Boosting your time management skills: do you need an assistant?
If you have a million side hustles like me, you probably have a lot to keep track of at any given time. Managing the number of emails, meetings, and tasks eventually starts to feel overwhelming. When this happens, it’s natural to wonder how you can free up time. There are two solutions, and both require a little extra work to set up.
Solution 1: SomeONE else
My first response was to look into getting a part-time virtual assistant. Virtual assistants can help with online tasks including scheduling, filtering emails, and various other computer-based work. You usually pay them for a certain number of hours per month, which makes the service more affordable than a full-time personal assistant.
Hiring a virtual assistant
I spent a lot of time searching and comparing virtual assistant services including Fancy Hands, Time etc, and YourDailyTasks. Since YourDailyTasks was the cheapest and seemed fairly full-featured, I decided to try them for a month. I had no idea what I was getting into.
After sending funds to YourDailyTasks via PayPal, Kartik, an Operations Manager, initiated a short email conversation. During the conversation, I was asked about my preferred time zone, availability, and approximate scope of work. Once I sent my responses, Kartik set me up with Sharooq, my new virtual assistant. It was around this time that I realized my virtual assistant was in India – the time difference must have been brutal – but decided to give it a chance anyway.
Sharooq was very excited to help me with things I didn’t have time for, and I was grateful to be receiving help. That night, I sent Sharooq the password to a branded email address as well as a getting started guide with instructions regarding how to respond to types of emails I constantly received. After assigning Sharooq tasks, I got to work on other things I needed to tackle.
However, I was soon very disappointed. Suddenly, I had to provide instructions and guidance for Sharooq in addition to my other work. Instead of responding to emails for me, I would receive emails from Sharooq asking how to proceed. I didn’t have more time – the situation just got more meta.
It turned out I needed someone to be more decisive than Sharooq was able to be. So, I canceled my subscription. I then wondered if a robot would be more helpful.
Setting up an AI assistant
After my human virtual assistant problems, I decided to go completely virtual. Like human virtual assistants, you include your AI virtual assistant on emails and they help you schedule meetings. They cannot, however, do other tasks like pick the best-looking 250 pictures out of a set of 1,000 photos (thanks, Sharooq!) or proofread a paper. That was a compromise I was willing to make.
Upon doing some research, I immediately noticed how many AI virtual assistant services were feminine-gendered. After heavy consideration, I landed on x.ai, which has a female (Amy) and male (Andrew) option. Being the feminist I am, I selected Andrew to feel some reverse Mad Men vibes.
After connecting my calendars and selecting my preferred meeting times, I felt ready to CC someone on an email. Since x.ai isn’t human, I asked my husband to test out the service before it glitched on someone in the wild. Andrew suggested I meet with my husband at ridiculous times like 10pm. It then took an unnecessary number of times to calibrate; I literally have 11 emails from Andrew called “Confirming your new preferences” in my inbox.
I did not continue using x.ai. I don’t think part-time virtual assistants are my jam because they will never get to know my preferences well enough to be of much help. AI assistants are computers, and computers are not nuanced. And of course, I straight-up cannot afford a full-time assistant who can learn and cater to all of my needs because I am not a VP (yet????).
Therefore, I decided to get a little more creative.
Solution 2: SomeTHING else
The internet is full of free services, and you’re probably already using lots of them. At the beginning of this process, I was using Google Calendar and Gmail, which both had tons of potential integrations. My goal was to piece a few services together to start automating repetitive tasks a bit more. It took four steps in total, and I was able to complete them in about an hour or two.
Merge your calendars
The first thing I did was disable my computer’s calendar app and start using Google Calendar in the browser. I then shared all my personal and work calendars with each other. In order to prevent myself from doing too much work at home, I chose to limit access and only see “Busy” on the work calendar meetings when checking my personal account.
Block out time
Once my calendars were combined, I started to block out time for recurring events. Each week, I have time on my calendar for design iteration, game development, exercise, and even personal time with my husband. Google Calendar also has the ability to auto-schedule goals, which I use to schedule several flexible times per week to exercise. These efforts ensure that I don’t overbook myself.
Integrate a scheduling service
Next, I found a free scheduling service. I was already using Doodle to organize events, but I had no idea about its free personal scheduling feature, MeetMe. MeetMe is a meeting request system that syncs with Google Calendar. Unlike Google Calendar’s appointment system, you can use MeetMe with all of your calendars at once.
By sharing your MeetMe link with others, they can propose times that work for both of you. It is a wonderful system that only breaks down when you get too busy to respond in a prompt manner. Fret not, though: you can request new dates at any time.
Create email templates
After setting up MeetMe, I decided to tackle my email problem. In my virtual assistant’s getting started guide, I wrote a bunch of email templates they could use. Even though I wasn’t planning to use an assistant anymore, I found a way to reuse the various things I’d written.
Some browser extensions integrate with Gmail and let you automatically include templates while composing new emails. My preferred extension is Gorgias, which works with Google Chrome. It took about ten minutes to copy, paste, and edit my templates in Gorgias’ interface. Now I can respond to meeting requests as well as other types of emails with a few keyboard presses.
Hopefully the above helps you cut down on repetitive tasks. I’ve certainly saved a large chunk of time thanks to Google Calendar, Gmail, Doodle’s MeetMe feature, and Gorgias. If you have tips regarding how you save time, please share them with me!
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We’re all aware: working while under duress is terrible! Especially as a designer. People often talk about design as a superpower because you can illustrate the future—and it often is quite magical. But when your skillset doesn’t feel immediately relevant to your survival, the magic evaporates. In this very personal and relatable talk, I will share my experience with navigating hard times and experiencing a career block. Attendees will learn techniques for overcoming the malaise and building a guided, sustainable design career.
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