Have you ever wished you could offload some of your life to someone else, whether it’s household chores, online research, or other drudgery, but have been unsure how to start? We recently got a reader question wondering how to use a personal assistant (and how to find a good personal assistant!), so let’s discuss. Here’s the question from Reader S:
Life and work are busy and I find it difficult to “get it all done.” I hear it’s possible to hire a personal assistant whom you can ask to research/compare homeowners insurance options, be there when the cable guy comes to install, so on. I found a blog that makes a compelling argument that this is not only a time AND money saver, but it doesn’t tell me HOW to find an experienced PA. Plus, how do you learn to delegate in a way that doesn’t take more time than just doing it yourself? Thanks!
GREAT question, S — so let’s discuss. (Pictured: Daddy Warbucks’ assistant extraordinaire, Grace Farrell, getting it all done in one of my favorite childhood movies, Annie.)
We’ve talked about what to delegate to an assistant before, as well as talked about the kinds of things you can outsource to a virtual assistant through Fiverr or a U.S.-based virtual assistant service like Fancy Hands or Task Bullet — over at CorporetteMoms we also talked a bit about working with a personal assistant (in a “how to throw money at the work/life balance problem” kind of discussion).
If you’re leaning towards trying a virtual assistant, you may also want to read this classic Esquire piece (reprinted in The Four Hour Workweek and now on Tim Ferriss’ site); this post on how to hire a virtual assistant also looks great.
But sometimes, virtual help just isn’t enough — so let’s discuss how to use an in-person personal assistant. A friend of mine, C, actually used to be a personal assistant to a wealthy businessman, so I reached out to her to ask her thoughts on both HOW to find a personal assistant, and how to USE a personal assistant.
Before we get to my friend’s tips, though, there is a third option I’ll mention. If you’re in a big city, you may want to look into the start-up Alfred, which hires “highly-trained carefully-vetted, and handpicked professionals” to help you “clean your apartment, go grocery shopping, pick up dry cleaning, and ship your packages.” (I put in my address and email and instantly “met” someone named Emily, an “Alfred” who serves people in my neighborhood, has a BFA in theater performance, and hails from Virginia.)
I think pricing and availability varies widely based on who is serving your exact neighborhood, but it definitely looks like a good starting place if those tasks sound like the ones you need the most help with. If it’s just cleaning, you may want to check out our advice on how to find a good cleaning professional — or if you already have a good relationship with your cleaning person, you may want to see if you can add other tasks, like putting away groceries, color coding your closet, and more.
Back to my friend C, the former personal assistant. This is what she advised if you want to hire a dedicated, real life, personal assistant:
How to Find a Personal Assistant
In terms of how to find a personal assistant, start with your network. The most important quality in a personal assistant is trustworthiness. You’ll feel much better about having someone in your home if you have a connection in common. Is a friend’s son or daughter a recent college graduate looking to get started? Ask on Facebook, the community college nearby, any organizations to which you belong, or even your own alumni network who may be looking to help recent grads in your area.
There are staffing agencies that deal with placing personal assistants, but ultimately, you are still bringing a stranger into your home. Don’t be afraid to consider posting on Craigslist — sure you’ll have to do more vetting, but many hardworking people, often aspiring creatives in need of steady work, use it to find employment. Task Rabbit is also a great way to test out a person’s skill set without a great commitment. If all goes well, maybe it will become permanent.
How to Learn to Delegate and How to Use a Personal Assistant
From my friend:
This is a learning process for both of you. No one is going to immediately know what you need without trial and error. If you find someone you can trust, then you grow together. Some things you will have to explain at first, like how you want the mail sorted, or what type of milk to buy. But many things can be added to a shared list in an online task app: pick up the dry cleaning, get the dog’s medicine, research cell phone packages, etc. There is a long onboarding experience, but if you find a conscientious, detail-oriented person, it will save you time in the long run.
(Thank you so much to my friend for sharing her advice with us!) This article on Inc. also looks like it has awesome tips on how to use a personal assistant — the Excel sheet method in particular might be great.
Readers who’ve used a personal assistant, what are your best tips? What’s your advice for how to hire a personal assistant? What helped you learn to delegate? What tasks and chores do you most often use your personal assistant for? Anyone who’s used a virtual service like Task Bullet or Fancy Hands — or an IRL service like Alfred — please share your experiences with us!
