Opinion

Reclaim your life: 'Offchore' your work to a Bangalore butler

Want more time for what matters most? Here's how.

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Taking off a pathetic two weeks per year, the average American spends more time in the bathroom than on vacation. Repeat: in the bathroom.

To ease the burden of work, you'd love to hire a personal assistant, but you don't have Brad Pitt's bank account. No problem. Enter the world of "offchoring" and meet your new best friend: the Bangalore Butler.

Can you outsource 100 percent of your e-mail or even your online dating? I did. Can you outsource your worrying? A.J. Jacobs, editor at large of Esquire, did.

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In a flat world, you don't have to be a celebrity to start eliminating menial tasks and enjoying the finer things in life – or just reclaiming it from the clutches of your BlackBerry. I've spent the last three years using a small global army of MBAs and assistants to effectively run my life for me, all for $4 to $10 an hour.

Want a digital concierge 24/7? For $30 a month, you can get your next vacation planned while you sleep. Just sign up at AskSunday.com and reach a friendly Indian named "Philip" or "John." No time to catch up on that stack of business reading or find this year's Tickle-Me-Elmo for your kid? Relax. Someone 10 time zones away is on it.

This isn't just about being pampered. It's about putting first things first. Work on that innovative project instead of responding to e-mails. Take that long walk on the beach with your girlfriend, cute puppy, or long-ignored 8-year-old.

Here are four reasons why a Bangalore Butler is likely to be – and should be – a part of your daily life soon:

Costs of the 60-hour workweek

The 40-hour workweek is a joke. Sixty hours is becoming the new norm. At the turn of the millennium, 26 percent of Americans reported being on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and 70 percent of working parents said they didn't have enough time for their kids.

Let's face it: Today, free time matters more than swollen bank accounts. The schedule-cramming, do-it-all approach to time management is neither sustainable nor scalable, so the prospect of delegation isn't a matter of if but when.

Test small, think big

The return-on-investment (ROI) is hard to ignore. Estimate your hourly income by cutting the last three zeros off of your annual income and halving the remaining number. If you make $50,000 per year, for example, you make about $25 per hour.

If you outsource a time-consuming task, business or personal, for $5 an hour, that is a minimum of 400 percent ROI. Reallocate a small amount of your investment money – say $30 to $100 – to a "quality-of-life" offchoring fund on a trial basis.

Start with a basic digital concierge service such as AskSunday.com and then graduate to providers such as Elance.com, where you can implement more ambitious plans. I'm now at the point where I outsource all e-mail and convert more than 500 requests and messages per day into a once-daily 10-minute phone call with a virtual assistant.

How much is reclaiming your evenings, your weekends, your life, worth?

Test small but think big. Start with the menial and move to the major.

Outsourcing benefits everyone

Ten US dollars buys groceries for a week for someone in Bangalore. I pay my assistants there $5 to $10 per hour. Can you buy a week's worth of meals for one or two hours of work? Probably not – so who's really being paid more? This is an example of "purchasing power parity," a concept TV-hungry politicians should bother to learn.

After I keynoted the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, an American asked me how I felt about "stealing American jobs and supporting slave labor."

A Swiss gentleman jumped in with a retort: "Outsourcing is social development. The technology firm I work for realized two things once we experimented with outsourcing: First, for each Swiss job we moved to India, we were able to hire five people and thus support 25 people at an average of four dependents each; and second, we are helping create a middle-class of consumers for our own products and services, which we've already seen come back and allow us to hire more Swiss than before."

Rewarding those who are most competitive on a global scale ultimately creates a larger economic pie, higher quality-of-life in developing countries, and broader consumer demand for US-based products. It comes full circle.

If you can think it, they can do it

One friend of mine insisted last April that there were serious limitations to what could be outsourced. I accepted his challenge by outsourcing my dating.

The result? More than 20 coffee dates in a single weekend and a long-term girlfriend, all for less than $200.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the lesson is a good one: If it can be done via phone or computer, it can be outsourced.

Thousands of my readers are successfully offchoring everything from professional meal preparation to all of their job minutiae, and – even if you have to train your boss to value performance over presence – you can do the same.

Make 2008 the year you spend more time on vacation than in the bathroom. "Philip" and "John" are waiting.

Timothy Ferriss is a guest lecturer at Princeton University and author of the No. 1 national bestseller, "The 4-Hour Workweek." He blogs about personal outsourcing at fourhourworkweek.com/blog.

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