Traveling, Caretaking & Being a Virtual Assistant
Not all virtual assistants are stay-at-home moms. However, that doesn’t mean that a virtual assistant is not taking care of a loved one. Virtual Assistants take care of many challenging situations for their clients, as well as their families. Many of those family demands come in the form of caretaking and that includes parents. Working from home can help some people manage those challenges with greater ease, but what about the virtual assistant who cares for a parent long distance?
You can read below what our very own Association of Virtual Assistants member, Lizabeth Wesley-Casella, says regarding her best tips for traveling and caretaking as a virtual assistant.
“I’m so excited to see you and catch up on everything that’s happened this year!” was the text my mom sent to me right before I headed to the airport. I was embarking on a cross-country journey to visit her for ten days, and I was happy too. In my mind, I saw us perched on her new deck, overlooking the Willamette Valley while chatting and slugging down iced tea. I was genuinely excited to see her, and I felt prepared to enjoy my time away from my desk even though traveling while working can be a challenge.
Long before I packed my bags, printed my ticket, and scheduled the Uber, I sat down to create a plan to ensure my sanity and my success; balancing both work and travel. The reason I do this is that the most frequent travel I engage in is to support and care for my mom who needs my help and who, I’m very lucky, enjoys my company. The support I give her is something I do with a lot of love but also with a great sense of responsibility.
My mom has muscular dystrophy and, as she ages, is more susceptible to falls and movement related injury so when we are together I can’t split my time and attention. I need to be fully present. It isn’t an option to let my mind wander to the work I need to accomplish for my clients; I must stay in the present. When we’re together my mom is the sole focus and conversely, I can focus completely on my job when I’ve blocked time for working. Crafting a plan, a schedule, helps me to accomplish all of this.
When I create my work and travel schedule for success I focus on preparation, time management, and self-care.
Create an Agenda: An agenda on a trip to see the family isn’t rude; in fact, it’s quite helpful.
As a natural born assistant, someone who enjoys serving others, it’s easy for me to slip into a false sense of obligation if I don’t have a plan in place for myself. Yes, I’m there to help and be of service, but I’m also a professional. If I don’t use my professional skills, scheduling, planning, and communication, I can quickly find myself over-extended by allotting too much time toward being a companion and not enough time to perform my client work in a balanced manner – i.e. work-life balance.
But, if I take the time to prepare an agenda I can tell mom in advance that I’ve scheduled myself for a few hours of work at a certain time and know I’ve covered my bases. At that point, I can focus on my projects without manufacturing that pesky voice in my head telling me my priorities are out of whack because I’m not entertaining, or being a good companion. I’m doing what I need to do, and in a manner that is respectful of everyone. Also, nobody benefits from me trying to do my job all night and be a present companion all day.
Disclose Travel Upfront: Put yourself in the client’s shoes and be sure to add gel inserts.
New clients might not be completely comfortable with the idea of travel, even though I’m ‘virtual’ no matter where I am. If there isn’t a track record between the two of us yet, I start a conversation to address potential concerns and provide a plan to manage their projects or workflow.
Thoughtfully approaching the client is more likely to leave them feeling confident that I can maintain an agreed upon schedule or conversely, allow the client to take a break while I’m ‘gone’ and resume the contract when I’ve returned.
Clients appreciate having options and are more likely to work with me while on travel than to pause any work they have in the pipeline. If there is no communication about possible disruptions in advance, that’s the exact time Murphy’s Law will kick in, and the spinning plates will come crashing down reflecting poorly on both my work and my relationship development. Nobody likes to be blindsided, especially someone who depends on the support virtual assistants provide.
Block Mom’s Events in my Calendar: I may be the apple of mom’s eye, but I’m not the center of her universe.
One of the first things I do as I build my travel schedule is to reach out to my mom and nail down the commitments that she’ll have during our time together. Physical therapy, salon visit, special lunch, nights I make a fun dinner for us… whatever she is expecting, I put it on my calendar.
Before you organize your schedule, make sure you know what you need to work around. Then add buffer time and then schedule tasks. I never take for granted that just because it’s travel for me, that it’s vacation time for my family. Being there to help my mom, enjoyable as it may be, is work and it should be prioritized as such. That means I schedule her needs as I would any other client and safeguard time for the duties that support her.
Build in time for unexpected events and challenges. Deer sightings and chewed azaleas are fascinating topics of conversation.
One of the things I always do for my clients is to remind them of Hofstadter’s Law. Continually. The theory is, “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” Which, simply put, means ‘don’t bet on the best-case scenario’ because it’s never the best-case scenario. Something that will take me 30 minutes at my desk will take me exponentially longer if I’m in an airport, caught in traffic on a foreign highway, or sitting with my mom as she’s gleefully pointing out the latest baby deer to eat her husband’s azaleas. (She loves her husband to pieces, but adorable, baby deer apparently have special rights in this relationship).
I try to remind myself there are things in this world that we don’t have control over; airports without adequate outlets and effusive mothers are just two of those things. It’s best to estimate both work-time and family-time generously so as not to over-commit and under-deliver.
Don’t Forget R&R.: An essential piece of all of this – work, travel, caretaking – is self-care.
Please don’t forget that doing what we do, on the fly, compensating for travel, and external pressures that are not part of our normal day-to-day takes a toll. Be kind to yourself. Decompress if you can, and remember, part of the reason we do this work is so we can claim a little bit more of our own time.
Try to enjoy being in a new place with people you care for, and hopefully in a career that you love. Be sure to rest and build your resiliency, nurture the caregiver and the professional that you are. Have fun in your travels and have confidence in the plan you create for your work.
Be sure you don’t forget to give yourself the high-quality support you provide to your clients, because you are the longest-term client you’ll ever have.
About the Author:
Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is a professional Virtual Assistant who enjoys supporting executives, social entrepreneurs, and small businesses. Lizabeth has a background in project management and process improvement and her clients benefit from her ability to organize, forecast and coordinate multiple projects. Her passions are assisting underserved communities and participating in humanitarian aid programs by supporting leaders using new technology and creative funding mechanisms.
When not working you can find Lizabeth reading, traveling or walking with her husband and dogs, Pumpkin and Tigger, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.