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My firm offers subsidized personal concierge service as a benefit, and I love it. They buy my groceries, handle returns, water my plants while I’m gone, etc. We have two people assigned to our firm, and they either know or keep very good records of my preferences. There was some run-up on explaining things like where my groceries should go, but now it runs very smoothly. The service also has a research department that has done things like find dog-friendly AirBnBs in my family’s preferred vacation destination, but I’ve actually had better luck using the Amex Platinum concierge (which also services Amex Delta Reserve cards) or the Chase Sapphire Reserve concierge for stuff like that. (If you carry a high-end CC, it is totally worth making use of your concierge service – when I was last in Italy, they provided tons of help, including same-day restaurant reservations, booking train/museum tickets, etc.)
Mary Ann Singleton
I recently got a Chase Sapphire Reserve (before they canceled the big sign up bonus) but I actually didn’t know they had a concierge. I’ll have to look into it. What do you mostly use the concierge for?
I’ve only used the CSR concierge for hotel booking, but I’ve used the Amex Platinum concierge for:
-Researching spas and arranging scheduling and reservations for massages and dinner for a group girls’ weekend (coordinating the scheduling of all that was priceless).
-Making reservations at restaurants when I couldn’t book online and didn’t speak the local language.
-Finding and booking train tickets so that I could spend my time sightseeing and not screwing around with buggy online booking systems.
-Booking my water taxi to the airport in Venice.
-Handling rebooking when a security delay at the Worst Airport in the World (CDG) meant I was going to miss a flight (this was the best…they wait on the phone so you don’t have to).
-Making sure all of my hotels in Argentina had booked rooms with two beds so my friend and I didn’t have to share (you couldn’t always tell online and it was a pain to deal with, even though I speak Spanish).
So I use them mostly for travel, but they are amazing.
Mary Ann Singleton
Cool, I will definitely look into using them next time I have a travel snafu with missed flights. I passionately hate dealing with that.
Oh, wow. LH has this card and he uses it for travel reservations, but I didn’t know about the concierge feature. Will have to look into that.
Same boat, I had no idea! How do you use it??
I would love to have a personal concierge to manage my day to day activities. My secretary is virtually useless, as she prefers to surf the web rather than help me. If my secretary werenot such a zero, I might have a life, but I do most of her work for her.
Get rid of her.
For those of you who work on multiple files/clients how do you stay on top of things? How many time per week do you review status? Do you do the review in the morning before assignments start coming in? Any tips you would like to share? Thank you!
I keep an excel spread sheet which has each case assigned to me. It includes a column for review dates, significant deadline dates, and each significant event so at a glance I can see at what stage my case is at a glance. It also includes case no. etc. so I can quickly look it up on line. I check it each morning before the phone starts ringing.
We have a case management software that allows task reminders. Every case is set to be reviewed every 3 months, more if a big event is coming up (e.g. a hearing or a deadline). The program creates a list of cases set to be reviewed each day based on that set schedule. I set aside Fridays as administrative days to go over statuses of cases that came up, give clients calls, and review my assistants’ recent notes on cases (again through the case management software) and other administrative tasks that need my attention. Technically, my staff does the case review, but I try and go over if anything came of it. I am an attorney with a volume practice and am often out of the office at hearings. I find setting aside a day of no appointments and no hearings (when we can control the schedule) helps keep me and my staff sane. My biggest difficulty is being able to switch gears to multiple files throughout the day with little notice. I am still learning on that one.
I’m in charge of all of my cases, 100% (nonprofit). We have a case management system that shows me all of the cases assigned to me, and you can add task lists/reminders. I review the status of cases with my unit once a week, and close cases as they finish. I still find a pen and paper (giant sticky notes ftw) task list to be the most effective way of tracking to-dos, though! If I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I go through each and every case (usually 15-20 at a time) and list every single thing that needs to be done on them. “Write letter to client,” “review docs for client,” “call client re x,” “scan client documents to his file,” etc.
I have used the daughter of a friend as a personal assistant and it’s been pretty darned good, if not perfect. She has been most helpful with things relating to my elderly parents, like picking up hearing aid batteries at the hearing aid store that is only open during times I have to be at work. She also waters the plants/brings in the mail while we’re on vacation, and the best thing ever was when she un-decorated our 12-foot Christmas tree while we were on vacation over New Year’s.
I’d love to find somebody who could handle more personal-businessy things like bill paying and personal filing and keeping my personal calendar (maybe even the same person with a little more training and supervision), but I haven’t gotten organized enough to go any further than thinking about that at this point.
I’ve tried emailing you, but I think you were biking in Europe. I’m in Pasadena and I do this higher-confidential stuff for people.
