In the second part of this four part series, I discuss what happened during the first two weeks I worked with my new virtual assistant. (Note: Since this post was first published, I’ve stopped using Zirtual. I’ve since used other services – including hiring Amy Metherell, who I highly recommend – and as of August 2015 Zirtual has ‘paused’ its operations.)
After going with Zirtual as my virtual assistant solution, I decided to outsource some particular tasks to my new assistant. During the first two weeks I decided to start slowly, by giving my assistant only a few areas of responsibility:
1. My “gateway” email addresses
I use multiple email addresses rather than filters for a number of reasons, which I discussed in an earlier post. Having a virtual assistant afforded me the opportunity to offload my “gateway” email addresses to someone else. All I had to do was hand over the credentials and Elise was good to go.
Well, not really.
I didn’t hand over all of my “gateway” email accounts over to Elise right away. After all, I’ve got several of them (one for informational use, one for sales, one for guest posts, etc.) so I didn’t want to overwhelm here with a slew of email right away. So I only asked her to handle the most-used one: the Productivityist informational email account for starters.
Then, in order to make sure she had everything she needed to handle my email accordingly, I created a note in Evernote called “Best Practices – Email” that I shared with her that acted as a “cheat sheet” of sorts. It outlined common email responses I’ve used along with some basic guidelines for the account she was handling (it also directed when it is important to forward email messages to my own Productivityist account instead of dealing with them herself). I wanted to make sure she was armed with as much information as possible going in so that she could maximize her time while going through the email and only have to contact me if something fell outside of what I’d given her in Evernote.
The 3 Things I Learned
- I learned that it was very wise for me to start using Unroll.me before starting this whole experiment. It has cut down my email exponentially and saved me (and my VA) a ton of time in the process. Elise simply leaves the Unroll.me digest in my account for me to skim at day’s end, meaning she can avoid it and I can check it out later in the day and know it won’t take a ton of time to do so. It’s great.
- I learned that when you’re handing over the keys to your email that you need to be very clear and do the “front end work” as you would for so many other things in order to make them as effective as possible. Setting up that note in Evernote was a wise move as it can be used at a later date with anyone I may bring on board (or even offered up as a cheat sheet to Productivityist readers and customers).
- I learned that letting go of email is harder than I thought it would be. The allure of email is strong and while it felt freeing to know that I had less email accounts to wade through and could focus on more of my creative work, I also felt that something was missing from my routine and actually checked the address nonetheless. In order to combat this, I removed the informational account from my native client and am only checking it using Gmail on the web. That helped ease the withdrawal, and I may now start to offload some of the other email addresses as well.
This was something I’ve outsourced in the past, but to a service rather than a person. Doodle was my scheduling service of choice, but when they changed the features of the free aspect of their service (which I didn’t realize until actually going into my Doodle account), I decided to hand this over to my VA to see how it would work. Elise has access to all of my calendars, with varying permissions. She can make changes to my Productivityist calendar but can’t to my personal calendar (the one that isn’t work-related). This week she was able to block off the majority of my week to ensure I had no meetings while I was off to the conference I’m speaking at and whenever there has been a request to meet or speak with me, I’ve explained to the person on the other end that I’ve cc’d Elise and asked her to make arrangements for me.
The 3 Things I Learned
- I learned that having less calendars is the way to go. Despite having a calendar for every email address I use, I only use a calendar for my own Productivityist email address and not the “gateway” addresses. That meant I only had to share my Productivityist calendar and my personal calendar, making it far easier for Elise to figure out what free time I had. It also makes for less clutter on my overall calendar, which is always a good thing in my book.
- I learned that outsourcing scheduling needs to be done selectively in some situations. I tried not to outsource scheduling of appointments to those I’d had contact with personally beforehand, which wasn’t the wisest course of action. While I didn’t want to appear as if I’d shuffled them off to my VA, I should have just sucked it up and done it anyway. I should have positioned myself better by saying something like “I just want to make sure there’s no crossed wires, so I’m going to ask Elise to schedule this. That way I’m sure not to double book or over-schedule myself.” Instead, I just took it upon myself to handle that scheduling myself, which was exactly what I was not supposed to do.
- I learned that scheduling can be very complicated, and is perhaps best left to a service. That’s not a slight against Elise at all. What I should have done (and will start doing in the final two weeks) is use a service like Doodle or ScheduleOnce to set up things for scheduling and then provide Elise with the email to send that has the link needed to schedule something with me. I think that would help streamline things a lot more and free both of us to do more pressing work instead of coordinating meetings. That’s something that should be outsourced to a service, and then perhaps managed by a VA (at best).
This was one of the big areas I wanted my virtual assistant to cover, and yet it was the one I was slowest to assign to my VA. I slowly started to add some research assignments to Elise in the second week, and that research included travel planning for my trip to Vancouver, imagery for my gift guide from lat year that could be posted to the Productivityist Pinterest account, and a few other small tasks. All the while I continued to clip stuff for my own creative projects using the Evernote Web Clipper and placing it in the appropriate notebooks. I could have done better in this regard, and I plan to do so in the last two weeks of the experiment.
The 3 Things I Learned
- I learned that despite my plan to assign a good amount to my virtual assistant early on, I fell into the same boat as many of those before me and have been slow to do so. I emailed Elise with regret that I wasn’t progressing as quickly as I’d have liked in this regard, and she replied with the following: “In general for the first month things are a little slow on delegation, and getting in the hang of things will take a little time. Usually by month 2 and 3 clients are more in tuned on how they would like to work things, and we both establish a smooth system of working together. So believe me, everything you are experiencing right now is normal.”
- I learned that I need to give more information in order to get more of the results I desire. Again, this is all on me. Asking Elise to populate the board on Pinterest was done well because I gave her specific instructions along with some options for her to work with. That allowed her to dive in and get it done efficiently and effectively, as well as add some much-needed input along the way.
- I learned that I need to spend less time scouring the web for material and more time creating material. If anything, I should shift that stuff off to Elise and even have her send me an email on my heavy-lifting days asking me how my big projects are coming along. Perhaps having her act as a form of “accountability connection” wouldn’t just give her something else to do, but would act as a trigger to remind me to get on with doing the things I should be doing more of now that I’ve got the help I need.
Next up: The Next Two Weeks With A Virtual Assistant