With a Little Help…

It is with great pleasure I bring to you my first guest post.

This one was written by Igor Wojda. Igor is a Senior Android Developer I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this blog with. We started discussing life optimisations, and he shared with me a recent optimisation he made to his life. I am now in the process of adopting it myself. Igor was kind enough to suggest writing the post below. I hope you find it as useful as I did!


Friday evening, it’s 5 o’clock and I finally closed my gray Apple laptop lid. I made it to the weekend! Right? Time to start relaxing, right? No… The nagging voice in my head objects: “I am busy…I don’t have time to go out! Friends? How will they help you get through that to-do list? So many urgent things need my attention…”. And then, on top of that… think about all that  “life-related stuff” I have to do before my life turns to chaos. This was the moment I realized that I needed to change something, I needed to claw back my time, I needed to stop doing things, or at least get a handle on things…

Should I be doing all these things?

At some point in my life, I have realized that there are things I like to do and things that I have to do. I have also realized that some things provide (usually long-term) value in my life, while others are just a waste of my time.

Working on personal projects or reading personal development books excites me (I like it) and allows me to learn (provides value). However buying groceries or throwing away garbage is on the other side of the spectrum – I have to do it, but it is simply so that the more worthwhile activities can be enabled and these things don’t really provide (much) value. These things simply must be done. 

The above examples are from my life, but you will easily recall your own. Consider these 4 zones:

I like to do (internal drive)I have to do (external drive)
Provides value1 YOU WANT TO BE HERE2 MAYBE
Does not provide value(or provides minimal value)3 MAYBE4 AVOID IT

It’s best to do only things from zone 1, avoid things from zone 4 and keep zones 2/3 optional – you may do it, but you may choose not to. There is very little point in doing things that you have to and provide zero value. The only exceptions are the tasks that are impossible or hard to delegate.

It is important not to confuse doing things you have to do yourself, with things that have to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I can do the things that do not provide value. I just choose not to do them anymore. I have better things to do. I have many things that excite me and that I am eager to do. I need some time to live and work meaningfully!

Losing precious time, by doing “nothing”

Many of us have this unfortunate tendency to underestimate the length and complexity of tasks. Look at these tasks – wrap a present for your friend – 10 minutes, buy groceries – 15 minutes, pick mail from the office – 25 minutes, fix a bike – 2 hours – … every single one of these tasks looks easy in isolation. If you calculate all of the above tasks then all you need is 2 hours and 50 minutes to make all of this happen (in theory). It is quite easy to fool yourself and get the false impression that these tasks will not eat more of your time

In practice, every one of these tasks may have a different twist that is not always obvious upfront. It may be an upstream dependency (to wrap a gift you have to buy the paper), constraint (grocery shop is now closed), multiple interactions separated over time (call a bike repair shop, schedule the visit, drop a bike for repair, pickup bike later), may have unexpected side effects (bike was not fully fixed), may involve waiting time (bike is being repaired) or involve asynchronous interactions (send multiple email messages to agree on something). It is quite easy to be overwhelmed by all of this and lose productivity especially when you are dealing with many tasks in parallel.

Every one of these tasks is simple in isolation, but when you consider these hidden aspects and combine all of them together, then you will realize that they may be eating up a much bigger chunk of your precious time and drain your cognitive battery.

Can someone help me?

The above realization blew my mind – I have to delegate tasks or I will not be able to keep my own pace. At this time in my mind, a personal assistant was a person reserved for rich people and leaders and mostly within the work/business context (wrong mindset). After all, none of my close friends hired one and none of my friends even considered this option, so I had no one close to discuss this solution with. This was something outside of my comfort zone and I had many internal objections:

  • It will take me a long time to find such a person
  • I will not have enough work to delegate
  • It will be expensive
  • No one will want to work for only for few hours a week
  • No one will want to work an undefined number of hours
  • People will not want to do these simple tasks
  • Do I really want to spend money?
  • What will my family and friends think about this?

How to pull this off

I have decided to look for help – take advantage of my salary and payback to regain some of my precious time back.

The first step was to define the needs and decide what I wanted to delegate.

The first step was to review all of the tasks I was dealing with. I made a list of things I could delegate and over the next few days I was reviewing all of the ongoing tasks carefully, asking myself a single question: “would it be possible for someone to do it for me?”. After a few days, I have drafted a list of tasks that I could potentially delegate:

  • Pick a package from an automated post terminal
  • Help me unpack boxes (I was moving in)
  • Buy groceries
  • Buy stuff from a physical store
  • Check my mailbox
  • Fill up my car with petrol
  • Repair the bike

Value is defined at a personal level, so everyone will have a different list, different hierarchy, different things on this list – for me the top things are learning new things, becoming a better person, and experiencing positive vibes. I am sure you can craft your own list.

I realized that most of the tasks I had on the list required interactions with and visits to my flat. This meant that a remote personal assistant was not an option for me. I needed someone who lived nearby, someone who would be there when needed without any commute hassle. I also realized that most of the tasks were not day/time specific – they just needed to be completed anytime within the next few days. Flexible work time would be a pro for a personal assistant.

