Technology Faves for Personal Assistants

Technology can make us much more efficient in our jobs, yet it's constantly evolving and takes time to keep up. So I'm writing a series of articles this summer on favorite technologies. First up, Personal Assistants. The recommendations this month came from one client and two PAs themselves.

  • Kathryn is one of my favorite clients. She's a tech founder and busy mom of two children in San Francisco. 
  • Laura Torres is a UC Berkeley graduate who has assisted professionals for 11 years in both corporate and private settings. She has her finger on the pulse of many things in San Francisco and beyond. 
  • Another tech savvy, smart and poised PA, Erin Cochran, has been in the industry for eight years and is a UCSB graduate. She takes on seemingly impossible requests and makes things happen. 

Your mileage may vary

There are many, many options in every category. One person's favorite doesn't even make the list for someone else. So the best I can suggest is give them a try, and if you've tried an app or site previously maybe give it another chance.

As Laura said, "the best tool is the one you will use successfully......there are so many fascinating apps and services and sometimes I wonder if the pressure to be cutting edge can become a distraction."

To-do list

  • Google Docs. Erin and Laura both recommended Google Docs. Erin says, "For to-do lists shared with employers I've found that Google docs are GREAT for sharing project lists and updates and for keeping reference info handy (accounts, frequent flier numbers, addresses). If a colleague gets an update she can enter it, or if a credit card is cancelled it can be updated, or if a holiday cards list needs address changes, etc. and it serves as great legacy doc.
  • Outlook. Erin also described how she "flags emails in Outlook and sets a 'due date' if the subject or task is still open, though I've learned this isn't ideal if I get buried in emails."
  • Excel. Erin recommends Excel for tracking big projects, "like a renovation of a guest house."
  • Wunderlist is Laura's favorite. She says, "I have this on my Mac and on my iPhone, although I use it primarily on my laptop. My client and I can both log into the app and add, edit, update etc. Wunderlist allows me to capture tasks and keep a live to-do list while not being too visually complicated.  When I look at the app, all I see is the to-do list.  I can add notes, deadlines, links, attachments, whatever other information needs to go in that file and it all remains hidden unless I open up the 'project.'" It also has a Post It like feature. "When you are done you check a box and with a lovely 'ping' it disappears...almost as fun as wadding up a post it and tossing it across the room into the trash can.  But, unlike post its, you can pull all the notes out of completed tasks and remember everything if you need it.
  • Asana is popular in multi-staffed households and is used at Kathryn's home.

On the phone

Laura and Erin both had favorite apps for staying on top of everything when they're on the go.

  • Laura is a "huge fan" of Evernote. While I have this on my laptop and phone, I actually use this one more on my phone. The main help I get from Evernote is filing on the fly.  I can create files that I can dump things into while super busy or preoccupied and I can still find them later.  This is great for photographing receipts, business cards and random recommendations people give you in the strangest places. I use this a lot for my personal life as well (e.g. books I want to read, films, articles, really anything I want to revisit when I have time).
  • Notes. Erin says, "I use Notes on my iPhone quite a bit if I'm running around and not at computer or with pen/paper. I send the notes to my email and pop into a task/project list if applicable."

Document and File Management

  • Kathryn's family uses Google Drive for sharing of documents (e.g. service provider lists).
  • Erin says, "Dropbox is great for docs and photos. When I did the wrap for a custom race car I kept everything in Dropbox to hold the large art files and track versions of designs. It's great for event photos too. Everyone uploaded their photos afterwards for one party I did last summer, and not only was it great for sharing the photos but I made a book for the employer that they LOVED."

Home management

  • Groceries. All three have used Instacart. Kathryn says apparently "they do not mark up the groceries from Whole Foods. So, you pay for delivery and tip." Erin says she's using "Instacart and Good Eggs at work for on-demand delivery." However, when Laura's placed orders with Instacart for her clients she "got so many texts and calls from youngsters who clearly had never shopped or cooked that it just felt more work than it was worth." But she says "I don't think my POV is representative of most people's experiences."
  • Travel. Erin says she hasn't found an app she loves yet. "One big benefit is the ability to update in real time so if the yacht charter itinerary gets thrown on its head due to weather I can revise it accordingly and saves me from having to send several emails or do phone calls at 3am my time when it's daytime in Greece. I tried Travefy for that trip and it was okay but not stellar. For travel, Erin has used Outlook to track travel for different people in the family and says its "good for reminders about commercial flight check-ins."
  • Courier and shipping. Kathryn says "we will often use Shyp, especially for returns." Erin hasn't used it, but says she's "heard good things about Shyp!" Erin also says "Postmates is good for courier needs and for food or anything else to be delivered in SF." She's found that many people don't know they do courier deliveries.

What are your favorites?

Please add a comment below to share your experience with any of these technologies, and others you'd recommend.