

Jeff Widman pointed me to TimeSvr.com, a virtual assistance outsourcing service that’s priced much more affordably than similar services like AskSunday, GetFriday, and LongerDays. With a USD 69/month plan, you get unlimited 15-minute requests and up to 8 hours for complex tasks.

I took advantage of their a free 3-day trial period to give them a whirl, sending them 10 small tasks I’d been meaning to work on.

Tasks with clearly defined processes (approve Facebook friend requests except for those who found me through Friend Finder, request books from the library, post my checked-out books on LibraryThing and Shelfari) worked out pretty well. I may set up repeating tasks to take care of these things.

Web research tasks had mixed results.
When I asked them to find me a Linux-compatible black-and-white laser printer and scanner that could do both sheet-fed and flat-bed scanning, they recommended two Samsung printers available from FutureShop. One of them didn’t do sheet-fed scanning, but the other was a pretty good deal, and we went out and picked it up the same day. (I’m very happy with my new Samsung SCX-4828 – it actually works!) When I asked them to find me that Firefox extension that adds numbered shortcuts to Google Search results, I got back a page that didn’t have anything to do with it. Your mileage may vary.

How does this compare with the dedicated virtual assistants you can hire from oDesk or other services? I’m coming to similar conclusions as Sid Savara in his post Can Virtual Assistants Make Your More Productive? An Experiment, and a TimeSvr Review (with pretty diagrams!). TimeSvr’s 24/7 availability is a big bonus. Because of their focus on 15-minute tasks, I don’t feel nearly as guilty assigning them routine, well-defined tasks. On the other hand, I’m quite impressed by the initiative and personal development shown by one of the VAs I’ve hired off oDesk. I think web research tasks benefit from having someone build up background information and certain tasks benefit from processes that we develop, so I can lean towards asking her to do more of those kinds of things.

I’ll continue with TimeSvr past the 3-day free trial to get a sense of what my small-task volume is like over a month. I’d already carved out a small portion of my budget for outsourcing experiments because I see it as valuable (and otherwise hard-to-get) education on delegation and management, and that + a little web research by Ana would fit in my budget nicely. After a month, I’ll review it to see whether it’s been a good fit, and what would make it even better.

UPDATE: Added affiliate link to TimeSvr for better tracking. Disclosure: If you do sign up and you like it, I’ll get $10 from that, up to a maximum of $30. =)

VA Days: Calendar Management

Hey, this actually does work. =) I experimented with outsourcing calendar management, and the results so far are promising.

I invested some time in writing detailed calendar management instructions, and then I forwarded details for five events I’d like to arrange over the next couple of weeks. The VA I assigned the task to entered in all the details. The only part she forgot was to create appointments on my tentative calendar for each of the events, but that’s okay. The oDesk work diary shows me that she created them, but they were on her own calendar.

She took an hour to set up her account and type in the events, and she’ll probably do things even faster next time. And the process works! =)

Here’s my process so far:


Calendar Management

I use AgreeADate (http://www.agreeadate.com) to set up appointments, and Google Calendar (http://calendar.sachachua.com) for my calendar.

To find timezones agreeable to people, use this Meeting Planner: http://timeanddate.com/worldclock/meeting.html. I am okay with meetings after 7:00 AM EST and before 11:00 PM EST (Canada – Ontario – Toronto).
To convert between timezones, use http://timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html.

See XXX for password information.

Setting up potential appointments

  1. Open my main Google calendar in a separate window so that you can see when I’m available. You can access it at XXXXX with your username and password.
  2. Log on to http://www.agreeadate.com with the given username and password in Accounts and Passwords.
  3. Click on “Add a New Event”.
  4. Set up basic event details.
  1. Type in the event title (and venue, for in-person events), and the duration I specified
    Preferred venues:
    • 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
  2. Set AgreeADate to send a reminder 1 day before the event. 
  3. Add additional text:
    • If people have not indicated their phone numbers, add

Please use the “Send message to host” feature to send me the phone numbers / Skype ID I can reach you at just in case something comes up.

