How to Get Your Own Executive Assistant. No Approval Required!

If you are like most employees that conduct market research, you’ve got too much on your plate. As we discussed in my last piece, “No One’s Going to Fund Your Sugarberry Ham Experiment” the tasks surrounding market research expand to fill time faster than housework. Market researchers have to be smarter and more focused than 80% of their colleagues in order to get half of the credit.

That’s why you need a dedicated executive assistant. It’s also why no one is going to let you hire one!

When I was working as Chief Marketing Officer of a frenetically paced 50-person start up, I had a half dozen people on my team; but I’d still catch myself cutting and pasting results into an excel spreadsheet, proofreading documents, researching other advertising opportunities, editing video, setting appointments to make upcoming trade shows more productive, and wading day-after-day through mind-numbing stacks of e-mail.

One day, near the end of a particularly difficult quarter, I realized I just wasn’t ready for an upcoming board meeting and I did something that seemed unethical, almost like cheating on a spouse. I hired an assistant to help me put my deck together, out of my own private funds. I’d dipped into my own funds to buy small rewards or meals for my team before, but I’d never imagined posting an ad on craigslist and actually hiring a market analyst (even though we had several business intelligence guys on staff!) to help me put a project together.

The fact was, there just wasn’t enough time in the day for me to get what I needed internally so I coughed up $400 and hands down it was the best Board presentation I ever made. (Thanks Tim!)

After that, however, I never ventured into the world of hiring a personal assistant again. Until this week. The fact is, there is a reason I command the hourly and salary rates I command. And there is a reason you are worth what you are worth. And if you are reading this website, I assume it’s because of your education and experience, not your ability to sort email, cut and paste phone numbers or retab an Excel spreadsheet.

What I am proposing is going to sound extreme but I can already tell it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

For the next month, set aside $100 (presumably a relatively small fraction of your salary) for a virtual assistant.

Ronald, my assistant, is a Filipino whom I’d actually worked with as a blogger before so I know he is responsible and smart. In fact, he even lived and worked in the US and attuned to the culture. You can find yours on elance.com, craigslist, or any number of sites easily found through a Google search on the term Virtual Assistant.

Assuming you review everything, this is neither unfair to your company nor short changing yourself. You are buying more time out of the office, setting yourself up for a nice raise and/or promotion, and reducing the unpleasant, repetitive parts of your job to free your mind for the higher-order thinking you were hired to do.

Here are some of the tasks Ronald’s been working on for me this week. You’ll see it’s a mix of personal and work tasks, but to be honest, I work long days and do a bit of both in the office.

–       Email EZPass for my password, then go online to get my past 3 months toll bills (needed for an expense report I have been putting off)

–       Review the EZPass bill for tolls on certain dates, highlight them and send them back to me to submit with an expense report

–       Complete an expense report for the EZpass bills

–       Go through my Facebook account and grab the email address for everyone I have labeled as “GW Alum” – I have a college reunion coming up and I want to reach out to everyone to see who is going – I’ll have him draft that email for me next week

–       Do keyword research on a new product we are thinking of launching in Q1 2011. I’ve given him a spreadsheet with the fields and links to the sources I like to use. This alone will save me 2 hours of work, plus 2 hours of Internet surfing and the coinciding guilt.

–       Write cliff notes on 10 articles that have been sitting in a folder marked “To Read” for more than 7 days. I’ve instructed him that the cliff notes should be about 100 words each and that I prefer bullet points (no more than 10, each 25 words or less each) with a maximum of 250 words.

–       Created rules and folders for all email that is recurring – subscriptions etc. – so as to keep my inbox limited to personal email and new requests. I can review all my email newsletter and the solicitations I get from Norwegian Cruise Lines in batches once or twice a month.

With Ronald’s help, I’m already spending more time at work focusing on the higher level tasks I’m actually paid to do. I’ve left the office early for 3 days in a row, and I am producing more than ever. It’s a win-win-win – for my company, Ronald, and me.

If you are serious about being productive at work, because you want to grow in your career or just because it feels good, I recommend the investment. My bet is the $100 a month you invest now will get you far more than $300 in money or the equivalent value in free time to spend outside the office with friends and family.

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