What if we had just one more day? We will in 2016, on Monday February 29. But what if you could get extra days every year?
In 2015 I discovered something that has saved me time: 1.8 days, to be exact. How do I know? Because my virtual assistant keeps track of that for me. Virtual assistants are most commonly used among small businesses and start-ups but they are increasingly available for just anyone—educators included!
What is a virtual assistant and what can they do for you?
Definition: A virtual assistant (typically abbreviated to VA) is generally self-employed and provides professional administrative assistance remotely.
What kinds of projects can they help you with?
1) Phone Calls
This is my number one favorite way to use the VA. It can be so hard to make phone calls during the day, especially if you’re teaching. For those calls you need to make to the cable company, to set up a hair appointment, car repair, to make a dinner reservation—they can do it for you! You can set it up the night before and your VA will call during business hours.
If you’re putting together a lesson plan, a professional development presentation, or writing a blog post your VA can research for you and save you some minutes that would be spent googling. I’ve also had them create handouts asked on Powerpoint presentations, or create Google Docs and forms for me.
Some Virtual Assistants can do shopping for you. If you’re in education you are probably invited to lots of weddings and baby showers! Your VA can order your gifts for you. They can also help you with your holiday lists or upcoming birthdays. I've even had them pull outfits from my favorite stores helping minimize my decision time.
You get the book club calendar, the board meeting calendar, or you’re told that you will meet on the 1st Monday of the month for faculty meeting. Your VA can put these events in the calendar for the rest of the year. Your VA can also communicate with others to find a mutually agreed upon time.
Spring break will be here before you know it! Start researching vacation rentals, flights, rent-a-cars for your trip. With your VA you have your own personal travel agent.
There are quite a few virtual assistants out there ranging from US-based or foreign-based, and ranging from personal to business use. The one that I use, FancyHands, is perfect for my needs, but you may find others that fit with your lifestyle, especially if you are an educator with a side business! You’ll find good reviews of the sites, and referral links at Virtual Assistant Assistant.
FancyHands works well for me because it is affordable (49.99 a month for 15 requests). You can also purchase more or less. With FancyHands you don’t have one dedicated assistant, but many assistants. The task will go to the first available assistant. They keep track of how much time they’ve saved for you, including how many calls they’ve made, events scheduled, emails, etc. If you are interested in FancyHands, tell them I sent you with this Link.
We all need help every now and then. Our work is challenging, sometimes unforgiving and your time feels like it is slipping away. Start taking control of your time by delegating- if not to a VA find other ways to free up your time for yourself. You deserve it. The time that you can save by delegating is time that could be spent curled on the couch watching Netflix, hiking, coloring, blogging, or whatever you fancy!
I am bad at saying no. Just look at my calendar and you can tell that when people ask me to do things, I say yes. Saying no is extremely important for maintaining work-life-balance. It is something I am working on and am by no means expert on it. When I've made some greater milestones in the area of saying no, I'll write a blog post about it. But for now, I'd like to explore the benefits of saying yes.
Several weeks ago I was talking about TED-Ed with an educator friend of mine who is working with Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta. She mentioned that she would love for me to share what I've learned through the TED-ED Innovative Educator program with her teachers. It so happens that my project is to share TED-Ed, TED-Ed Clubs, and TEDxYouth with 500 educators. When she mentioned an Opportunity Fair for teachers on a weekend that I was free, I gladly accepted.
In the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday rush I did not pay much attention to the upcoming trip, and several days before I looked on the map to plan my trip. I was heading to Delta State University-Home of the Fighting Okra. My iPhone map placed it at 4 hours, 20 minutes away. And I was supposed to be there at 10 AM to set up. At that point I wanted to throw in the towel, call up my friend and tell her that an 8 hour trip was going to be too much and could I be excused from the program. But, because of my problems saying no and my even bigger problems with backing out of commitments, I decided to go, and I decided to make the most of it.
I convinced my boyfriend that he should join me, and that we should make a mini vacation out of it. At 5:30 AM on Saturday morning I wasn't sure he was going to make it, but he managed to get into the car. We arrived right on time and set up. During our time at the opportunity fair teachers who had never heard of the TED-Ed lessons lit up at the possibilities of using these lessons in their classrooms. We spoke with about 25 teachers, but each of those teachers is likely in a classroom with 25 students. So two hours with 25 teachers could potentially reach 625 students!
We had lunch in Cleveland, Mississippi at the Mosquito Burrito and were impressed with the small town, which seemed to have plenty to do thanks to the Keep Cleveland Boring campaign. After lunch we traveled north to Clarksdale where we checked in to our place. Due to an error on our part (booking the wrong day-oops!) the owner put us up in another, unlisted place that was set up like a Bed & Breakfast. It had all the charm of the Mississippi Delta, with juke boxes, artwork, and enough New Orleans Jazz Fest posters to make me feel at home. Although I'm fairly certain it was haunted.
We headed out to the sports bar, The Stone Pony to watch the Alabama v. Florida football game. Before we left for our trip our parents requested that we return with tamales. We had several recommendations for the same place (Larry's Hot Tamales) so we headed there for dinner and to collect the tamales to bring home. They were as good as everyone said they were. At this point we were sleepy but really wanted to check out Ground Zero Blues Club so we stopped by there on the way back to the house. We struck up a conversation with a couple who visits there every few years from Texas. The wife leaned over to me and said that she had just taken her picture with Morgan Freeman. I turned around and sure enough, Morgan Freeman was having dinner at his restaurant. The friendly couple next to us tried to get him in the back of this picture but to no avail- you'll just have to trust me.
This morning we headed in to town for Our Grandma's House Pancakes, some of the best I've ever had. Then we left the tiny town of Clarksdale and headed back home. If I hadn't said yes, and followed through on my commitment we wouldn't have seen this little corner of the world that is so fascinating, we wouldn't have had a celebrity siting, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to share great programs and resources with teachers.
While saying yes too much can be a problem, it can also create opportunities. You never know who you will meet or what doors your yes will open for you. This is a small example that only affected 24 hours of my life, but the yes phenomenon extends to larger life decisions, like when you are asked to consider a new project at work or in your city. These projects could create your next career move or introduce you to someone you will work with in the future. Whether you say yes or no, move forward without regret, and enjoy the surprises that come with your decision.
Education careers are tough. These entries are dedicated to making the lives of educators easier and empowering those who have chosen this path to reach their potential in work and life.