  • For phone appointments, include the following segment in the Additional text box:

    Times are given in Eastern Standard Time. If you need to change the timezone, use the link on the AgreeADate reply page labeled

    “Not your time zone? To convert time zone click here.”

    Sacha Chua’s contact information
    Skype ID: XXX
    Mobile number: XXX
    Work number: XXX
    E-mail: XXX

  • For in-person appointments, include the following segment in the Additional text box:

    Sacha Chua’s contact information
    Mobile number: XXX
    Work number: XXX
    E-mail: XXX

  • Click on the Next step.
  • Set up dates
    1. Offer 3-5 choices, making sure that they don’t conflict with events on my main or tentative calendars.
    1. 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
    2. For phone meetings, I prefer calls on Saturday or Sunday (9:00 AM – 9:00 PM), preferring Saturday afternoon
  • Create Google Calendar events for each slot on the Tentative calendar. That way, I can glance at my main calendar + tentative calendar to see where I might potentially have appointments.
  • Click on the next step.
  • Invite people.
    1. Type in the e-mail addresses of everyone I want to invite. You can generally skip the names, although I’ll ask you if I need the names typed in.
    2. Click on “Save changes.” DO NOT SEND INVITATIONS YET.
    3. E-mail me at XXX with a link to the event to tell me that it’s ready for review.

    When I ask you to copy the calendar information:

    1. Open the event on http://www.agreeadate.com.
    2. Click on Review and Select.
    3. Open my Google Calendar in another window.
    4. For each confirmed slot, update the corresponding calendar event. Set the event title to the event subject and invitee name(s). Copy any contact details (see the bottom for the messages sent to the host, and your e-mail for other contact information) into the body of the calendar event. Move the event to the main calendar.
    5. If all the appointments in this event have been confirmed, delete the other tentative calendar events from my tentative Google Calendar.
    6. Report completion through e-mail in your status update.

    I use the Google Labs “Canned Responses” feature to set up the following mail template:

    Hello, XXX!

    Could you please set up the following event:

    Event type:
    Title:
    Venue:
    Duration:
    Your timezone: Leave this at Eastern Time
    Dates and times:

    Invitees:

    Additional text:

    —–
    For your reference:

    Link to calendar management instructions: XXX
    Link to accounts/passwords: XXX
    AgreeADate site: http://www.agreeadate.com
    Google Calendar: XXX

    Thanks!

    Waking up

    Day five of waking up before 7:30. I’m starting to like this. Waking
    up early means I have lots of time to myself for reading, writing, and
    learning new things. It has also helped me make sure I drink enough
    water. Not bad!

    Random Emacs symbol: repunctuate-sentences – Command: Put two spaces at the end of sentences from point to the end of buffer.

    Values

    These are the four words that resonate the most with my desire to grow
    to be a better person: meaning, abundance, integrity, and love.

    Meaning
    I help people connect with their better selves and
    with other people in deep and meaningful ways. I create a better self
    and a better world through action and reflection so that I can do
    meaningful things.
    Abundance
    I can do all this because I enjoy an abundance of
    blessings and opportunities. I have enough time, energy, and resources
    to share with others.
    Integrity
    Because of this abundance, I can always act with
    integrity: keeping my word, living according to my values, and
    respecting others and myself. When I make a mistake or give in to
    temptation, I catch myself through reflection or the support of my
    others around me, and do what I can to return to a life of integrity.
    Love
    Through all of this, I act with great love and
    compassion. I strive to choose the loving option even if other choices
    are easier, and I also open myself to the loving kindness of the
    world.

    My understanding of these values will evolve over time, as I follow or
    even lose sight of them along the way. Still, they’re a good guide.

    What are your values?

    Random Emacs symbol: tramp-do-copy-or-rename-file-directly – Function: Invokes `cp’ or `mv’ on the remote system.

    Jedediah Smith wrote:

    Love as much as you can, yourself and others
    Responsibility take control of your life, fix whatever mistakes you can, let go of those you can’t
    Forgiveness if a grudge isn’t helping you, let it go
    Truth always search for what’s real even when you would prefer the unreal
    Fluidity embrace change, seek novelty, face your fears, grow
    Sarcasm yeah, this is a GREAT value