My Assistant Will Handle It

You know how it goes:  As your business grows, your to-do list expands with it.  Your e-mail inbox gets out of control, your filing system i
March 15, 2011

You know how it goes:  As your business grows, your to-do list expands with it.  Your e-mail inbox gets out of control, your filing system is breaking down, and the piles on your desk are getting taller. You rarely see daylight anymore, and your family is getting frustrated with your lack of time. Is it time to hire a personal assistant?  


It may very well be, if you can afford one and you know how to utilize one wisely.  To be clear: having a personal assistant is no boondoggle.  Managing one requires a strategy, so make the best use of that person's time as well as your money.  


Here’s how to determine if it’s time to hire out, plus some tips for those of you who don’t have room in the budget for help:


  • Make a to-do list.  This is important, so carve out some time to do it very carefully.  You want to make a detailed list of the tasks that you would want to outsource to an assistant, everything from managing your Twitter account to picking up your laundry to manning the ship when you have to duck out of the office and get to your kid’s soccer game.  The length and scope of your list will tell you what you’re in the market for, says Peggy Duncan, a productivity expert in Atlanta, Georgia. If it’s relatively short, just a few easy tasks you’d like to do yourself, if you could find the time, you may just need to work on your time management skills (more on that later).  If it’s long enough to require help, but short enough for that help to be part-time, maybe you can pass some of the work to current employees (minus the dry-cleaning and other personal favors) or hire a virtual assistant, who will cost and work less.  If it’s overwhelming, you’ll know you’re in the market for someone full time.  As a bonus, this list will help you with your future hire’s job description.


  • Try one on for size.  Let’s assume, for a second, that you fall into the third category above.  You need help.  Put out an ad on Craigslist, spread the word to friends, and take out a classified in your local newspaper. Then, when you find someone, bring him or her on for a test period of around two months.  It’s long enough for that person to get adjusted to the job, so you can find out if you’ve chosen the right fit. Then, be very clear about your processes and procedures, says Duncan.  “Once you hire someone, that person needs structure.  Too often, I work with clients who have a part-time assistant, and they’ll come in and sit and wait for something to do.  They need a task basket, an inbox where you can place jobs for them.  Every time you need them to do something, write down the instructions very carefully, and leave it in that inbox so when they come in, they already know what they should be working on.”
  • Prepare for turnover. Personal assistants tend to move on quickly, so to minimize the time wasted between each hire, have this first person document their tasks and create a job manual for the next.  That way, you can move a replacement in relatively seamlessly, and they’ll be able to teach themselves the ropes without taking up too much of your time.  
  • Consider virtual help.  In many cases, the budget simply won’t allow for a full-time personal assistant.  If that’s true of your business, you can find other ways to come up for air.  A virtual assistant is a great solution if you can afford limited or part-time help. This person can assist with administrative tasks (not filing, but returning phone calls, setting up meetings, bookkeeping and research) for much less than the cost of a full or even part-time hire, and in many cases, you can commit to just a few hours a week or even month.  It’ll free you up to handle more important (read: revenue-generating) tasks. Just keep in mind you’re one of a few clients, so the turnaround time on projects may stretch up to 24 to 48 hours, says Duncan.  To find a virtual assistant, try the International Virtual Assistants Association or
  • Get yourself organized.  It’s possible you don’t need help – you just need a little organization.  “People waste hours a day by looking for something they just had, or searching files on the computer.  Once you get organized, it will build extra time into your day. You have to look at streamlining your processes,” explains Duncan. In fact, you should do this whether you decide to hire an assistant or not, because putting a method to your madness will allow that person to work more effectively.  A filing system – both virtual and physical – will go a long way, but one of my favorite timesavers has to do with focus:  Build time into your day to meet with employees or check and answer e-mail. When it’s not that time, don’t break away from what you’re doing every time you get a message, the phone rings, or someone knocks on your door.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.  

Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with Check out her blog at and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


American Express OPEN and Courtyard Hotels have teamed up to provide a 5% discount at participating properties across the U.S. To learn more, go to


OPEN Savings®: Payment must be made with an American Express® Business Card at the time of purchase; savings will be credited to your account. Maximum annual savings for each Marriott brand is $1,500 per Card account. Other restrictions and limitations may apply. Subject to offer terms and conditions located at Merchant participation and offers are subject to change without notice.