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More and more busy people are using virtual assistants — freelance administrative workers who do their jobs remotely — to lighten their workloads. Hiring a VA, though, isn’t an instant fix for your productivity. So how do you make the most of a virtual assistant? Reader Dave Williams of True Simple recently contacted me with just that question: Do you have any references or guidance on how to maximize using an executive assistant? I have a virtual EA and I am totally underutilizing her. I have never worked with an EA before, and I know from executive colleagues that they have them doing a ton of work for them. I aspire to delegate more and would love some kind of guidance on how.

Dave is on the right track: Delegating gives you more time to focus on your most important work. But, like him, you may not have much experience with delegating. Offices have cut back on support staff. And with technology, we can perform a lot of tasks on our own that used to primarily fall to admins. You may be used to little chores like completing expense reports or making travel reservations. But they aren’t the best use of your time. To make the most of a virtual assistant, first identify the tasks you can take off your own plate. The T.E.S.S.T. process from my book Personal Productivity Secrets can help you with this. After you’ve determined that something — for example, an email — requires action, ask yourself, “Could my virtual assistant do this for me?” If your answer is “yes,” that’s great! Email your virtual assistant to assign the task. But, if your answer is “no,” take a second to push back against your mental resistance to delegating.  The real answer is probably more of a “yes, but …”: Yes, but she wouldn’t do it as well as I do. Yes, but I don’t think she has those skills. Yes, but I’d need to train her and I don’t have time. Keep a running list of these items you plan to delegate but that you don’t feel comfortable simply passing along to your virtual assistant. For each, note the date you’d like to have it completed. My process for setting due dates helps with this step. Now, schedule some time with your virtual assistant to go over these tasks. It’s more efficient to tackle them all in one sitting instead of communicating with your VA as each one comes up. There may be a lot of tasks you need him/her to get up to speed on right off the bat. If that’s the case, schedule standing weekly meetings so you can cover a few tasks at a time. Sometimes the due date for a task will come around before you’ve had a chance to speak to your virtual assistant about it. When that happens, set up a screen share (via Skype, Google Hangouts, or another video service) while you do the task yourself, so that you can simultaneously teach it to your VA.

Get Specialized Help

This process will help you make the most of your virtual assistant by giving him or her the training needed to do the tasks you assign. Sometimes, though, it makes more sense to work with an additional remote worker (or workers) with the specialized skills you need. Besides two virtual support staffers, I have a writer, a designer and a webmaster on retainer. I use the Facebook group Austin Freelance Gigs to find freelancers with the skills I need. You could also use a national freelance marketplace like Upwork. If you’re not used to having support staff, you might have to remind yourself for a while that just because you can do something yourself doesn’t mean you should. But once you get comfortable with delegating and your VA gets comfortable with the tasks you assign, you’ll see the payoffs.