At any given time, there’s just so much to do. It can be overwhelming to think you personally have to do it all. Outsourcing to others frees you from tasks you dislike, resent, procrastinate about, can’t do effectively or that cause fights with your partner.
An extract from Life Admin Hacks by Mia Northrop and Dinah Rowe-Roberts
No idea how to patch, colour-match and paint holes in the wall? Get someone in.
No time to compare energy providers to save on bills? Call a professional.
Sick of the stalemate over the state of the windows? Leave it to the experts.
Outsourcing is not only about delegating things we don’t know how to do, but also making more time for the things we love. When you know what’s important to you, decisions about how you should spend your time and money become clearer. You can spend your money on convenience and support if they help you to be happier. And the evidence shows that working adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than a material one.
Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of paying others to do life admin tasks and jobs around the home.
It’s easy to get judgmental about how others spend, and to think that outsourcing is the domain of society’s privileged. This is especially true when gauging people’s double standards around outsourcing traditionally female tasks, such as making birthday cakes or babyproofing the home, versus traditional male tasks, such as cleaning the gutters or mowing the lawn.
It’s also easy to fall into the comparison trap and get a case of the ‘shoulds’. I should find the time to clean my own house and walk the dog each day and work out how to do my own tax return.
This pressure may even come from a partner, if they have different expectations about spending money or what you take care of yourself. The lesson: everyone’s needs, expertise and resources are different.
Benefits of outsourcing
The benefits of outsourcing include:
- increasing your productivity by getting more done
- improving your peace of mind by knowing tasks are being completed, potentially at a higher quality
- saving time for more precious activities
- contributing to household harmony by removing the friction caused by workload imbalance or incomplete
Explore what you can outsource
Thanks to the growth of task-request websites, virtual assistants and business marketplaces, you can find someone who will attend to your tasks, no matter how wacky (within the bounds of legality and decency, of course). If necessary, batch the work so you have a decent-sized job for someone to do.
You can outsource tasks to people on a one-off or regular basis, including:
- car washing
- dog walking and washing
- gardening and lawn care
- home repair and maintenance
- meal and grocery delivery
But did you know individuals offer their time and services to do other things? Such as:
- Organise your receipts
- Sell stuff on eBay
- Alter school uniforms
- Make a custom birthday cake
- Provide technical support for computers or other tech
- Prep bulk dinners for the month
- Declutter your garage
- Comparison shop your home loan, energy plan and insurance policy
- Assemble flatpack furniture
- Babyproof your house
- Create photo albums
- Make binders of kids’ artworks
- Research travel options and book arrangements
You may read this list and wince or roll your eyes, wondering who would think to pay for these tasks and how they can afford it. Two things are at play here:
- Raising your awareness of what is possible to outsource will help you get creative about how best to use your available time; and
- Understanding that everyone has different values, beliefs, priorities and skills. One person may find cleaning calming and satisfying, and prefer to spend money on buying their kid’s birthday cake, while another is handy enough to put together furniture quickly, but isn’t tech savvy to make a photobook with confidence.
Financial means are just part of the equation. For most of us, outsourcing doesn’t usually come from an ‘I can’t be bothered’ place; it’s usually a solution to needing more help.
Decide what is worth outsourcing for you
There are certain tasks we just don’t know how to do, or that are risky to get wrong. Other tasks are simply too big for us to take on, or we don’t have the resources to do them. And for some tasks, we’re not sure whether outsourcing is the way to go. Most of us can’t afford to outsource with abandon, which means making trade-offs. In these situations, ask yourself two things:
- How much is my time worth?
- What are all the costs involved?
On one side is the financial cost and mental labour of engaging someone. On the other side are non-monetary costs: the emotional and physical effort, and the opportunity cost of not using the time to do something else. When it comes to money, people can make irrational decisions. Your emotions and biases can result in flawed decision-making. You need to account for how much happiness or meaning a task adds to your life, or how much disharmony or stress not having it done, or doing it with resentment, creates for you.
You could spend less time working on things you don’t enjoy and spend more time embracing activities that nourish and maximise your wellbeing – such as spending time with your family or friends, learning something, or exercising. After all, how you spend your time reflects your values.
How Mia does it
I use an accountant to prepare my tax return, which reassures me they’re maximising deductions and gives me wriggle room if I’m filing late. The fee is also tax deductible, which makes it feel like it’s free.
From time to time, I also use a financial planner to provide advice about major money decisions such as superannuation, investments, estate planning and loans. I don’t have the inclination or time to do the thorough research needed to perform due diligence on these matters, so I’m happy to pay to access someone else’s expertise.
I’ve employed cleaners on and off over the years, depending on my workload and the size of my house. Basically, the frequency changes depending on the messiness of my children. When my kids were toddlers and every meal created a splatter painting under their highchairs, and nightly baths left rings around the tub, the weekly clean was essential. Now, they resist showers half the time and their meals mostly stay in their mouths or on the plates, so fortnightly is fine.
Some cleaners charged me less if I supplied the cleaning materials. This was a false saving because I had to spend time laundering cloths and stocking supplies. I wanted to disengage from the task entirely, so I swapped to an agency. Agencies will organise a replacement if your cleaner takes annual leave, sick leave or leaves cleaning altogether.
I’ve outsourced updating my CV, which was revelatory. They ensured it met the latest format and content standards, and saved me from hours of wordsmithing. The fee was worth it to land a higher-paying job.
I also recently got some help with assembling flatpack furniture. After staring at the instructions and stepping over boxes for days, while feelings of anxiety rumbled, I posted an ad. A pair of uni students in tool belts were at my house 24 hours later, and put the thing together in 45 minutes. Best $70 I ever spent.
How Dinah does it
I abhor cleaning so we’ve almost always had a cleaner. The few times we’ve been without a cleaner, I have less time to meal plan and cook, which results in more takeaway and lots of family disputes … a real false economy. I also prefer working full-time to cleaning the house and my husband feels the same. Our cleaner was who I missed most during the COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne!
We use a local garden service to do a major garden prune twice a year. This means we don’t have to invest in a ladder and the other equipment required, and I don’t have to hold the ladder and worry about my husband breaking bones or butchering our trees.
We also use a window-cleaning service for the same reason. We have a two-storey home, and considering the safety issues and equipment required, this is a no-brainer. They also clean the gutters at the same time for a little extra cost. This takes another item off our home maintenance to-do list.
We use a local handyman for small repair jobs around the house, including hanging pictures. This used to be a source of tension in our house, because I don’t feel confident hanging pictures but my husband doesn’t share my sense of urgency to hang a picture as soon as it is framed. He thought it wasteful to outsource picture hanging, which he could easily do himself … when he got around to it! Yet, when the handyman arrived, armed with specialist picture-hanging tools, and my husband saw what a good job he did, he was sold!
In the past, I’ve also outsourced furniture buying. We were moving into a new house after living overseas for years, so we needed a lot of new things. A friend recommended an interior designer who could source furniture cost-effectively. I was working full-time with two small children, so outsourcing this was a huge time-saver. The designer reviewed the plans then came to us with a shortlist of items. We didn’t have to do any research, just make the final decisions.