About 15 years ago, I started writing professionally. I went freelance immediately after my first child was born, a decade ago, and I've worked from home ever since. Yeah, I know: living the dream. Trust me, it's not quite as glamorous as it sounds, and I spend a lot of time juggling kids and computers and feeling like I'm not giving 100% to either side of my life.
Parents -- and moms in particular -- often suffer from the idea that we have to do everything ourselves. It's hard to relinquish control of, well, anything, at times. But just as the best managers
know how to delegate effectively, it's an important skill for parents to learn, too. I started, as many of us do, by hiring someone else to clean my house.
Knowing that someone else would scrub the toilets was fantastic, but it still didn't solve the problem of giving the proper attention to my infant daughter and still fitting in a few hours of work each week. So I hired a babysitter for three hours every morning. And for the next three years, that was a perfect arrangement.
Fast forward to today. I have four children and a fifth due next month, a thriving freelance writing business, and a lot to do. Recently, I was forced to call a client and ask for an extension on a deadline, which was a huge blow to my professional ego. And that's when I decided that the time had come to call in reinforcements.
A lot of my writing depends on research. I have to track down sources and schedule times to speak with them. I have to find relevant information. I have to keep up with specific industry trends.
And when I put on my mom hat, I have to make sure the broken home appliances get repaired, the incorrect cable bill is adjusted, the summer Crocs are ordered for the kids. There's a lot to do around here, and it's not always easy to keep up with everything.
So last week, I hired a virtual assistant to lighten my load. My husband thinks I'm nuts. And that might be true, but I still think this was a pretty smart move. I spent about an hour writing up a document detailing the tasks I want my assistant to handle, starting with some research for the project I'm stalled on.
Yes, it took me about 30 minutes to explain exactly what research I want him to get, and what to do with it. But now he'll spend 8 to 12 hours doing that research, which frees me up to spend the
week between school and camp with my kids.
I also outsourced some regular, recurring tasks: researching specific topics I cover regularly, keeping my invoices up to date, reading press releases and forwarding me only the relevant ones, and so on.
And, in a stroke of pure genius, I also gave him my wishlist tasks -- personal tasks unrelated to work, but that need to be taken care of. And since they've been on my to-do list for an average of 6 months, the chances of my tacking them are pretty low. Highlights: Call Corelle and have my broken bowls replaced under warranty. Call KitchenAid and get the knob on my downdraft vent replaced. Find a local company to come and seal all of my air conditioning ducts so that the AC works more effectively.
It's true -- I'm paying someone to do something I could do myself. But I also pay the cleaning lady, the gardener, and the private school my children attend. And to me, the price is right, right
now. I decided I had about 20 hours of work/personal tasks to outsource each week, at least in the short term. So I prepaid for 160 hours to be used over the next 8 weeks, and it's costing me about
$7 per hour.
Think about it: would you rather spend two hours on hold to downgrade your cell phone plan, or pay someone else $20 to do it while you take your kids to the zoo? Relinquishing control can be hard. But the freedom you'll gain is totally worth it -- to me.
In a month, I'll report back here on the results of my experiment, and I'll provide a list of sources of personal assistants for parents. In the meantime, if you have experiences of your own to share, we'd love to hear them in the comments.
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