As part of my work on WeekPlan, I constantly try to find ways to help people be more effective.

Being more effective comes from identifying what matter most and working on it. But what should you do with the things that are not that important and yet still need to get done?

Before working on WeekPlan, I created the outsourcing marketplace TaskArmy (http://taskarmy.com) to help people leverage the world of outsourcing.

I have always been passionate about finding ways to use my time meaningfully and I think that outsourcing can help tremendously.

But I understand that starting outsourcing from scratch can seem daunting.

  • What can a personal assistant do?
  • How to find the right person?
  • How much should you pay?
  • How can you collaborate with that person effectively?

I am going to answer these questions.

What a personal assistant can do for you

First of all, please understand that you can outsource almost anything (web development, cooking, cleaning, shopping, delivery, etc…). Today I am going to focus on helping you find an online personal assistant: someone who can do general admin tasks and support you everyday.

If you are an entrepreneur, I have already discussed the various ways you can use an assistant in your business in this blog post: http://aymeric.gaurat.net/2012/tasks-a-virtual-assistant-can-do-for-an-online-entrepreneur/

If you are a busy individual, you will need to work out why you are so busy. Usually busy individuals tend to overcommit, even to things that aren’t that important to them. To avoid being busy, the first step is to be picky with what you commit to.

Second, you need to identify which tasks you find taxing. The tasks that you have a hard time doing and procrastinate the most. These tasks will drain your energy and are great candidates for elimination, automation or delegation.

Third, once you have a list of wasteful activities, you can try to solve these problems with three actions: elimination (just stop doing them, remove yourself from the commitment of doing them), automation (automate the payment of your bills, ask for home delivery of your groceries, etc…), and delegation.

Delegation is where your personal assistant can help. Anything that cannot be automated may be outsourced. For example, finding the cheapest flight ticket is hard to automate but if you can express your needs clearly, someone can spend the time finding the right flights for you.

You need to see your personal assistant as an building block in your productivity system. Look at the tasks you do, which one should be eliminated / automated / delegated?

How to find the right person

In today’s world, finding a personal assistant is very easy. Dozens of websites will help you find one.

Some of my favourites are http://taskarmy.com/virtual-assistance-outsourcing (of course) and http://odesk.com Why I recommend you to check TaskArmy out is because the personal assistants there are manually screened before being listed on the website. Some have actually been screened by me directly! So the quality of the work you will receive should be higher than on oDesk but oDesk has the largest numbers of assistants listed (= more choices).

When I was looking for a personal assistant, I would look favorably for people from the Philippines. Most can speak English, they are generally trustworthy, and have very competitive rates (starting at $2 per hour!).

How much does it cost?

A general admin virtual assistant from the Philippines or India costs around $5 an hour.

If you need to outsource software development, it starts at around $12 per hour (look for freelancers in Eastern Europe).

I like paying per hour because I only pay for what I need. A month, you might only need 10 hours worth of work ($50), and some other months, you might need more. It is great to know that you have a personal assistant available to take some work off your list.

How can you collaborate with your assistant effectively?

This is where people fail when outsourcing for the first time. Outsourcing is learned skill.

People get outsourcing wrong for many reasons: they give tasks as if their assistants could read their mind (not clear enough). They lack cultural sensitivity (certain cultures will resist telling you that something is wrong. Or they expect their personal assistant to be excellent at everything for $5 per hour.

Outsourcing is a learned skill, and you need to start small to reduce the risks involved in outsourcing (time wasted, money spent, etc…).

Start with tasks that have no deadline or quality requirements grow from there.

I would like to give you a few tips that have worked wonders for me.

My #1 tip comes from the IT industry: ask your assistant to send you a daily update of what was worked on and what is coming next.

I found these emails were a great opportunity for me to ask questions, clarify certains requirements and identify issues.

My second tip is to build the relationship with your assistant. Some people see their assistant as nothing more than just an email address you send stuff to. A good way to not fall in the trap is by having weekly Skype video calls.

Last tip: train your assistant by recording videos. Videos are a great way to show something and they often take less time to record than the equivalent text page with images. On Windows, I use Open Broadcaster Software (https://obsproject.com/) and I hear that Screenflow is great for Mac users (not free though).

======

I hope this article gave you enough information and motivation to start outsourcing. If you have any question regarding this topic, just leave a comment.

Thanks! 

Weekly Status Report

 

Summary

I finished writing a 30 pages ebook that explains the methodology behind WeekPlan. I am currently asking for feedback to polish the ebook. The goal is to send the ebook to people who signed up on the mailing list a long time ago to “warm up” the relationship with WeekPlan a bit.

We welcomed a new team member in the development team. Khurram has started helping us by writing more automated tests.

I spent some time clarifying some of the incoming work. Having three developers helping me means that things should go faster and I don’t want the requirements to be the bottleneck.

Lots of bugs have been squashed and some usability issues have been ironed out.

A new feature that has been added is the ability to @mention someone in a task notes or comment. The @mention will add that person to the task.

I have decided to start a new experiment. I will document what has been worked on this week in a weekly status blog post.

The idea is to show the progress made, and to document how we use WeekPlan to manage WeekPlan.

 

Weekly Status for WeekPlan

 

Summary

The biggest focus was killing usability issues and publishing the app to multiple appstores.

WeekPlan can be found on the Windows Phone store, the Windows store, the Opera marketplace, the Firefox marketplace and the Amazon appstore.

Work has continued on new features for teams, like allowing @mentions and showing the time in the local time of the user.

When I was a student, I was too lazy to write entire journal entries but I still wanted to develop my self awareness.

In my journal, I would write just a few keywords that best described what was on my mind at the time instead of writing a full blown entry.

That’s how the concept of Cogitorama was born.

The name Cogitorama comes from the latin “cogito” (thought) and the greek “-orama” (see).

I guess you could see it a bit like the Twitter of journaling, you keep the essential of journaling.

Let me give you an example, my cogitorama for today would be:

+australia +weekplan -bangkok -tired -hot

(As you can see, I am not a big fan of Bangkok…)

I prefix the positive keywords with a +, and the negative ones with a –.

 

The Cogitorama extension for Week Plan

In WeekPlan, you can enable an extension to be able to use the Cogitorama concept, it looks like that:

Cogitorama

Positive keywords are in green, negative in red.

The keywords that are used more regularly get shown bigger. Also, there is a global positivity score for the day to show you how you are feeling over time.

 

I hope some of you will find it useful!

New features

You can now show and hide the goals panel.
You can now set a time interval for a task.
You can request to receive an email reminder for a given task.

New PRO features

You can request to receive an SMS reminder.

Improvements

The Edit window for tasks has been improved.
Goals are hidden by default on mobile.

Bug fixes

Replies to emails are now working again (they stopped working for 9 days).