I did some quick research, set a budget, and wrote an advertisement:

Hey neighbors. Recently I have had a lot of work and I would like to focus on my career because I have an amazing opportunity to follow. I am looking for someone who could help me with daily things for a few hours a week (groceries, picking packages, etc.). If someone has free time and wants an extra job please let me know (in a private message). Work time is quite flexible. I am looking for an honest, reliable, self-sufficient person who lives nearby. Cheers

Notice that I mention only two simple tasks. The goal here was to communicate that these things can be done by anyone who wants to work. I decided to provide more details later. No salary info as well (this is culture/country-specific) – I wanted to attract a person who wants to work. My mindset was that if a person really wants the job and I really like the person we will likely reach an agreement. 

Two days later I got the message from the first candidate…

Making sure that work will go smoothly

We scheduled a chat (informal interview) for the next day in a pizza place next to our building. As with every interview the goal was to verify if this is the right person for this job. 

I have explained to her my current situation, so she could have a better understanding of my needs. I gave her more examples, discussed them in more detail, and asked her if she would be able to help me with each one. Quite quickly I realized that this is the right person. We have quickly aligned on her availability, skills, salary expectations, workflows, and communication channels and decided to do a 3 months trial run.

To make sure our interactions would go smoothly I decided to use very simple tools:

  • A shared Google sheet to keep track of work time (task/time/desc columns). 
  • Todoist app to delegate the tasks

We are doing this

I was quickly able to delegate some tasks like getting groceries, switching the electricity provider, or getting something from a remote store (fortunately my personal assistant has a driving license and owns a car). 

I have noticed that many (flow breaking) interactions were required and I had to be in my flat. This was not good enough for me. I wanted to mentally “forget” about these delegated tasks. 

I have decided that we should focus on the result and keep these tasks happening silently in the background with as few interactions between us as possible. Ideally, there should be only two interactions – the first where I explain what the desired state is (personally or by adding a task to the todo app), and the second when I was being informed that the task was completed. Some tasks still require decisions to be made, but I am trying to predict them and communicate upfront to mitigate unwanted interactions.

To move things two levels up I have decided to give my personal assistant keys to my flat and a bank card (with a reasonable limit). This is where the honesty trait plays an important role. These two changes have enabled additional, previously impossible workflows: 

  • Each day my personal assistant checks if there are packages to be picked up from the automated post terminal. If packages are there they will be picked, unwrapped, packaging will be thrown away and the package content will be waiting for me at my kitchen table. One day I am buying something online, another day it “magically” appears at my kitchen table – this beats the Amazon 1-Click Ordering 😉
  • The personal assistant can come to my place, grab the car keys, fill up my car with gasoline, wash my car, and put the keys back (fortunately in Poland insurance is issued just for the car, not for individual drivers)
  • I asked my personal assistant to take care of my flat, so she empties the garbage and occasionally deals with things like unpacking the dishwasher or cleaning a glass – all of these simple things that may be out of place (I have a cleaner, so the flat is usually in order).
  • I have bought a new bed, so my personal assistant was responsible for the whole assembly process. She found the assembly crew, scheduled the assembly, was keeping an eye on them, made sure packaging was thrown away, and withdrew cash from the ATM to pay for the service. On top of that, she made the bed (without me even asking or knowing) and moved the laundry from the washing machine to the drying machine.
  • The personal assistant has nicely wrapped all of my presents before Christmas.

Many of the above tasks just “magically” happened while I was working with my noise-canceling headphones in my room behind closed doors.

Few other aspects to consider

Some of these tasks like dealing with laundry are quite personal in nature, so I am making sure that the personal assistant does only the stuff she is comfortable with. This is new to me, so I am still figuring out where this should work and where these boundaries are.

I am always teaching her that mistakes are a natural element of the learning process, so she should be making some decisions by herself. For me, it usually means that she may work more when a bad call is made, but I am 100% fine with paying for more hours of her time. Over time she is learning and she is getting a much better understanding of my needs, even predicting some things ahead. 

Time-wise she works 20-30 hours a month for me, so this is much less time (and money) than I had initially anticipated. This “extra” time helps me to have a better work-life balance and boost my mental health.

Finding a pay rate was a bit tricky because this is not a common job. I decided to use remote personal assistant rates as a reference. This was just a guideline. My goal was to do a 3 months trial run, so my initial budget was higher, but I knew what a reasonable rate was. In the end, the personal assistant has proposed the hourly rate – it was the same rate I had in mind.

My friends are fully supportive of this idea, yet very curious. They are mostly asking what exactly is she doing for me? At first, I was saying that she is doing all of the things I don’t want to do but got a bit of a negative vibe, so now I am communicating that she is helping me with daily things because I want to focus on my career and learning (I am keeping it simple, no value & drive lectures). My friends also often ask how much am I paying her. My brother’s wife said that she was already doing all of these things for my brother and now my brother has to pay her for last the 10 years of her service 😂 Some of my friends want to know “how did I found her”, but you already know this.

Summary

Hiring a personal assistant was a successful experiment that had a significant, positive impact on my life. Most of the obstacles I had in my head turned out to be imaginary.

By using delegation I have a clearer head and can spend more time on the things I like to do. I already crossed a few things from the “I will do it one-day” list. At the same time, I have a feeling that everything that should be done is done. This is priceless.

Just to be clear, having a personal assistant does not mean that I have a few hours free a day…I am still busy, but I am busy with things I like doing and I am busy because I choose to be, not because I have to.

Published by eranboudjnah

A software consultant and tech lead. Passionate about optimizing as many aspects of my life as possible, to free time for what really matters.

One thought on “With a Little Help…

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