In an ideal world, most of our workday would revolve around using our best skills and doing the tasks that excite us. We’d then delegate the other stuff to someone else (ideally, someone for whom that task might be fun).
While this may seem like a lofty goal, at least until you score the corner office, the truth is, you can outsource more than you might think—for less than you’d imagine—using the tons of online virtual assistant and delivery services out there. After dabbling in the practice over the last 18 months, I’ve discovered how dramatically it can affect my productivity.
So, how do you know when to outsource something? I use three criteria:
Here are a few tasks that I’ve outsourced to great success, that have helped me gain back precious free time, and that have immeasurably improved my overall happiness, stress level, and satisfaction.
1. Appointments, Reservations, and Logistics Coordination
Imagine what would happen if you never had to make calls for dinner reservations, hair appointments, car services, doctors’ appointments, price-checking at local stores, USPS re-delivery, or sharing information with potential new clients.
Pretty great, right? So, wipe your plate clean of all of these tasks, and delegate them to a virtual assistant. I’ve saved hours of time by doing so, and you’d be blown away by how affordable this is. With Fancy Hands, for example, you’ll pay between $3 and $5 per task. Similar services, like TaskRabbit, Task Bullet, MyTasker, Zirtual, and TimeSvr, take care of everything from calls to data entry to transcription.
2. Answering Your Phone
Your virtual assistant probably won’t answer your phone, but you can outsource that just as easily! Hiring a virtual receptionist can give an air of authenticity and professionalism to your side business, not to mention free you up from unexpected phone calls. Tools like AppleTree Answers, Ruby Receptionist, MyReceptionist, and VoiceCloud offer receptionists that will pick up your phone 24/7 and ease the burden of your call load.
Whether you’re looking to create a database of accounting firms in your city for market research or just find a couple of peer-reviewed studies that support a hunch for your next presentation, there’s no reason that you should take the first step in researching anything these days. Services like Fiverr, Freelancer.com, and Elance connect you with talented professionals around the world who are willing to complete that task faster and for less money than you’d imagine. In 2011, I hired my first part-time virtual research assistant to curate some shocking statistics to add extra punch to a blog post I was working on, and I haven’t looked back since.
4. Graphic Design and Digital Presentation Preparation
Unless you’re a skilled designer yourself, your digital presentations could probably use some pizzazz. But instead of frittering your time away on PowerPoint animations and mulling over the merits of Arial Bold, spend a few bucks on Fiverr, Elance, 99 Designs, Guru, or DesignCrowd to have a professional design your slideshow. Use the time you’ve just saved on rehearsing your presentation, instead.
5. Putting Together Furniture, Dry Cleaning Drop-Off, and Other In-Person Tasks
What about the pain-in-the-rear errands that can’t be done virtually? Enter services like Zaarly and TaskRabbit, which connect you to people in your area who are willing to do simple tasks in their spare time. You could hire someone to stand in line for you to pick up your iPhone 5S or put together the flat-pack furniture you just purchased. You could even have someone do all your Black Friday shopping. Name the task, and someone’s already outsourced it.
6. Shopping for Fresh Produce
We know that a diet full of organic fruits and vegetables is essential for maintaining our brains and bodies, but let’s be honest for a moment: Do you have the time to reliably a) head to a farmer’s market near you, b) sort through the offerings and pick a diverse assortment of fruits and vegetables, and c) repeat this process weekly? If your answers to any of the above were “no,” look into CSAs that offer delivery services.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. You essentially purchase shares of a local farm’s harvest, and each week you get a box full of whatever’s in season. In San Diego, I use a service called NaturallytoYourDoor.com that works with several farms for an even bigger variety. Head to Local Harvest (NYC residents can also look at JustFood) to find a CSA near you.
To level up this concept, consider getting your groceries, wine, and beer delivered. Most supermarkets have a delivery option with online shopping. When it comes to take-out tipples, you’ll have to outsource a little research, but it’s worth the effort to find a local gem. For example, local New Yorkers can get beer, liquor, and wine delivered in 30 to 60 minutes from BoozeCarriage, while Bostonians have a similar service in Drizly. You’ll wonder how you ever got along without doing so.
7. Meal Cooking
You might think that personal chefs are just for celebrities, but I learned a trick from bestselling author Brendon Burchard that flipped this theory on its head. He and his wife went to a local cooking school and asked the instructor to recommend a talented student-chef who wanted to go into catering. In exchange for a modest stipend and a testimonial, they hired a chef who worked with their weekly budget, purchased and prepared a week’s worth of healthy, nutritious meals for them, and even cleaned up afterward!
You can also try this with a group, splitting the cost three or four ways, and dividing up the portions accordingly. Or, look into delivery meal services like Blue Apron.
If you’re new to outsourcing and aren’t sure where to start, pick just one or two tasks from this list, and invest the time you would have spent doing these items on a restorative activity you enjoy: a coffee date with a dear friend, an extra-long shower, a mani-pedi. In a few weeks, try to outsource another couple of tasks. You’ll soon find that you have more hours in your week to devote to what you really want or need to be doing. As a bonus, you’ll also build awareness of the types of activities that leave you feeling happy and energized, rather than listless and exhausted.