We often recommend that working moms delegate family tasks to other people (and we’ve talked about it in the context of the “do, delegate, or NOPE” game), so earlier this year I decided to buy 20 hours at TaskBullet (the minimum amount you’re required to buy) to see if it would be possible to delegate family tasks to a virtual assistant.
(Note: I did not work with TaskBullet at all on this as a blogger, so this is not a sponsored post — just an honest review.)
Notes on the competition: TaskBullet is not the only kind of service you can use for this; Fancy Hands, Zirtual, Fiverr (which I once wrote about over at Corporette), and other assistant services exist.
I had just always wondered about using virtual assistant services for personal tasks (probably ever since I read the now classic Esquire piece, “My Outsourced Life“) and decided to try it out.
Notes on cost/timing: I bought the minimum “starter” pack, which was around $200, which meant we were paying around $10 an hour. I don’t think I realized quite the 20 hours expired in ninety days — near the end I was asking the VAs to do a lot of things I had not originally intended to ask them to do, like help me with a new online hobby.
I WILL note that they seemed to be pretty efficient — tasks that would have taken me an hour only seemed to take them 20 minutes.
Notes on TaskBullet’s setup: As soon as I bought the hours, I was invited to Basecamp, a project management software I’ve had some experience with through the blog.
Every time I had a new task I had to type it into a certain place in Basecamp and be sure to assign it to the project manager, who would assign it to 1 assistant (out of 6–7 possible ones). They always asked me for a due date and for how long I thought the project should take, which I liked.
None of the assistants I worked with were American, as near as I could tell, but I didn’t have any tasks involving calling companies or businesses. (It’s entirely possible one of those 7 assistants would have been able to take on such calls, though.)
Basecamp kind of unfolds like a conversation — I would write a few paragraphs and attach a few documents and then they would respond with more written questions, attaching PDFs or Word documents.
I’ve used Trello and Basecamp and prefer Trello personally, but Basecamp itself is very easy to use, and I liked the app — it made it very easy to ask questions on my phone or upload images.
How I Used Virtual Assistants to Delegate Family Tasks
1. Scheduling Summer Camps
Like everyone else, I feel like scheduling my kids’ summer camps is some kind of crazy math problem. This was in spring, and I had already printed out all camp options and reviewed them with my kids to get a general sense of interest.
I asked TaskBullet to fill my Excel activity schedule with the 15 camps or so my kids had expressed a vague interest in so that I could see the scheduling conflicts and so forth; I think I also asked them to find alternatives when needed (e.g., my kid wants to do this broadsword camp, but they start at age 7 and he’s only 6; are there any similar options near us for 6-year-olds?).
How it worked: This was good, but there was definitely a learning curve. If I were to go back to the same assistant next year and ask for the same help with the tasks, she would probably be of more help — but because of TB’s setup there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the same assistant after a full year has passed.
2. Ordering Library Books
You know how you find those massive online lists like “30 Hilarious Books for Early Readers!” and suddenly you want to get 10–15 of them for your kiddo? I took screenshots of the books I wanted and gave TaskBullet my library card logon info to put library books on hold.
At one point the Tasker asked for my Amazon logon so she could BUY the books for me, which I am too cheap for, but it would have been helpful if I’d wanted that. She also gave me a list of which books weren’t available through the library.
How it worked: I thought it was helpful! When I’m on my phone I find it hard to order library books or do any tasks involving toggling through different screens or tabs, so it was nice to have it go from “thought to action” almost immediately.
Other similar tasks: Ordering all 25 books in the Elephant & Piggie series for my kiddo from the library, taking a screenshot of a PDF with several books listed as recommended reading for something business-related and having those those ordered from the library.
3. Researching Specialized Purchases
At some point, I decided I needed a few more pajamas for my older son, so I asked TaskBullet to find me six options of PJs that were a specific size; featured Star Wars, Minecraft, or Harry Potter; and had short sleeves or shorts.
How it worked: This is the kind of task that sounds deceptively simple, but if you are ME, researching this kind of thing ends up with having 20 tabs open and spending $300 on stuff (and still not having pajamas). So for me this was really helpful.
If I’d felt more comfortable with the team I surely could have given them my credit card and had them make the purchases, but it was easy enough to click the link and buy what I wanted. I think I bought two of the options the VA found for me.
Similar tasks: We were looking for a small shelf that was at least X” high and Y” wide and no bigger than Z” deep. (Why is there not a furniture-related search engine for that kind of stuff?) The assistant found me several options for under $100. Also, my younger son really wanted a RED ceiling fan (?) and so I asked the TaskBullet person to see if she could find any options for less than $200 online. She found a ton.
4. Researching a Two-Day Family Vacation
We like to travel with another family sometimes, and we had discussed a trip to a city a few hours away. I had a list of several activities I’d heard were good but didn’t know much about them.
I told TaskBullet, “There will be four adults and five kids ranging in age from 4–10, and we want to spend two days in ___. I’ve heard of activities A, B, C, D, and E. Please tell me a) the days and hours for those activities, b) whether they are appropriate for kids aged 4–10 (please share a 2-sentence description from the website of what the activity IS), c) the cost of the activities, and d) how long the activities should take us — 20 minutes, a morning, a full day, several days?”
I also asked her to find me four hotel options with a pool that were centrally located to activities A–E.
How it worked: This probably saved me several hours of research, and I wound up with a Word doc that very neatly laid out all of these questions and the answers, which meant I could easily send it to the other family and we could go forward from there.
5. Reviewing Family Photos
My youngest’s birthday was coming up and I had thousands of pictures I hadn’t reviewed — but I wanted to put a few nice ones on Facebook to show him at the age he was then. This was a task I normally would have done myself, but my 20 hours were going to expire really soon, so I decided to ask the VA to try to do it.
I uploaded all of the photos to a public Dropbox folder and asked TaskBullet to help me review them, looking for “non-blurry photos featuring H where his eyes are open and he isn’t mid-bite.” H is constantly moving, so this was no easy task.
How it went: She found about 20 photos that were pretty good, but when I did a quick review, I found others. I think she was looking for great ones of H alone, whereas I would accept a mediocre one of H if someone else (cough, me) looked great in the picture.
This is clearly something I should have made clear in the beginning of the project, but I didn’t care enough to make her want to do the whole exercise again.
General Thoughts on Delegating Family Tasks to a Virtual Assistant
I thought it was a really interesting experiment. My husband kept meaning to get around to putting some of his research projects on there but never did, so it was just me using it, which made it harder to hit the bucket expiration.
The thing I liked BEST was that every task I went to go do myself, I FIRST asked myself, “Can I give this to TaskBullet”? A lot of tasks I hadn’t thought of at the start materialized as I went through the project (like the library books or pajamas).
In fact, for someone like me who’s had a blog-related virtual assistant for eight years or so now, it was eye-opening because there are a LOT of personal research tasks that I can outsource that I just hadn’t thought about; she is often looking for more hours than the 20/week we’ve agreed to, and so I’ve told myself I will give her more of those projects going forward. (But HAVE I given her those projects? Um, no.)
Readers, let’s here from you — have you ever tried to use a personal assistant or virtual assistant to delegate family tasks? Are these the kinds of tasks you regularly outsource to your nanny or other care provider? Have you ever used TaskBullet or another virtual assistant service to delegate family tasks?
Pictured: Deposit Photos / pressmaster.