Operator, Magic, Pana, and more new personal assistant apps are applying technology such as natural language processing and machine learning to a traditionally low-tech space. Outsourcing work to online assistants has been around a long time, but only recently, with the application of new technologies and user experiences, has the concept of personal outsourcing started to catch on with a wider audience.
To shed some light on how people make use on-demand personal assistance, we analyzed and categorized thousands of user requests. Then, we took a look at what it is about these requests that makes them good candidates to outsource to an assistant and what types of requests are not as helpful when outsourced. Requests are submitted mostly by busy professionals and entrepreneurs to assistants who can help with calls, research, and other short tasks that can be handled by an intelligent multi-talented assistant.
Their requests broke down into the following main categories:
Finding detailed answers or solutions to unique questions and problems facing users, e.g.
- Put together a list of all the startup fairs and weekends coming up in the next few months
- Find all the daycare options between my house and office and set up visits for any mornings I’m free in the next two weeks
- Figure out the whitewater rafting options near NYC including distance and price
Deal with Customer Service
Contact customer service on behalf of users, e.g.
- Call Delta to get my iPad back that I left on my last flight
- Deal with the warranty process on my laptop that just died
- Cancel my handy.com subscription
Product & Service Info
Find, research, and/or order products and services, e.g.
- Call around to find my favorite wine in stock near my apartment
- Find out pricing and how long it would take to make a dozen custom decorated cupcakes from a few bakeries near me
Personal & Work Projects
Misc. projects lasting ~1-10 hours where users want some extra help, e.g.
- Put together a list of blogs and other sites that write about new consumer hardware, along with their Facebook and Twitter followers.
- Create a Survey Monkey survey out of these questions
Reservations & Entertainment
Find and book restaurants, appointments, and entertainment, e.g.
- I need to find a restaurant for next weekend that can host a birthday dinner with 25 people, around $20 a plate, and has vegetarian options. Private room a plus.
- I’m looking for a place in Austin that does kids’ birthday parties, and can do a space and aliens theme
Outsourcing Tasks: What Works & What Doesn’t
The requests above share three common attributes:
This is a task that you need to get done, but when you think about doing it, you wish someone else could just take care of it for you. They’re time-consuming, boring, or simply annoying. Perfect candidates for tasks to outsource.
Low Requirement for Perfection
No one will be able to complete a task for you as well as you could do it for yourself. You need to be comfortable with this, and then figure out which tasks you’re okay not being perfect. If someone is gathering information for you, and gets 90% of what you’re looking for, is that enough, or do you really need 100%?
The best tasks to outsource are the ones that don’t require preferences to be taken into consideration, and instead rely on requirements that must be met. This is why the example request to find a restaurant for a birthday party works – there are a lot of objective conditions to be met for the request to be considered successfully completed. On the other hand, a similar but poor request would be to ask your assistant to simply find you a fun and interesting restaurant for a date. There is too much subjectivity and personal preference in that request and the odds of coming back with a good outcome are slim to none.
In the comments below, let me know what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for you when trying to offload more from your to-do list. What’s been the most helpful? Do you follow any personal guidelines when outsourcing?