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Freelance science journalist Catherine Price has worked for herself almost her entire career. Since she’s always been a team of one, she never considered the possibility of hiring help.
She was vaguely familiar with the concept of virtual assistants, but she thought they were people who could help with calendar management or booking flights. The things Catherine needed a hand with weren’t logistical, so she assumed she would be doing it all by herself forever.
That is until a work trip to Amsterdam led to a chance encounter with a fellow American freelancer, Melanie. As Catherine chatted with Melanie at a shared table in a coworking space, Melanie mentioned her assistant in passing. It was like screeching brakes to Catherine’s ears—wait, what? Back up! Freelancers can have assistants?
She asked Melanie for more information, and Melanie shared she was outsourcing some of her tasks to Don’t Panic Management. As Catherine heard the details, a picture of what a future with a VA could look like began to emerge.
Catherine spoke with Don’t Panic’s Director of Calm, Jess Tyson, upon her return to the states and was shocked to hear about the wide range of tasks an assistant could help her with. She assembled a list of things she wanted to delegate, and Don’t Panic paired her with a VA for a ten-hour-per-week retainer.
Catherine and her assistant, Jenn, quickly established a cadence. They have a regular call on Mondays to touch base about projects for the week and do most other communicating via the project management tool Trello. Catherine’s scientific writing is focused on reducing screen time, so she and Jen are always looking for opportunities to automate tasks and get out of their inboxes as a way to practice what they preach.
Catherine says that working with a VA has greatly reduced her stress. And as a scientific writer with a background in physiology and the endocrine system, she understands more than most the benefits of lowering stress.
Catherine’s research lately has been focused on cortisol, the stress hormone, and how it relates to our screen time. She explores how our constant feeling of being on-call to our devices (A new email to respond to! A new Instagram tag to comment on and like!) causes our body to release cortisol long-term.
Cortisol exists for a reason—the hormone is designed to help us act in fight-or-flight situations—but chronic stress means it’s constantly released. And that has deleterious health effects, including an increased risk of heart attack, diabetes, and cancer.
Catherine not only finds personal stress-reduction benefits in working with an assistant, but her VA helps her run her Screen/Life Balance courses, designed to help others reduce stress. The benefits of hiring a VA, in Catherine’s case, are far-reaching.
Having someone to help with ongoing tasks frees Catherine up to think more about the big picture. In many instances, that’s her writing work.
In some of her free time, she discovered The Book of Delights, a series of essays by poet Ross Gay. Gay became obsessed with the idea of writing an essay a day about things that delight him. He found that paying attention to the simple delights in life helped him notice even more delights. It became a joyful positive feedback loop.
Inspired by Gay’s enthusiasm for delights, Catherine and her friends began a delight practice. Similar to a gratitude practice, it’s the act of calling out things that bring you delight throughout the day. Sharing those delightful things with others brightens everyone’s day and leads to more happiness and fun in our adult lives. The delight practice idea has been incorporated into Catherine’s upcoming book, The Power of Fun.
Making more space for creative thought, delight, and fun is not just great for stress-busting. It can lead to real business wins (and not just if you happen to write about those things). Every freelancer or entrepreneur can benefit from having more space to tap into what delights them about their work. Delight and fun are the things that keep us happy, keep us going, and keep us creative.
- Virtual assistants can do much more than logistical tasks. If you think it’s all calendar and inbox management, think again! Ask the VAs or agencies you interview about their full suite of offerings. It’s probably broader than you think.
- Be open to constantly refining your way of working with your VA. Keep the lines of communication open, and enjoy the process of finding new efficiencies together.
- Your virtual assistant is a person with thoughts, feelings, and a life outside of work. Be sure to treat them like one!
Top Quotes“I’m almost confused sometimes by having space in my head [since hiring a VA].” – @Catherine_Price on the freeing (and sometimes bewildering) feeling that comes with #delegation. Click To Tweet “You don’t recognize how bad you are until you take the stress away.” – @Catherine_Price says most modern workers are stressed. So stressed, in fact, that they don’t even see it until it’s gone. Click To Tweet “[My VA] is removing stress in a missile defense kind of way, where it didn’t actually even hit me, so I don’t even know what we’re dodging.” – @Catherine_Price on how a strong working relationship with your VA lowers #stress. Click To Tweet
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