On this page:
  • Trying out virtual assistants
  • VA Days: Calendar Management
  • Tungle for the win: kaizen and calendar management

Trying out virtual assistants

I’ve set aside some of my play money to try out virtual assistants. I want to learn more about delegating tasks effectively, because that’s something that’ll help me a lot in the future. Help with online research, document and presentation design, and miscellaneous tasks would be appreciated, too. There’s always that urge to go and just stick the money into my long-term investments account, but I think this would be a good long-term investment as well.

I’ve been focusing on virtual assistants from the Philippines because I want to help out and because I’ll have fewer language barriers. (It may be a good opportunity to pick up a dialect, even!) Over 80 virtual assistants and companies have registered on VA4U. The best practice seems to be to go with larger companies that can coordinate different kinds of talent and cover for gaps in staffing, but it’s hard to get a sense of size in the list.

And every time I come across someone who confesses to be a computer geek, or someone who has a computer science degree, the teacher inside me feels a pang. I want to give them more interesting work than what most people might give them. Something that matches their strengths and helps them develop the skills they want to have. Yes, I know, I’m technically hiring or contracting with people, but I want to treat them as partners and help them develop anyway.

So I’ve started asking these potential virtual assistants what kind of work they love to do and what they want to get better at. Maybe we can find something that will work out for everyone. =)

Have you tried having a virtual assistant? How was your experience?

Ever been curious about it? What would you outsource?

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!

    Tungle for the win: kaizen and calendar management

    Life just keeps getting better and better. =) So after I posted that quick note about Timebridge, Aidan Nulman nudged me about Tungle. I asked Ana to look into it, updating the calendar management process along the way. Based on a little exploration, I think Tungle wins in terms of calendar management. =) It can synchronize with my multiple Google Calendars, show all of my Google Contants on the left side, and automatically avoid double-booking. I’m in love. (TimeBridge, AgreeADate, I hope you’re listening – keep up with the competition!)

    So in the spirit of sharing, here’s our newly refined calendar management process. Ana even went to the trouble of adding screenshots – how cool is that?

    Setting up appointments:

    1. Login to http://www.tungle.com, see Accounts and Passwords section for the login information.
    2. The screenshot below shows an example of a personal Tungle Page. To set up an appointment, click on Schedule a meeting at the upper left side of the screen.
    3. Fill in the fields.
      1. Subject of the Event
      2. Choose from the dropdown list for the duration of the meeting/appointment.
      3. Meeting Location (Note unless specifically specified on Sacha’s meeting details, here are Sacha’s 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 Add for every person added in the list of Invitees.
      5. The calendar on the lower part of the page is linked to Sacha’s Google Calendar so you will know which hours and days she is available. Highlight available times or as instructed by Sacha.
        Additional Information in selecting time:

        • Offer 3-5 choices, conflicts and double bookings will not be a problem with Tungle since it is synchronized with the Google Calendar.
          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
        • Sacha’s Google Calendar will be automatically updated as soon as invitees send back their confirmations.
      6. Click the RIGHT arrow beside Step 1 of 3.
    4. Step 2 shows a summary of the tentative dates you are proposing to the invitees. Click on X if you have entered an incorrect entry and go back to Step 1. If the details are all correct, click on the RIGHT arrow button to proceed to Step 3.
    5. For personal message refer to instructions below. Then click PREVIEW.
      • For phone appointments, include the following segment in the Personal Message box:

        Times are in your current time zone by default. If the timezone is incorrect, use the “Change” link above the calendar.

        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 Personal Message:

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

    6. Check meeting details. Send invitation.
    7. A confirmation box will be shown to you after sending invites. See screencap below. Close.