Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dear Aunt Una - I Want an Assistant

In previous weeks posts about money, I mentioned the "Aunt Una Exercise" (in which you figure out what you need by asking your rich Aunt Una for stuff), and also the concept of the $40 Sandwich (in which you come to realize that your time may be more valuable than your money).

So this week, I'm thinking about the thing I would most like from my wealthy aunt:

Dear Aunt Una,

I need a personal assistant. I don't know if it should be one person who works for me, or several people who do freelance jobs. But there are people out there who need money, and I need time. It seems like a natural solution.

1.) Collecting statistics and analytics info and processing it into a spreadsheet to my specs. There is a lot of information that you can't capture if you aren't a little obsessive, and I really can't let myself do that. It would be nice if I had someone else to be able to track things like daily fluctuatiosn in sales, and then just give me final reports which I could sort.

2.) Proofing. While formal copyediting is useful for stuff you publish, nearly every job (letters, blog posts) needs some kind of informal "second eyes" proofing. It would be nice to have a noticing type person who could be called upon at any time to just glance over stuff.

3.) Formatting and processing files. I'd really like someone with graphic design training who could also do layout to my specs, and process image files, as well as do ebook conversions.

4.) Making and tracking appointments and reminding me of them. (Seriously, this would probably be the biggest help of all.)

5.) Human calendar. I hate using electronic calendars as if they were personal organizers. To me a calendar is a REFERENCE and PLANNING tool. They are time atlases. I need someone who is keeper of a separate calendar, who could then keep me alert to events.

6.) Paperwork Wrangler. You know how you can get a copy of your credit report every year for free? And there are three different credit reporting companies who you can get it from? That means if you are on top of it, you monitor your credit for fraud and such pretty closely... if you remember to send the fricken paperwork to a different company every four months. But you have to print out the form, check who you sent to last, fill out the form, etc. If the only thing I had to do was fill in the sensitive info and sign it, I would do this so much often. There's a lot of stuff like that I'd like to have someone keep track of.

7.) Research librarian. Browser and finder of links and sources and interesting stuff. Google Alerts does a pretty poor job. I want a human version. Also, someone I can give a problem to (like finding a pair of sunglasses which fold flat, like the ones I have now) and they can waste time looking for a source.

8.) Picture scanner and general archivist (i.e Paper Wrangler). I am a pack rat, but at least half the junk I have is there because I haven't had time to go through it and sort the stuff I want to keep from what I don't. Also, I have large amounts of unfiled stuff I know I want to keep. Aside from wanting to have backups of all our oldest and most treasured photos, it would be nice to just have everything at my digital fingertips.

9.) Tech support. Yeah, I'm a tech myself, and I do my own support just fine. But it sure would be nice when Firefox acts up to let somebody else run through troubleshooting tasks to figure out whether it was a corrupted plugin or the network or what. (Which reminds me, Aunt Una, I could always use a back up computer or two.)

10.) Webmaster. Yeah, I do this myself just fine. Or I _mean_ to do it myself. Time gets away from me, and there are a bunch of tasks which someone else could do to keep my websites up to date.

11.) House Elves and Yard Elves and General Concierge Services. I already have some of this, but I mention it because if the elves quit, there would probably be a very long list of items in this category.

Thank you every so much Auntie. I await your gifts with breath abated.

Your Ever Lovin' Niece.

Here is an irony about outsourcing: When you quit the day job, you may not be able to afford a passel of assistants, but before then? WHILE you have to the day job? You should consider spreading the manna around a bit and save yourself some time.

A lot of those jobs listed above are easily outsourced. There are freelance house cleaners and yard workers and mother's helpers, and proofreaders and students who could use a couple of hours now and then doing a little file conversion, or even picture scanning, etc.

And heck, as I mentioned in the Forty Dollar Sandwich post: if you can find the right places to get takeout, you can reasonably outsource some of your cooking and shopping.

Of course, few of us can actually afford to outsource everything on our list, or have an assistant on staff. But it's good to break down those tasks into smaller bits, because you might be surprised to see have you can do now. For instance #4 -- if you don't hate calendaring systems like I do, you can often use free online tools to send you reminders of things. (I happen to hate those with a irrational passion, but that doesn't mean you can't use them.)

Another thing to consider is barter. Writers swap manuscripts all the time for beta reading and such. What might be especially fruitful, though, is to trade things you are good at with someone who is better than you at something else. For instance, I am a very very slow proofreader. I mean painfully slow. But I'm a pretty swift typographer. I am thinking about offering to do simple covers for limited proofreading.

It doesn't hurt to write your own letter to Aunt Una about this. The tasks you don't want to do, or don't have time to do, or are not very good at are opportunities. If you break them down properly, you may find that there is a solution out there.

See you in the funny papers

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