We all know that one person who appears to glide through life getting more done in a day than most of us could possibly manage in a week. But by learning what you can outsource, plus a few ‘best practice’ tips for delegating your day-to-day chores, you too can become super-productive.
This article will explain how to choose tasks to outsource online, show you a few examples, and give you some tips on how to become an efficient and proficient online outsourcer.
What is Outsourcing?
In a word, delegation. Since the launch (and subsequent success) of books and blogs such as the 4-Hour Workweek, huge numbers of tech-savvy folks have turned to websites like Elance, Odesk, TaskRabbit and many other ways to delegate tasks, chores and even entire jobs to freelancers all around the world.
By having someone else take over tasks that you can’t (or simply don’t want) to do yourself, you suddenly have access to more (potentially much more) than 24 hours in a day.
How Do I Know What to Outsource?
A lot of people have considered outsourcing, but pulled back at the last minute due to simply not believing it’s feasible to have someone else take control of certain aspects of their life, no matter how small or large that part may be.
This is a hurdle I had to overcome myself four years ago, when I outsourced for the first time, and learned that there are five questions to ask of each task to decide whether or not it should be outsourced.
- Dread: Does the thought of starting this task fill me with dread?
- Lack of Knowledge: Is there someone else who could do this task better than I could?
- Repetition: Am I doing this task over and over again, without it adding real value to what I’m aiming at?
- Procrastination: Am I procrastinating, rather than starting this task?
- Time: Could my time be better spent doing something else?
If I answer yes to any of the above questions, I’ll usually choose to outsource the task. The only time I won’t outsource the task in these situations is if outsourcing will be more difficult or time-consuming than actually completing the task myself.
What Kind of Day-to-Day Tasks Can I Realistically Outsource?
When I started outsourcing, I started off small, hiring freelancers for data entry tasks and basic research, but as I learned more and more about how to outsource effectively, I soon learned that the types of task I could delegate were limited only by my imagination.
You’ve probably just shuddered at the thought of handing over responsibility of your inbox to some guy you’ve just hired off the Internet who’s working half-way across the world. Trust me, I understand. Your inbox is your sanctuary, right? So start off small, simply forwarding the odd email to your freelancer so they can deal with that single request (entering an appointment in your diary, for instance), then you can gradually build up that much needed trust.
As trust in your freelancer increases, you can hand over other email responsibilities, eventually allowing them to filter through your entire inbox so you only need to answer the most pressing and productive messages.
Appointments and Reservations
Having a freelance assistant who can make and manage your appointments and reservations for you not only saves you time and effort. It also makes your experiences better.
Last year, my freelance assistant booked a hotel for my girlfriend and me to stay in. The night before the stay, he called reception and made sure everything was OK for the booking (he also mentioned it was my girlfriend’s birthday). When we arrived the next day, I presume the hotel staff must have thought that I was some hot-shot (having my own assistant, and all), and we arrived to an upgraded room, with a bottle of wine and a hand-written card left by the bed.
If my assistant hadn’t called in advance, this likely would never have happened. You can have your assistant schedule calls, make doctors appointments, book flights, buy tickets to gigs — whatever you need!
I once heard Ramit Sethi speak about how he has simplified his online shopping. In the past he would find himself talking with a friend who recommended a book, movie, or album. He would, like most of us, note down the name of the recommendation, carry on the conversation, and never actually get around to making the purchase. So now when he receives a recommendation, he sends a super-quick email to his assistant:
Buy Book: The Great Gatsby
From past instructions, his assistant knows exactly what to do, i.e. how to choose which edition to buy, how much he’s allowed to spend, where the book should be delivered. This is an outsourcing method I’ve recently adopted, and I only wish I’d done it sooner. And it can be extended to other forms of shopping, such as food or clothes (as long as you’ve taught your assistant what you like).
How many times have you found yourself aimlessly browsing the web in the hope that something will pique your interest? How many hours per week do you waste opening tab after tab while sitting on the train, or while watching TV, only to close them again without reading a single word on the page?
By teaching your assistant about your interests, the kind of things you’d like to read about, or be kept up to date on, you can bypass the pointless surfing stage, and instead know that you’ll always have a steady stream of content that will genuinely be of interest to you.
For me, my assistant finds content I’ll enjoy (or on topics that I need to learn about), and saves them to my Instapaper account, so I can access them on my phone, iPad or laptop, helping me to save countless hours of pointless online wanderings.
I’m guessing you’ve lost count of how many meetings you’ve been in and completely zoned-out, missing a decent chunk of an important conversation. You’ve also probably come out of a meeting intending to write a few notes and action points, only to be sidetracked, completely forgetting what you were meant to write in the first place.
To bypass this problem, try recording your meetings, and send the audio file to a freelancer who can transcribe the conversation, or they could simply note down important points so you can scan over them in the future.
There are hundreds of other tasks you can outsource, whether they be personal, or business related. From web design, consulting and writing, to fashion advice, travel planning and even applying for jobs. What you choose to outsource should be based on the five questions listed at the top of this article to ensure you’re investing your time in the most high-leverage tasks.
There’s no denying that outsourcing can be daunting. After all, by hiring someone to take charge of some of your day-to-day activities, you automatically become a manager. Here are some tips to help keep you on track:
When you post a job on Elance of Odesk, you’ll likely receive at least 30-40 proposals, and it’s your job to find the person who’s right for you. before making any final decision, draw up a shortlist of around 3-7 applicants and set them a simple task. Be sure to provide very clear instructions and a deadline. Let them know how you would like to receive the information you’ve requested. If you want them to make phone calls for you in the future, ask them to send you an audio file answering a couple of questions so you can hear their ‘phone voice’.
Set up an ‘About Me’ document
The last thing you want to do is be repeating your requirements to your assistant over and over again. Each time you provide them with new information (shops you like, the type of hotels you like to stay in, your requirements when booking a flight, the times you’re available for calls etc) have them enter this information into a shared document. This document will be their first reference point if they have any questions about a task you set them (thereby reducing the amount of repeat work you need to do), plus if you ever start working with a different assistant, you can simply hand them this document and they’ll be able to learn about you and your preferences much more quickly.
With every task you delegate, be as specific as possible. Rather than writing step by step instructions, it may be more effective to record a screen capture video to send to your assistant so they can watch how you would perform certain tasks. Be sure to always let your assistant know how long they can spend on a task (and/or your budget), the deadline, and answer any questions that they might have before they crop up to reduce the back-and-forth email sending that may ensue if you’re not clear enough.
Be Fair: Many people hire freelancers, thinking they can hire someone to perform task after task for $3 per hour. Please be fair with what you demand, and the hourly rate you offer. The fairer you are, the better results you’ll receive.
As I hope you can see, the scope for how outsourcing can help with freeing up your time and energy is huge, though to get the most out of outsourcing, you must view this as a long-term investment that will pay off more and more as your assistant(s) learn more about you, and how they can help you.
If you’re still not convinced, you should check out this interview with Dan Andrews of Tropical MBA on how he’s managed to outsource most of a million dollar business. If that doesn’t sway you, nothing will!
This article focused on online outsourcing, but there are plenty of tasks you can also outsource offline. Tools like TaskRabbit have been built to help out with everyday chores like cleaning and laundry, even fresh-food shopping.
Have you outsourced any of your day-to-day tasks? If so, how did it go?
Image Credit: Marcos Meca Sam Wordley (Shutterstock)