Category Archives: delegation

Managing virtual assistants: Imagining more possibilities

When it comes to finding people for my outsourcing team, I’m like a 5-year-old in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There are so many people with so many great talents, and I want to tap all of them.

I find it amazing that I can trade my money (which really represents my time and energy) for someone else’s time and energy. For example, the image below took one of my illustrators 4 hours to make based on a photo, for a total cost of around USD 45. This is not an amount to sneeze at, for sure, but considering how long it would’ve taken me and how badly I would’ve drawn it myself, it’s not a bad trade-off either.

That’s so much better than my stick figures. =) Now my personal outsourcing team includes someone who types faster than I do (she’s an excellent transcriptionist) and several illustrators who can beat me in a drawing competition even with their eyes closed.

I delegate many clerical tasks, taking it as an opportunity to think about and document my processes. But the times I really enjoy delegating something to someone is when I can tap their strengths at things that I find it difficult to do, and they do things that surprise and delight me. My team doesn’t just save me time, they teach me so many things along the way, and they help me imagine even more possibilities.

There’s something powerful in here, and I’m looking forward to learning how to make the most of it. =)

Tips for getting started with virtual assistance

People often ask me about my experiments with outsourcing to virtual assistants and my reasons for this experiment, and I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned.

So here are some getting-started tips I’ve figured out over the last two months:

  • Ask them to teach you. Ask your assistant what he or she is good at, passionate about, and interested in learning. Adapt your tasks to take advantage of those strengths and interests, and grow your team so that you can take advantage of a diversity of skills. If your assistant handles other clients, ask your assistant to give you examples of other tasks he or she does, how long those tasks take, and what the request and the output look like. This will give you a better idea of what you can delegate, how you can delegate it, and how much it will cost.
  • Experiment. You’re learning how to delegate and your assistant is learning how to do things the way you want them done. Some tasks will work out. Some tasks won’t–not right away, or even not at all. It’s a learning process for both you and the assistant. Start with small experiments, provide lots of feedback, and expect to invest some time in training your assistant. Think of it as an iterative process. The first thing you get back might be incorrect, but as you give more feedback, your results get better and better.
  • Don’t just do it yourself. You might think that you’d be faster doing something than delegating it, and you’d probably be right. But if it’s not something that you enjoy and you can find other, more productive uses for that time, it may pay off to delegate it and train someone to learn how to do the task. Similarly, you might be tempted to just correct things yourself. If you’d like to delegate tasks like that effectively, though, you’ll probably do better by training your assistant on how to do it properly.

Good luck and have fun!

Getting started with virtual assistance

When people ask me about virtual assistance, I usually start off with a few stories about things my assistants do, like:

  • Renew my library books and e-mail me a list of the books they couldn’t renew
  • Look up information in my e-mail and call me with it while I’m out and about
  • Call stores to find out if something I’m looking for is in stock
  • Double-check the dates and times of appointments and talks, because I sometimes mess that up and it’s embarrassing

My reasons for experimenting with virtual assistance are to:

  • Learn how to delegate
  • Understand and improve my processes
  • Learn how to scale
  • Help other people grow

I use Timesvr for 15-minute tasks and well-specified processes, and I work with virtual assistants I hired through oDesk for more specialized skills or more extended projects. Definitely worth the experiment, and quite affordable considering what you can learn and how you can help yourself and other people grow. =)

To get started:

  1. Make a list of things you do and things that you’ve been meaning to do.
  2. Identify things you frequently forget to do, don’t like doing, or can delegate to someone else easily.
  3. Set aside some money in your budget for outsourcing. Timesvr costs USD 69 + tax a month, and oDesk virtual assistants can go from USD 3 – USD 20 or more per hour. The virtual assistants I work with generally charge about USD 5 per hour, with specialized skills like illustration costing more.
  4. Try to estimate how much time it would take to complete each of those tasks. If your list has a large number of 15-30 minute tasks on it, consider signing up for Timesvr. If you have extended projects or projects that need specialized skills, consider posting on oDesk. You might even try both.
  5. Try a few small tasks. Timesvr has a free 3-day trial, and you can hire people on oDesk on an as-needed basis (< 10 hours a week, with no charges if you don’t assign them work).
  6. Think about your processes and your outsourcing experiences, and look for ways to improve. You can ask experienced assistants to help you learn, too. For example, I have Timesvr e-mail me a list of sample tasks every day.
  7. Lather, rinse, repeat. =)

Resources for people getting started:

My experiences


Check out my blog category about managing virtual assistants, and feel free to ask questions or share your experiences through comments or e-mail!

Delegating weaknesses; experimenting with social secretaries

I really enjoy bringing people together for great conversation and sending them home with new connections, new ideas, and perhaps a reading assignment or two. What I don’t enjoy is actually organizing these get-togethers. I’m terrible at it. I mix up dates all the time, as soon as I hit a calendar, I get mildly dyslexic. Even using the great calendaring systems we have at work, I occasionally mess up dates of meetings. Not good. Embarrassing!

When it’s my job to organize an event, it drops in priority, I lose sight of it, and a monthly tea party becomes a quarterly tea party or worse. I would like to get better at this, and the fastest way that can get much better at this is to have someone else plan the event. Things I don’t like about organizing events:

  • making sure everyone (including me!) has the right location and time
  • coordinating RSVPs and following up with people
  • making sure it’s on my calendar and that Io don’t have any conflicts
  • keeping track of potluck contributions and dietary restrictions
  • making sure there’s enough food
  • reminding me a few days before the event and telling me how many people there are so I can go shopping for groceries,
  • and maybe even suggesting some recipes to try.

There’s so much here I can delegate so that I can focus on the things I love:

  • welcoming people into my home
  • providing a space for great conversation
  • providing lots of simple, yummy food
  • shaping the conversation through questions, interest, introductions, stories, etc.
  • connecting the dots between people, ideas, and tools

And I learn so much whenever I have one of these get-togethers that it’s worth learning more about how to scale up. =D

I shouldn’t let my idiosyncrasies get in the way of having great conversations. So I’m going to have an experiment — I’m going to see what it’s like to have a social secretary. =) It’ll be a learning experience for everyone, but I think it’ll be awesome!

Virtual assistance: Process for managing my to-read books

I read a lot. Inspired by Mel Chua’s process for books: turning stocks into flows, here’s how I can ask a virtual assistant to keep my library account well-stocked:

  1. Log on to with my account. (Note: Make sure you use the account labeled “ – *Sacha* (me)”, as there are two library cards associated with my Timesvr profile. My library card ends with 3536.)
  2. Log on to and go to my to-read bookshelf (My books – to-read)
  3. Search the library for the first book on my list. If it’s available, place a hold, then click on [edit] under the shelves column and choose requested. If it’s not available or you can’t place a hold, click on [edit] under the shelves column and choose bookstore.
  4. Repeat #3 until you have placed the requested number of books on my shelf, until you have reached the time limit set, or the library system reports an error because I have too many holds already.

This is so cool! I have 2 books waiting for me at the library, with another 10 on the way… =D Combining this with my process for renewing my library books leads to library awesomeness. Looking forward to tweaking this even more!

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!