I used to think of an executive assistant as a luxury that only high-powered CEOs in large companies could afford. It seemed silly to pay someone to do something I could do myself, and I figured that it would take more time to explain what I needed than to do it on my own. But as our marketing agency grew, I realized that delegation is not a luxury—it's a necessity.
As the number of emails and meetings increased, I spent more and more time on tasks that depleted my energy—and honestly weren't bringing much value to my company or our clients. After reading the book "Traction" by Gino Wickman—which has a ton of great advice about delegating—I came to the conclusion that my capacity would be a major bottleneck to our company growth if I didn't start spending most of my time on things that were in my Unique Ability®.
At the recommendation of another agency owner, I finally hired a virtual assistant, and immediately kicked myself for not doing it sooner! If you need to be more productive and focused in 2016, here are a few ways an assistant can help you get your act together:
4 Ways A Virtual Assistant Can Free Up Your Time
1. Reading and filing your email
My assistant logs into my email a couple of times a day to respond to meeting requests, sort and flag incoming mail that needs my attention, and delete the clutter. It made me nervous at first to give this kind of power to someone, but now I don't know how I lived without it!
- If you use Gmail and Google Apps, you can grant access to your assistant via the Settings Screen without giving out your Google password.
- Consider using a service like SaneBox to automatically filter and label your email so your assistant can process all the unimportant email even more efficiently!
- Create labels or folders called "Read" or "Act" or "FYI" that your assistant uses to flag mail you need to pay attention to—then stay out of your inbox and just focus on those folders!
2. Managing your calendar
Having my assistant manage my calendar has been a transformative experience! Not only has it cut down all the back and forth proposing and confirming meeting times, but it forced me to be a lot more disciplined about how I plan my time. I had a tendency to try to squeeze as much as possible into the available hours, which left me with no time for eating, bathroom breaks, or thinking! My assistant is much more realistic than I am, and she doesn't have any guilt about saying no or making sure I have time blocked out to breathe between appointments.
- Start every quarter by blocking out time on your calendar for essentials—writing, planning, vacation, regular team and client meetings. If your schedule is moderately predictable, and your assistant is clear on what is off-limits, it will be easier for her to protect your time.
- Write up the "Calendar Rules" that your assistant needs to abide by. Having these rules documented will also keep YOU from violating your own rules. For example:
- Schedule a 30-minute break every 3 hours
- Make sure adequate travel time is blocked out for off-site appointments
- Include the phone number of a key contact person for all off-site appointments
- No meetings before 9am
- Appointments marked as "Clarity Breaks" are non-negotiable. Don't schedule anything during this time.
- When looping your assistant in for scheduling help, be clear about when you need the meeting, how long, and who should attend. For example:
- "Fred—I'd be happy to find a time to discuss your concerns! I'm copying my assistant Amy on this so she can coordinate a 30-minute phone call during the week of November 30 for you, me, and Janice to discuss the contract terms." This signals your assistant not to accept the client's request for a 90-minute emergency meeting tomorrow at 6am :)
3. Social media posting and monitoring
You probably want to leave your company marketing strategy to your marketing team, but managing your own personal social media accounts can be easily delegated to an assistant. My assistant posts our company blogs to my LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, and she helps me keep up with connection requests after conferences and networking events.
- Use a tool like HubSpot, Hootsuite, or Sprout Social to allow your assistant to post status updates and share content without sharing your personal login credentials.
- If you're comfortable giving out your LinkedIn password, your assistant can also help:
- Keep your professional profile updated
- Monitor LinkedIn messages and respond on your behalf
- Accept connection requests and schedule followup conversations
- Process the business cards you collect at networking events—invite people to connect, schedule followup conversations, etc.
- Post original articles you've written on LinkedIn Pulse
4. Almost anything else that drives you crazy
Once you get rid of these three time-consuming activities, you'll be a lot more discriminating about how you're spending the rest of your time. Suddenly, you'll find all kinds of things your assistant can take off your plate—so you can spend more time doing the things your company needs you to do. For example:
- Researching and booking flights and hotels for conferences
- Ordering office supplies
- Coordinating lunch orders for client meetings
- Phone-screening job applicants and scheduling in-person interviews
- Researching and scheduling a place for your 6-year-old's birthday party
- Hounding septic tank contractors for estimates to replace your drainage field
Virtual Assistant vs. Live Assistant—Who Cares? Just Do It.
I love my virtual assistant because I only need her for a few hours each month. I pay a reasonable amount for a block of hours, and I share her with her other clients, so I don't have to pay someone to sit around my office waiting for me to think of something I need help with. She works in Pennsylvania, and we communicate primarily by email and text. If you need a lot of hands-on help setting up meetings or events, or greeting clients and handling details for a whole office, a live assistant may be a better choice.
Either way, do yourself a favor and examine how you're spending your time to figure out where you could create more margin by delegating. Personally, I'm sleeping more, I'm finally finding time to blog, and I'm looking at a blissfully empty inbox every morning! Priceless.