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  The Brazen Careerist By Penelope Trunk, Bankrate.com    

Dump the small stuff on someone else

Your to-do list is dragging you down. Why do tasks that do not inherently enhance the quality of your life when you could pay someone $10 an hour to do them for you?

I learned this when my boss and I had our new computers set up at our homes. I stayed at home all day waiting for the technical person to arrive and then worked the 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: Growing a successful career, being a good spouse and climbing Mount McKinley. 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.

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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. (And, in fact, you are probably a person doing some CEO's work. More incentive for you to act like the CEO of your life and pass off the slough.) If you want to create something big, you need to hire people to help you.

So why doesn't everyone have a personal assistant that they hired from the local university? Heck, a 14-year-old could do half the tasks on most lists. (In fact, the first university student I hired used to subcontract my tasks to his fraternity brothers, which I accepted as evidence of how little training it took to do my tasks.)

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 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 not saying, for example, "Can you climb Mount McKinley for me?" You're asking for something like food shopping. So let's say the assistant buys the wrong bread and forgets pasta. Is having the right food in the house integral to your life goals? The answer is probably no. You can eat pancakes instead of pasta. It's a small price to pay to have enough time to meet your life goals.

-- Posted: July 6, 2004

  More columns from the Brazen Careerist

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About Penelope Trunk
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