At most companies, executive assistants are increasingly rare. And even if there are assistants at your company, someone charged with organizing travel for three executives just doesn’t have time to remind you of birthdays, let alone make your dental appointments.
Another option? Hiring your own personal assistant. People who’ve done it say that even if you’re footing the bill yourself, it can be money well spent.
A PA’s main responsibility is “giving people permission to let things go,” says Lisa Krohn, who has done personal assistant stints for Jimmy Wales (cofounder of Wikipedia), Martha Stewart, and others. She tells clients that “I will take away everything in your life and take care of it”–except whatever it is that you do best.
She has stood in line to buy “Cronuts” to ship on a plane to Europe, and helped a Russian client purchase a full $30,000 wardrobe in 90 minutes, as he was on the phone the whole time. Such variety comes with the territory; a recent job posting on Idealist.org for a personal/administrative assistant for philanthropist Swanee Hunt says that the person will be responsible for, among other things, “Preparation of Swanee’s backpack,” and “Handle all personal purchases for Swanee; including gifts and flowers,” and “Handle iTunes database.”
You may be perfectly fine with managing your own iTunes selections. But having someone take care of random tasks that might distract you can make success possible. One example: You don’t get pulled over on your way to meet a client because you were so busy you let your car registration expire.
This is especially true for entrepreneurs, for whom work and life often blend. Even if you’re working for someone else, though, funding your own PA has its upsides. Lynne Murphy works in academia, “so I’m always expected to do a lot with too little,” she says. “When I got a management role that came with an extra bit in my paycheck each month, I started putting that amount into an account at work and paying for five hours of help per week.”
At her university, there are always students looking for part-time work, and though she funds the position personally, she uses her university’s system to make sure everything is withheld properly. “I have the student do all sorts of things for me–organizing my reading lists on the library website, doing starter research on new projects or focused research on things that’ll take a while,” and other tasks.
She’s found several benefits. “Having him doing the easier tasks leaves my time/mind free to do the challenging ones,” she says, and “because I’ve promised him five hours of work per week, I have to be organized enough to make sure that there’s work for him to do. It makes me get a move on projects that I’m procrastinating on and makes me think beyond ‘what needs to be done today’ to ‘what needs to be done.’”
If you decide to hire someone, keep a few things in mind. You can use a service, though agencies are most cost-effective for full-time positions. If you’re looking for a part-timer, you can try an ad on Craigslist, or perusing Care.com, or other sites where people look to hire nannies (PAs often fall in the category of “household employees”; hence the overlap).
If you have specialized needs, your own network might be most helpful, particularly if you’re okay with a virtual personal assistant. Sarah Mueller once ran a business importing German children’s books. Since she needed someone who spoke German, she posted the job description on her blog, and found a wonderful assistant who made most customer phone calls in addition to other tasks. “She handled all of that and it was amazing,” Mueller says. “I was just lifted of this burden.” Since she didn’t need someone to prepare her backpack, it worked fine that Mueller and her assistant lived in separate states.
You might also consider a short-term engagement, at least to start. One of the biggest barriers to hiring a personal assistant is that people don’t know what they need. A highly experienced personal assistant can figure this out, but then you’ll be competing with extremely rich people on price. Krohn says she often comes in for limited periods of time, which lets clients decide if they need help long term.
Either way, a personal assistant can help ease a time crunch. “There’s just so much that somebody who is a second brain for you can handle,” says Gwyn Waters, founder of the Personal Assistant Network in the Bay Area.
“The capacity that you gain isn’t necessarily productivity related or measurable, but I think it’s almost like an increased intellectual capacity,” she says. “You have time to think about the big stuff for once, and “that’s a very huge stress reliever.”