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An Imaginary Friend
For the past few months I have had a little imaginary friend that does all the annoying things that I don’t want to do. Ya know thinks like: make appointments, research things on the web, call this person or place for me to find an answer on something and even copy and paste something over and over and over again.
After they finish each one of my little tasks they send me a neat little email with the summarizing results from whatever task I gave them to do.
Sounds crazy, but I can’t tell you how much more productive I have been by getting all these silly little things off my plate.
What the hell am I talking about?
Over the winter (shortly after I built this Young Architect website) I started using a little service on the web called Fancy Hands. Fancy Hands is a virtual assistance subscription service that does small tasks, which take about 15 minutes. It works like this.
I send Fancy Hands a task either by logging into their site, email or by leaving them a voicemail. Just for an example say my task is something like:
Subj: Find exterior Pictures of a building in Portland Oregon
Hey Fancy Hands,
I am working on an architecture project. Can you find me as many pictures of the building located at 2023 NW Hoyt St, Portland Oregon? The building is also called the William Temple House. Shots that show as much of the exterior of the building are gold. Interior shots are of no use to me.
Please send me the JPGS. Include the screen shots from google earth and maps, but also look elsewhere on the web.
Feel free to ask any questions.
Thanks so much.
– Michael Riscica
This request then sits on the Fancy Hands server where it waits for someone to pick it up, do the work and email me the results.
After the task is completed they send me an email, which sends a notification to my phone and updates my account on their website with the results from that task.
20 minutes later, I got back a .zip file containing the files I requested above.
Why can’t I research this building myself? Why am I wasting other people’s time with my petty problems?
Heres why I am using fancy hands for as much as I can.
I am insanely busy
In an average week, I attend between 5-15 meetings, make routine site visits at various locations, and meet with many different people. I need help. Often, I call fancy hands while I’m running from one meeting to the next asking them to make a call or look something up that I just don’t have time for.
I get distracted
Looking for pictures of a building on the internet? Sure it sounds simple enough. But I guarantee you it will take me twice as long to accomplish this task than someone who isn’t invested in the process. I’m a sucker for being derailed by something while I am in pursuit of an answer. I have learned that letting someone else vet the information as a first pass is more effective process. These small 15 minute minutia tasks are derailing me from getting larger, more important work done.
Sometimes I need a fresh point of view
A lesson I learned a long time ago early in my architecture career is that when you have been working on and looking at the same drawing for many hours at a time there could be a very blatant and obvious error on the drawing, but because you have been looking at the drawing for long time You just can’t see it. Are you a bad Drafter or Architect? No! definitely not. But I bet if you walked away and came back a few hours later you would immediately notice that error.
Fancy Hands has been a great place for me to run something past someone with a fresh point of view to make sure that something I wrote makes sense. (PS – that was just an example, I doubt Fancy Hands can check your Architecture drawings. But you can try it and let me know how it works out.)
My Small Tasks
Here is a short list of some of the things I have Fancy Hands doing for me.
- Research the purchase of a laptop that meets 10 different requirements.
- Create a list of quotes on various topics.
- Find the lowest price of a product I am looking to purchase.
- Find the number for the building department in this town, call them to see if they have building permit records on this property.
- Find a local store that has a certain product.
- Help me narrow down when to take my vacation by looking at the cost of flights.
- Find me the cheapest non-stop flight that works best for my schedule.
- Can you call NCARB and ask them this question I had about the Architect Registration Exam.
- Make a dinner reservation for 7:30pm, if that doesn’t work then call these 2 other restaurants.
- Call the print shop, send them this PDF and tell them I want 50% scale prints in black and white. Print and bind 4 sets. I will pick up tomorrow at 11am , they can bill my account. Give them my cell to call if they have any questions or problems.
- Proofreading professional emails that I have spent a great deal of time crafting.
- Fancy Hands has proofread all blog posts written on this site. Yep, even this one.
- Search the internet for the office number of Mr. Engineer and tell him that I need to cancel our afternoon meeting, but reschedule for next week.
- Search the web and find out who designed the building at 2023 NW Hoyt.
- Call my 5 local art supplies stores and find out which one has this specific glue.
- Research which dog food I should be buying.
