This Year, Give Yourself the Gift of Time

As an assistant by trade, I’d grown accustomed to running the show from behind the scenes. After 17 years, my brain was trained to ask: Is the VIP happy and what more can I do to maximize everyone else’s experience?

So, when I finally found myself debuting my research about the role personality plays in the executive and assistant relationship from a stage in front of a packed convention hall, I also found myself much like a fish out of water.

Though well received, I have no real recollection of what I said that day.

Here’s what I do remember:

  • 15 is the number of times my assistant listened to me practice my 45-minute speech (ad nauseam) prior to showtime;
  • The back right-hand corner is where she sat, still beaming with excitement like she was hearing me speak for the very first time, ready to cue me on when to slow down, when to speed up and when to change slides;
  • The anxiety that was overshadowed by the extraordinary gratitude I felt because she chose to be there to support me.

That day, we were living proof of what all our research told us: our time is precious and compatibility matters.

The New York Times recently published an article about happiness.

TL; DR? A Harvard professor found that people who buy time and simply outsource tasks they don’t like doing are reportedly happier individuals.

For the most part, I think common sense would agree with that statement; but, as someone who works on both sides of that divide, I challenge Harvard to take that finding one step further.

There are tasks that I don’t like doing. Public speaking might be one of them. I might be less stressed if someone else did that task for me, but I won’t always be happier just because I outsourced it.

What happens when the person I hired just sees the work and not the passion? Even worse, what do I do with the time I saved by outsourcing a task to someone who doesn’t really want to do the work either?

The completion of every task – no matter how big or how small, is a reflection of me; but micromanaging my “free” time also doesn’t really make it free.

I also don’t think happiness actually comes from the act of outsourcing work – otherwise, more than 28% of the population would do it.

Instead, I submit that when I outsource tasks to someone who wants to do the work with me and who enjoys doing their best to do that work well – I experience happiness.

I think the real gem in outsourcing work stems from feeling grateful (which by definition is the “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness“) for well-completed work that I don’t have to manage. That means that effective delegation by me and a job well done on the part of my assistant are both preconditions to a happy outsourcing experience.

And that, friends, is the prized combination where compatibility plays its critical role.

I might never be able to hand over the task of public speaking; but I am genuinely grateful that I have an assistant who smiles when she knows I’m nervous, who enjoys buying me time when I can’t seem to find any for myself and who cares enough about my life to make it an important part of her own.

At first, transitioning from my role as a career Executive Assistant to a rather novice Entrepreneur was a lot like that first speaking engagement. It was hard. I fumbled a lot. The perfectionism I’d acquired throughout my career as a high-profile assistant raged everywhere.

Even still, at the end of every day, my assistant stood beside me with her virtual hand at my back – just as she did at the back of that convention hall, cheering me toward and over the next milestone.

Her comradery isn’t the reason I became an entrepreneur – that was all passion; but, during the hardest times, she was a large part of the reason I kept going. And, I sure am glad that it did!

Fast forward a few months and I finally had the time to do work I really love! I started working with Women on Fire to produce their interviews with high profile women about their roads to success and write a monthly blog for their membership (I might be the CEO of EM, but I’m also one of our Assistants!)… and just the other day Carly Simon emailed me to say she really enjoyed reading it!

So, this year, I wonder: Why not make that sort of difference in your own year and give yourself the gift of time. You know – the top shelf kind, like that coffee or chocolate or whiskey that makes life simply just a pleasure to enjoy.


Catherine Elyssa Brown

p.s., Ariel Myers, the best part of my first speaking engagement was the gratitude and grace I received from and felt for Y-O-U.

p.s.s., Harvard Business Review also made a case for hiring an Executive Assistant. Check it out!

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