13 Things You're Not Outsourcing (But Totally Should)

Yes, you can pay someone to read the Internet or tweet for you. Why? Well, it makes more sense than you'd believe.

Chances are you probably don't do your own taxes, you might even pay someone to mow your lawn or walk your dog while you are at work. But plenty of other tasks can clog your schedule, and keep you from focusing at work or enjoying your downtime at home. Fortunately, a little spare change, deployed strategically, can make a big difference in your life.

Here are 13 things you’re probably not delegating, but should consider getting off your plate*:

1. Web surfing.

Wait, you say--isn’t trolling the Internet one of the major perks of white collar life? It is, but the web is a big place. I constantly need fodder for stories, so I work with someone who scours the web for tidbits I’d find interesting. That way, I only plunge down the rabbit hole when I really want to. If it’s important in your line of work to be well-read, you might consider getting help on that reading. For research or clerical help, generally, you can search at Elance or oDesk, or check if any local universities run job boards.

2. Social media posting.

Building a personal brand is time consuming. While you should respond personally to people you’re getting to know in your networks, you can pay someone else to find interesting content to share. A number of “social media management” businesses (e.g. Ghost Tweeting) can take this on, as can social media savvy sole proprietors.

3. Chores your cleaning service doesn’t do.

Sure, that team scrubs down the kitchen weekly. But what about everything else? Christine Hennebury, a writer in Newfoundland, reports that she’s paid friends and acquaintances to take down and box up her Christmas decorations, bring recycled and donated household goods to the right places, re-shelve books, etc. “I have a number of friends who are in college or between jobs so I will often hire them to do these things,” she says. “I think many people may not realize who they know who could use a few extra dollars--coworkers or coworkers’ kids, older children of friends, friends of siblings, that sort of thing.” If you've already got a regular babysitter or petsitter, that person might be willing to take on some extra tasks.

4. Waiting.

Even though I work from home, I have noticed that it is inevitably during the 20 minutes I’m on the phone with someone I’ve been trying to track down all day that the dishwasher repair guy shows up. If you can’t be distracted, find someone else to run interference--or to sit around at your house if you need to be at the office. You can also outsource phone calls that will require a painful quantity of time spent on hold.

5. Editing.

Because everyone has to write a bit here and there, most people think they’re pretty good at it. This delusion is responsible for plenty of painful cover letters, industry publication articles, company newsletters and the like. In this era when whatever you write can follow you around online for eternity, it pays to find an underemployed English grad student and make sure your nouns and verbs agree (got a longer project? Mediabistro has a list of freelance editors, mostly with book editing experience).

6. Running your life while you’re on vacation.

Andrea Arena, president and CEO of the concierge service 2 Places at 1 Time, says that “Many people have given up going on vacation because of all the personal ‘to dos’ that pile up during their absence. So, our clients don’t only leverage their 2 Places At 1 Time concierge team to plan the most memorable trip, but also have us water the plants, care for the pets, stock their refrigerator, pick up prescriptions, bring in the mail, meet contractors at the home, and take their vehicles in for service/cleaning all while they are relaxing on the beach!”

7. Giving better gifts.

Arena also notes that “We hand deliver personalized gifts to loved ones all over the U.S. and take photos or videos of the surprised and appreciative recipient to share with the gift giver who is usually residing in another state.”

8. Shopping for items you always need.

Pushing a shopping cart around a grocery store every Saturday to buy the exact same cereal and sliced turkey you bought last week is enormously inefficient. But even if online grocery shopping hasn’t made it to your neck of the woods, you can still outsource part of it. Jennifer Kennedy, the California-based founder of Teach Good Stuff (an online course development company), reports that “We signed up for a fruit and vegetable delivery service that delivers a box of fresh healthy foods to our door twice a month.” She’s also a member of three different wine clubs, which deliver new-to-her bottles regularly. Put together, these services mean that when she does go shopping, “I’m in and out, which is good because I hate going to the grocery store.”

9. That project you started but didn’t finish.

I recently learned there’s a cottage industry of people who finish quilts that ambitious but unrealistic crafters start (for the best leads, ask at the fabric or craft store where you bought your materials). There are all kinds of other items that fit in this category: The train set you thought you’d set up for your kid before you realized you were missing key pieces. The back yard shed you started building before you got busy at work. Seeing a half-finished project every day can drain your energy as part of you thinks you should be tackling it. Whatever it is, someone else can see it through.

10. Party planning.

Parties are a wonderful way to nurture social ties. They can even advance your career, but people don’t host them because they’re a ton of work. Next time, don’t just hire a caterer, hire someone who will choose caterers, monitor guest responses, make sure your house is sparkling and becomes sparkling again afterwards. When all you have to do is get dressed, you’re in for a great time.

11. Meal prep.

Believe it or not, this one can be a money saver. In a few hours, a personal chef can prepare a few weeks’ worth of meals for your household and load it all into the freezer. If you know that a tasty dinner will be ready for you after a few minutes in the microwave, you probably won’t eat out as often. Obviously, you could spend a few weekend hours cooking, too, but let’s be honest here. You won’t.

12. Selling your junk.

A potential money maker. Your old skis, bikes, and dinette set might be worth something on Craigslist or eBay, but you’ll never get around to setting that up. Pay someone to do it for you and you’ll finally free up the cash.

13. Helping your family (sort of).

You should obviously attend to serious matters involving older relatives. But if you’re slacking on the little niceties because you’re busy, maybe it’s time to enlist someone else. Nick W. Ramirez, VP for Business Development at Red Butler, a concierge service, reports that “Many of our members receive calls from their parents needing help with their computers, mobile phones, travel bookings or general assistance.” A concierge service can tackle these requests, and help keep the peace within your family.

*Obligatory note of caution: Hiring people can be a complicated business, even for casual labor. Payments to a business (e.g. a party planning company or a concierge service) are pretty straightforward. If people can do a task as they like, and with reasonable control over their hours, they may qualify as independent contractors. However, someone who comes to your house for eight hours a week at a time you specify may be an employee, and subject to the usual payroll taxes and withholding requirements. Check with your accountant or an employment lawyer if you’re not sure.

[Image: Flickr user Jinx!]

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6 Comments

  • Laura, it all seems very efficient and wise advice. However, I can't help thinking that this stuff goes too far, verging on outsourcing the essence of life itself. Looking at the values it prioritizes, it really seems that such an approach is squarely focused on making us efficient productivity units. All fine it that's what you're into, but I prefer a bit of balance and taking responsibility for tasks that don't have a measurable ROI

  • Tim, I take it you don't have kids. I gladly hire someone to do may of the things on this list so that I can spend more quality time with my children. I can't quit my job, but I can get others to do the more mundane chores that take me away from family time.

    -Erik J.

  • Yep, I've got kids - and wouldn't like to role model a life where I get "the help" to do things like meal prep, taking down the xmas decorations, helping grandma fix her computer...Lot's of the suggestions are things the kids can be involved in, so they grow up appreciating the tasks involved in running a household. Some people may choose to live their life the way the article suggests, but I'm up for more balance.