- Help me find answers to my never ending cell phone problems.
Fancy Hands will not balance your checkbook, write your term paper or do your taxes. But they could definitely help in the process of doing all those things. Each task you give them must be limited to 15 minutes. If they think the task will take longer than the 15 minutes, they will ask you to either break it up into multiple tasks or if they should just still do as much as they can in 15 minutes.
I recently had fancy hands copy and paste a ton of information from a website into a Google drive spreadsheet. It took me 4 tasks to get the whole thing done, but I just told them each time to pick up where the last person left off and that they should just do as much as they can.
Sometimes it just takes 2 or 3 tasks to get something done. When I booked my recent east coast visit, it took me 3 tasks to nail down the combination of flights and costs to purchase.
The Price Breakdown
Fancy hands has 3 membership levels.
Before I started I broke it down like this.
5 tasks X 15 minutes = 45 minutes ÷ $25/month = $33/hr
15 tasks X 15 minutes = 3 hours 45 min ÷ $45/month = 12/hr
25 tasks X 15 minutes = 6 hours 15 min ÷ $65/month = $10.40/hr
If you’re interested, here’s a link to get the first month half off.
When I started I decided to just jump in head first and do the 25 tasks a month. Since the first month was half off anyway, I used them all more as an experiment in working with this service. During that time our love affair was born.
I usually use most of the tasks each month. If I don’t use them they carry over to the next month and Fancy Hands also allows you to send tasks to your friends as a gift.
It’s not perfect… And neither are you.
80% of the time Fancy Hands is awesome and I have no complaints. However, several times it’s screwed me up by:
- The website was down when I really needed it.
- The Assistant didn’t follow my directions completely and had to redo the task. .
- Once, my task sat for 2 days before it was picked up and completed. Luckily this was only once.
- They proofread a blog post but didn’t upload the right file.
- They used some weird 3rd party software that didn’t track their changes on my word file.
In all situations, when Fancy Hands has screwed up, they have always done whatever it took to make the situation right in the end.
Several times early on they gave me back something that I didn’t expect. I went back and realized I gave them crappy or incomplete instructions and they actually did exactly what I was looking for.
Garbage in = garbage out. OK, lesson learned. Task wasted.
This helped me figure out what I really needed, so I just resubmitted a better written task.
- Fancy Hands Virtual Assistants are all US based. I feel comfortable with them calling one of my contacts and setting up an appointment for me.
- Super easy to use. Login with Facebook or Google. Submit tasks via website, phone app, email or phone call.
- Unused tasks carryover to the next month. Email me if you want to try it. I can gift you one, if I have an extra task to spare.
- The first month is ½ price just to get you addicted.
- You can give Fancy Hands access to your Google Calendar, Evernote, Base Camp, Facebook, Trello and Asana accounts.
- You can give your assistant a name so when they interact with your contacts, phone or email, they are always using the same name, even though it’s probably a different assistant each time.
- 80% of the time the work gets turned around in less than an hour.
- They recently added recurring tasks that happen automatically on a schedule.
- Fancy Hands is an awesome introduction into the world of using Virtual Assistants.
- They will not make purchases for me. Although I heard a rumor this is changing.
- The work is limited to 15 minutes. This forces me to be creative breaking up larger tasks into smaller increments.
- There is definately a learning curve to using this service. It took me a while to figure out how and where I could implement this service into my life. The more I use it, the better I’m getting at finding places for them to help me out.
You’ll never get it all done.
At this moment in time I’m working a full time day job, starting my own architecture practice, writing a weekly blog post, building 2 other websites, I make it to yoga 3-4 times a week, have a fairly active social life (for an Architect) and I go hiking and exploring with my Labrador on the weekends. I have a lot on my plate at the moment and I really need help. There is absolutely no way I can ever build the empire that I’m manifesting, without an army of helpers.
One of the hardest things for me has been accepting that I need help and letting go of this idea that I need to do everything myself. But this is my new reality and I’m starting to see that by not doing everything myself, I can accomplish much bigger and worthier pursuits.
If you have any questions feel free to email or comment below. Shoot me an email if you want to try out Fancy Hands, I’ll gift you a task if I have extra to spare.