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Automation vs. Virtual Assistance: The Best Ways to Tackle Your To-Do List


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

5 minute read

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Entrepreneurs are working longer and harder than ever before, with almost half working 50 hours per week or more. Not only that, 85% of entrepreneurs report working nights and weekends, trading quality time with family for long hours working on their business.

I remember this all too well. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to do everything yourself, you think you can do everything better and faster than anyone else because no one knows your business as well as you do. But if you are sacrificing much-needed downtime or neglecting your personal relationships, there must be a better way!

Luckily, there is. Automation and virtual assistance are two of the best tools at our disposal for getting the most done each day. But what's the difference? Which tasks need human context, and which can be handled by technology?


There are many tasks within your business that are suitable for automation. Although you won’t be able to automate every time-consuming task in your day, certain processes can run more efficiently when they're automated. Take order tracking, for example: it's much easier to let a computer program keep track of when orders are placed, when shipments go out, when they've been delivered, and so on, rather than manually inputting all this information into a spreadsheet yourself. As well as sales records, other forms of automation include:

  • Marketing automation
  • Email
  • CRM tools

But if you don’t have the resources or the technical know-how to automate your processes, don’t worry. Not everyone does, and that’s fine.

Task Management Apps and Tools

There's a huge variety of task management apps and tools on the market these days. It would be impractical to list them all in this article, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Email marketing

With platforms such as MailChimp or SendinBlue, you can easily create branded marketing or transactional emails with their libraries of templates and customizable options, send them to different customer or client databases, and clearly track their results.

Customer service

Zendesk offers AI-powered bots to deal with common queries, and HappyFox’s automation systems can help your customers receive quicker responses.

Business workflows

Zapier can be integrated with over 3,000 apps and tools your business uses, to create workflows without any need for coding.

Virtual Assistance

A virtual assistant is a great solution for entrepreneurs who are strapped for time and need to keep their business running at full speed. Virtual assistants are dedicated to managing your repetitive daily tasks, from managing your calendar to chasing late payments to booking travel arrangements. This time saved can then be better spent on more important things, without the risk of working overtime to get everything done.

Virtual assistants should be utilized for tasks that need a human touch, such as:

  • Scheduling
  • Research
  • Document preparation
  • Content writing
  • Social media management

When using virtual assistants, it is important to have a strong line of communication and always provide clear and detailed instructions for them to best complete your tasks.

The Best of Both Worlds: Blending Automation and Assistance

For some tasks, using a blend of automation and virtual assistance will produce the best results. Plus, your assistant will love you forever if you can automate some things for them!

A classic case where blending the two is optimal is the processing of email. Filtering obvious junk or spam, emails with the same subject line every time, etc, can be easily automated, but your assistant can then use their knowledge and your instructions to organize the remaining emails as you would like, and even reply on your behalf. This way, time has not been wasted on processes that technology can perform quickly and easily, and your assistant is still able to take care of the things that only a human can do.

Another example is social media. Tools like Buffer and Hootsuite allow you to post automatically on dates and times you choose, but they can’t create those posts for you. A virtual assistant with marketing experience would have the skills to create posts according to your guidelines, and use the scheduling tools to ensure they’ll be posted at the right time.

Also, you can look to your assistant to suggest more things they can automate on your behalf!

Consistent Reviews

Successful entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for ways to increase efficiency, so we recommend reviewing your processes every six months or so to assess how well they are working for your business, and identify any areas you would like to improve. Circumstances often change, and you might find new opportunities to delegate or automate tasks.

What's the Bottom Line?

Automation may offer the quickest solutions for mundane and repetitive time-consuming tasks, but virtual assistants can give your tasks a level of personalized attention that technology cannot. We believe that combining the two can maximize both your productivity and the quality of the work you are offloading.

No matter what kind of business owner you are, the importance of leveraging your resources to work smarter, not harder, cannot be overstated. At Time etc, we believe that the notion of entrepreneurs having to work long hours, sacrifice valuable downtime, and neglect personal relationships to achieve success should be left firmly in the past.

Find out how we can help you today.

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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