Use the website Rob Lowe uses? http://www.tmz.com/2017/01/31/rob-lowe-job-posting-assistant/ Or I bet Naomi Campbell knows because she goes through them quickly.
We are training our nanny to be our personal assistant and do a lot of the admin stuff that normally falls on me (emotional labor?). It is great – I think she will easily transition into doing half business stuff and half kid/household stuff as the kids get older.
How much — if any — personal stuff should biglaw secretaries be asked to do? I’m a mid-level associate. I have them do small personal things, like fax an authorization to a kid’s doctor, but nothing significant like booking or researching personal travel. I feel like they spend a lot of their time not working, however, mostly because they just aren’t assigned a lot of work by associates. I know it also varies by how much you trust the secretary. My permanent secretary is on medical leave, and I don’t trust her to figure anything out, but my substitute secretary is awesome and makes my life so much easier… sigh.
Most biglaw secretaries are slammed these days. They have several partners assigned to them, in addition to associates. Depending on the partner and the office, they are already handling a lot of administrative work.
anon in SV
I would never ask my assistant to do anything personal for me unless it was an emergency. Her job is to support my practice, not my personal life.
None? Administrative assistants in the workplace are not your personal assistants.
Not in big law but my work assistant also calendars all my personal stuff since she needs to know when I’m not available even if the reason I’m not available is a non-work purpose. I see nothing wrong with that.
Faxing/printing/mailing things gets a little murkier. One partner explained that if it is something you can only do during work hours, it is taking away from billing, and your assistant can do it, feel free to ask. I think that rule only applies to really senior people though.
Work assistants should calendar personal things that will affect your work schedule to ensure your schedule is accurate. If your work assistant isn’t busy – take advantage of that and find more for them to do. So jealous as I have 1/8 of an assistant and basically I get a couple file labels printed and that’s it.
Your firm pays your assistant so your assistant should be doing work for the firm, not for you personally. If you want to pay her extra to do errands for you then I guess you can ask her but I’m not sure how well-received that would be. I’ve certainly never heard of it. In my mind, the reason very important partners get a pass on this is because they’re rainmakers. They bring in the clients, they bring in the money, they get to decide how that money is used.
I used my assistant for calendaring personal things that affected my work schedule and for small personal things like scanning/faxing/mailing something that I had ready to go. She was a new legal assistant and only worked for me and one young partner, so we knew if/when she had the capacity to do some personal stuff and told her that the other person’s work-related stuff was always more important. I understand that an employee of the firm should be doing firm work, but it’s also much more important that people who bill are free to bill as much as possible, plus get the work done/keep the clients happy.
I can NOT use Lynn for any administrative duties b/c she is technically the manageing partner’s personal secretary. However, she does open my mail and occasionally help me proof read my breif’s. I wish we hand concierge service here b/c then I would NOT have to spend time billing for my own billeable time!
OP here. Thanks for the thoughts. I will keep to using her for only work stuff, with the occasional personal administrative favor like sending a personal fax when I am overwhelmed with time-sensitive client stuff. Sounds like that’s the right balance. Just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something.
PSA About jewelry (I was late to the necklace post) I’ve found good quality REAL pearls at pearlparadise, pearls of joy (US) and pearlescense (UK) for very reasonable prices. Check out ripple or keishi pearls and irregular shaped pearls for a modern look . They have that awesome luster that fakes can’t mimic. Also, pearls naturally occur in awesome colors if white makes you feel old.
Pricescope forum. They have a list of vendors that sell quality jewelry at reasonable prices. Because of them I dared to buy a gold 0,5ct diamond ring setting from a Chinese vendor. I then took it to a local jeweler to set the main stone. Awesome ring!
+1 on Pricescope. The people there are knowledgeable and excellent enablers. I have mad love for Pearl Paradise (found through Pricescope, holding off for Mother’s Day sale to pull trigger on a purchase) and plan to use one of their recommended vendors to get diamond hoops made the next time I roll into NYC.
A tech version of this is Fin.
You pay for the service every month. Its half a digital service/half a real assistant that basically can complete any task for you. All the techy people I know in the bay area that are trying to do a million things each day use it.
My assistant Raquel is awesome at cutting cucumbers and making cheese pasta.
I thought Raquel was the nanny not an assistant…
Mary Ann Singleton
The BEST cheese pasta. Cheers!
Don’t make your personal assistant sign your Christmas cards to your friends and family and kids’ teachers on your behalf.
I faked my boss’ signature
Virtual personal assistant is really a help to many of us especially busy people.I think they can help in both business as well as personal tasks and they are really awesome.