I Tried to Use Virtual Assistants to Delegate Family Tasks — Here’s What Happened

I Tried to Use Virtual Assistants to Delegate Family Tasks -- Here's What HappenedWe 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.delegating family tasks to a virtual assistant - image of professional working mom assigning mom-related research projects

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

Ever wondered if you could delegate personal tasks to a virtual assistant, like vacation research, finding furniture options that fit a specific space, or buying character PJs for your kids? Kat tried it -- and here's what happened...

Comments

  1. avocado says:

    Outsourcing these very specific administrative tasks sounds like a nightmare to me. I spend so much of my day at work delegating complex tasks that the last thing I want to do when I get home is to spend time explaining to someone else how to schedule my kid’s summer camps. If I were to outsource, I’d much rather spend the money on a cleaning service, nanny/driver, lawn care service, etc. that wouldn’t require so much effort and supervision on my part.

    • Janie says:

      Agreed. Unless you had someone steady you specifically hired for this kind of thing so that they could learn your preferences, this is one of those things where you are probably not saving that much time given how long it takes to properly delegate and supervise.

      Except perhaps the vacation planning one.

      • rosie says:

        But are you better off with a travel agent for vacation planning? I have never used one, so genuinely curious, not asking rhetorically.

        • Anonymous says:

          When in investment banking I used a travel agent to book a few vacations (so did some of the other guys in the office.) If desired, they will literally have your whole trip mapped out with car service to all activities. The only complaints that I had is that the activities / hotel selection etc. skewed “old” which I would guess is who was using travel agents these days. And some of the best activities I found myself (but then she would book them). Or for example, she found us a nice hotel in Buenos Aires, but we opted out of that to pick something in a more up and coming neighbourhood with way better night life.

          Bottom line: I would recommend for places where there is more of a language barrier / lots of travel logistics etc. For Europe unless you have NO time it is totally unnecessary.

          For things like we want to visit these 3 places in Turkey – what order should we do them in (logistics / cost of flights etc), she added a lot of value. I could have spent half a day trying to work out all the connecting flights.

          I also had FOMO and did a bunch of my own research anyways….

    • Same here. Plus, it seems that whenever I’m scheduling ANYTHING kid-related, it involves passwords, accounts, disclosing medical information and a bunch of other stuff that would be a PITA (or impossible) to turn over to someone else.

    • Anonymous says:

      Agreed. I also agree with anon at 1:44 that I wouldn’t be comfortable giving a service like this my passwords. Maybe one trusted assistant, although even that scares me a bit. I also find administrative tasks like this much more enjoyable than things like lawn mowing or grocery shopping and would much rather outsource the tasks I don’t enjoy.

  2. AnotherAnon says:

    Ok don’t laugh but now I want to be a virtual assistant. All of these tasks sound like something I would find a lot of enjoyment doing for someone else – I could spend 8-20 hours researching the most amazing different red ceiling fans.

    • Spirograph says:

      Me. Too. I really like doing task-based administrative stuff.

      It can be a huge time suck, though, and it’s a really interesting idea that I could outsource some of it. Thanks for the food for thought, Kat!

    • anon in ny says:

      Yes! I would prefer doing this to my actual job sadly.

    • Anonymous says:

      I did this! When I was in law school, I worked as a personal assistant for a Silicon Valley executive for about a year. I worked mostly virtually and met him in person once every couple of weeks. I mostly did online shopping (including buying gifts for his girlfriends – yes, plural!), making travel arrangements and managing his other household employees like his cleaning service. Ultimately it was fun and good money (I think he paid me $15/hour, which was a lot for a student a decade ago) but it was a little uncomfortable how much I knew about him and his personal life. He even had me shop for sex toys (!) for him. He never hit on me or anything like that, but think I would have been a lot more comfortable with those kinds of intimate details if I were working for a woman. It makes for a fun story at parties though!

  3. Have you heard or tried FIN?

  4. Agonizing over whether or not to have a second child. We are fine with one, but lately I worry that my kid will be lonely without a sibling, and the fertility clock is ticking.

    There are lots of things to consider, but to me the main issue is that I am already so tired at the end of each day. I’m okay with less money and freedom — I think — but I just don’t know if I have the energy to raise another little one. Should this stop me, or do mothers magically rise to the task as additional children appear?

    My husband is helpful but I know that the lion’s share of child-rearing will be mine.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Fwiw, I was a very happy only child and I know several other onlies who were happy too. It’s definitely a stereotype that only children are lonely, but I haven’t found it to be true. I was very close to my parents, had a lot of friends in my neighborhood and at school, and was also a champ at entertaining myself (mostly through imaginative play when I was young and then reading once I was old enough to read). We plan to only have one child because that’s what DH and I think works best for our family, and I don’t feel like we’re depriving her of anything. If our daughter starts asking for a sibling we might reassess, but I can’t recall ever asking my parents for a sibling or even secretly wishing I had one.

      Everyone talks about giving your first child the gift of a sibling, but my parents are very well off financially (in large part because they only had one child) and that’s a pretty significant gift to give your kid too. I may have to bear the emotional burden of dealing with aging parents “alone” (although I have a supportive husband, close friends and a cousin I’m close to) but I won’t have to support them financially, which many of my friends with siblings are doing or will have to do, and there’s a lot of freedom in that.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am so glad I had two. They will have each other after my husband and I are gone. I am an only child and was lonely after my parents died.

  5. This is exactly how I feel and I could have written your post. I have had one child whom I wanted and love so much and do so much with. But the amount of havoc it wreaked in my world was eye-opening. I think I am truly traumatized by the experience as even now 3 years later I absolutely do not want to do this again. Now, if my husband could get pregnant, and look for childcare, and cook enough food for two months ahead of baby so he doesn’t have to rely on me to cook while he’s BFing since I would not be able to do so without asking him a thousand questions, and pump milk, and schedule and take himself and the child to all those appointments, and talk to family, I might be open to it. But as is, with me being the primary breadwinner and having to add all of the above to my workload I just cannot – and this is what I have told my husband who really wants the second child (for the same reasons: loneliness). If you make enough $$ for a full time nanny, that could change the equation. I feel that I’d need a wife to have another baby.

  6. It’s wild, isn’t it? There are so many people with two (or more!) children… and I don’t really understand how they managed to get through the process. You sound like Superwoman. To tell you the truth, I have more help than you do and I still don’t know how I would manage.

    I enjoy my job and sending my kid to private school, but it would be like walking a tightrope with two. It’s starting to look like I’d have to give up my job and move to a neighborhood with great public schools to have another… from my perspective, a huge compromise.

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