Friday, April 11, 2008

Hari Today, Gone Tomorrow

As part of my New Year’s Resolution to “Spend More” with hopes of making life easier, I hired a personal assistant this January from Ask Sunday. I’ve found it easier to call my assistants (it’s a rotating queue, you don’t have a 1:1 assignment) “Hari” instead of “My personal Ask Sunday assistant”. Trust me, it’s more fun, and you can say things to your friends like “I’ll have Hari buy the concert tickets” and not sound completely pretentious (just a little racist).

Three months in I decided to stop my service. The subscription rate at $30 a month for 30 tasks is reasonable, but I found myself not using all 30 making the 15 tasks I did use suddenly worth $2 instead of $1. Moreover, the ultimate factor in my decision came down to the quality of the service. Having Hari at my disposal was awesome; the second I started I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom, I could get someone else to do all the tasks someone sitting in front of a computer and a phone in India can manage. See examples here.

Here’s a sample of my personal requests:

1. I recently flew on ATA airlines 12/20/07. I am currently not a member of their frequent flier club. I would like to become one. Can you find out: 1. If the flight I took on 12/20/07 will count towards my miles if I join their frequent flier club sometime this week? Then, can you sign me up as a member, regardless of the answer?

2. I'd like to file business in the state of California, USA, as a "LLC" and I'd like to know the following: How much does it cost to do this? How long does the whole process take, from start to finish? What next steps should I take?

3. Organize my Delicious links

4. Buy concert tickets (did this about 4 times)

5. Finding out the recommended dishes at a restaurant I was eating at for the first time (yelp, google reviews)

6. Airfare Research

7. Tahoe Snow Shoe research

8. Book a hotel

9. Hoga Camera research

10. Ordering books on Amazon

Ultimately, Hari was awesome on some of these requests, but struck out on many of them. Pretty soon the strikes were becoming a buzz kill, and it got to the point where the effort I had to put into explaining a task didn’t make it out worth it. The amazing high that came from knowing I had a reliable 24-hour assistant died down once this became clearer, diminishing the service’s value to me.

The main downfall was their lack of a higher level understanding of the ultimate goals of my requests. They would often find out the minimal amount of information, then stop there, or be completely off. For example, the clear description I gave to have them organize my delicious links (there was more detail in the actual request) were pretty much ignored and an easier non-sensible organization was implemented. If they were thrown any ounce of a curve-ball they got thrown off: my credit card on record was different from the one I requested them to use, strike. They sometimes didn’t use the specific password I requested when creating new accounts, strike. They e-mailed only me when I wanted them to e-mail other people with the results as well, strike. On two different occasions they conference me into calls I had them make when the people on the other line didn’t understand their request.

And yes, I admit, in some of my requests I could have been more detailed, and didn’t include handy phrases like “If X, find other alternatives” and “If it costs $X more dollars to buy, go ahead, no need to contact me” but writing a small novel for every request ultimately defeats the purpose. For a good overview of details your personal assistant should know go here. (Having rotating assistants through a service like Ask Sunday doesn’t really loan itself to that deep 1:1 assistant bonding.)

Overall it was a fun experiment I’d encourage others to try. Along with the initial buzz: “I am a free women, I float on air, no longer weighed down by life’s mundane chores” and the rush of productivity it inspires: “I can be two places at once—I can order symphony tickets from bed, get directions at 2am from my car, have someone else jump any hurdle for me” it lead to bigger considerations like confronting the social responsibility of off-shoring my dirty work to India, the unexpected personal dynamics of having an assistant and the reaction of telling others you have one (worth a blog post alone), and most of all, what this freedom actually frees me up to accomplish.

I just sent my last request to dear Hari, it read: “cancel my Ask Sunday subscription”. Within minutes I received a confirmation e-mail; the deed was done. I felt a pang of sadness and loss. I’ll miss you, Hari.


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