My virtual assistant, Christy, who has worked with me for over a year, recently got a promotion at the outsourcing company she works for and would no longer be a virtual assistant. I immediately panicked and started figuring out how I would work with a new assistant so I worked with Christy to come up with a list of all the tasks she does for me on a regular basis. In coming up with this list I realized something remarkable, 95% of the tasks could be completed without an assistant through the use of web apps or mobile applications, 4% could be completed by a non dedicated assistant, and the remaining 1% are a challenge I am working on currently but honestly I rather have 1% of the workload than have none and everything is done badly.
Ok, so as cool as it might seem to have someone else make your dinner reservations for you, the effort of typing that out or calling your assistant to do it is a step that is simply not needed. I love Siri, an iphone app that calls itself a virtual assistant. You can say something like "I need a dinner reservation for 2 people around 8 o'clock on tuesday, somewhere quiet" It knows your location, will find local restaurants which reviews have said are quiet, and then using opentable, show you available tables. You simply hit confirm and the reservation is done. You can ask Siri for local event near you and buy tickets through TicketMaster. Siri is pretty smart if you say "Take me drunk I'm home" Siri will call you a cab to your current location and provide the service with your home address. No need to have a person give you a wakeup call when there's WakerUpper, which will call you whenever you want and even read you a message. I use Tungle to schedule meetings, I provide people with a public url (no sign up required) that integrates with my google calendar to show my real time availability. The person can choose several times that work for them, I get an email, pick the one I want, and it put it in my calendar and confirms with them. When I get a hotel or plane reservation, TripIt automatically pulls it from my inbox, creates a combined itinerary and puts all the necessary info in my calendar at the right times. It will even notify friends and family in the city I'm travelling to that I'm visiting. I use to have my assistant call customer service at various companies, wait on hold, get to a person and then patch me in. Now I just use LucyPhone. It makes the connection then as soon as I'm put on hold you just press ** and hang up. When a person comes on the line LucyPhone rings you back and you pickup to a person. If they put you on hold again you just press ** again. For those tasks that really require the human touch, I use Fancy Hands, for just $35/month I get 15 tasks, anything from correcting a spreadsheet, to finding and comparing medical charities in the tri-state area.
Making It Stick
The important thing about this experience is that having a virtual assistant was a training experience for me. When I reccomend a virtual assistant (which I do often) a lot of people say they are so busy they don't even have the time to explain to an assistant what they need. By forcing yourself to go through that process you start to learn how to present your tasks so that a 4-year old, or a computer can do them. You start thinking in terms of if...then. Call this person, if they say this, then send them this marketing brochure, if they say this, add them as a facebook friend, etc... Once you have gone through this process, and things are running smoothly, you make very well find that the tasks that once took you so much time can be boiled down to simple tasks that anyone, even a basic program can handle without any human involvement.
1) Dragon Dictation - To write emails or texts while on the go, or even jot down a short note
2) Siri - Make dinner reservations, call you a cab, find out movie times, do google searches, tell you the weather, find local events
3) CardMunch - Convert business cards to contacts and put the info into your address book with 100% accuracy
4) LucyPhone - Wait on hold for customer service and ring you when they come on the line
5) TripIt - Keep track of all your travel arrangements automatically
6) CityMint - Order food for delivery or pickup
7) Tungle - Schedule meetings for you
8) Wakerupper - Wake up calls
9) Fancy Hands - Cost effective, incredibly effective one-off tasks that you need a person to complete
P.S. I would love to hear about any services you use to automate your tasks that don't require a person.