It's only $10: Hire an assistant for the scutwork
Your to-do list is dragging you down. Why do tasks that don't inherently enhance the quality of your life when you could pay someone $10 an hour to do them?
I learned this when my boss and I had our new computers set up at our homes. I stayed home all day waiting for the technical person to arrive and then worked all weekend to catch up. My boss had his assistant wait at home, and he got more done than I did without even having to work the weekend.
Day after day, I watched my boss get twice as much done as I did until I hired my own personal assistant– and after that, I looked at the tasks of daily life in a different light.
We each have big goals in our life, and all big goals take time: nurturing a successful career, being a good spouse. None of these grand goals requires you to pick up the dry cleaning yourself.
Each time you do a mindless task yourself, you make a statement about the value of your time. If you had an extra hour with your kids, would it be worth $10? If you had an extra hour at the office, could you increase the value of your output to make up for the $10 (think: raise down the line).
If you're spending a significant part of your day doing tasks that are not integral to your life goals, then you're wasting your time.
Your first thought should always be, "Do I need to do this myself?" How does a CEO create value that's bigger than herself? She has other people doing the work so she can think about big-picture issues. If you want to create something big, you need to hire people to help you.
So why doesn't everyone have a personal assistant hired from the local university? Heck, a 14-year-old could do half the tasks on most lists.
Some people overestimate the difficulty of tasks and underestimate the frustration impact. They say, "Training the person would take longer than doing it myself." Hel-lo?! Did anyone train you to call the insurance company to complain about a bill? No. It's trial and error. So your assistant can learn himself. Even five calls would only cost you less than $10. But if you did the five calls to the insurance company yourself, you'd be angry and frustrated for the next two hours.
Some people overestimate the importance of a task. They say, "The person would never do it how I want." But so what? You're not giving the core of your life to the assistant. You're asking for something like food shopping.
A time optimist does not use an assistant because she says, "It'll take me more time to ask the assistant to do the task than to do the task myself." This person misunderstands time. Buying movie tickets, for example, takes 10 minutes, but it takes only one minute to ask an assistant to do it. If you make the choice to spend the 10 minutes doing it yourself seven times a day, you've wasted an hour of your time.
If you are currently employed, don't tell me you don't have enough money. Think of yourself as a small business, and follow the basic rules of running a business: You have to reinvest profits (your salary) back into the business (your career) if you want to see growth (your promotion).
Learning to use an assistant effectively is not easy; it takes practice. But using an assistant now for your personal tasks will train you to effectively leverage the personal assistant you get from your employer– when you get promotion after promotion from being so intently focused on your goals.
Penelope Trunk has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's so busy with them that she doesn't have time to write her column. This good advice is from her archives.