Working Effectively with a New Assistant

Most successful and efficient people will eventually come to a point where they at least consider hiring an assistant.  It seems like a very logical step.  If some of your work can be handed off to someone else, then you can concentrate on the things that can only be done by you which will increase your personal productivity.  Unfortunately many people hire assistants and end up in this type of situation:

Lets say you are a mad scientist out to destroy the world.  You can spend more time thinking up doomsday scenarios if you had an assistant to study gauges and push the buttons that simply must be studied and pushed to keep your diabolical lab running smoothly.  So after a careful search you locate an assistant who seems to be perfect for what you need.

After a week, you’ve discovered that hiring an assistant doesn’t give you the increased productivity you were hoping for.  Instead of having many more hours to plan you next death ray gun, you constantly interrupted by Igor who is trying to understand which buttons need pushed and which ones will initiate the labs irreversible self-destruct sequence.  Not only are you getting interrupted, but your new assistants is making many mistakes that you have to spend time fixing.  Why just yesterday he misunderstood you and fed one of your genetically enhanced telepathic rats to the man eating plant specimen and now it won’t eat anything but cheese.    Worse yet, your new assistant seems to be developing a large hump on his back.  You aren’t sure if this is due to stress or if he mistook the nuclear cooling liquid pump for the water fountain. What is a self-respecting insane mental giant as yourself to do?

While, you may not be out to take over the world, the scenario described above is very similar to many people’s first experience hiring an assistant.  Working effectively with an assistant is something you have to invest in.  You have a great deal of information in your head and your assistant only has access to what you tell them.  You can’t expect them to automatically know things that it has taken you months or years to learn.

Before hiring an assistant, you should make an assessment of what exactly your needs are.  Be honest about the skill level each task will require and the amount of training time you will need to invest in someone before they are able to do it on their own.  From this assessment, create a skills checklist of everything that your assistant will need to know how to do.

When your assistant starts, plan to spend the first few days going over the skills checklist.  Don’t check off an item until both you and your assistant feel confident that they can perform the task.  It may take several months to go through the entire list, so make sure you start with the things they need to do most frequently first.

When delegating a task to your assistant, you need to make sure you have a process in place so both of you are clear on what has been assigned.  You can accomplish this through some type of shared list.  This lets you see what you’ve requested in case something changes and it lets them know exactly what you are expecting.  There are several ways to accomplish this:

  • Franklin planners have a special page for keeping track of delegated items.
  • Microsoft Outlook has a way to create a task and delegate it.  When the task is updated by your assistant it updates it in your task list as well.
  • Most ticket tracking systems have some way of assigning items to an individual and tracking the progress.
  • A whiteboard can serve this purpose as well.

Another common issue when working with a new assistant is poorly defined scope of authority.  Your assistant needs to know what decisions they can make on their own and what decisions require your sign off.  You’ll probably want them to take on more responsibility as they become more familiar with their job, so you might say something like:

For now let me sign all of the requisition orders.  Eventually you’ll be handling most of them on your own. As we go I’ll show you which ones are things that you can sign and which one’s you require that you check with me first.

This makes it clear the level of responsibility that you are expecting in the future, so your assistant knows what to expect.  It also lets them know that you want to keep an eye on it for now while you train them.

When you give your assistant the responsibility for something, think very carefully to make sure you’ve given them the tools and training that they need to be successful. For example, if you ask them to pick something up from the store, make sure their name is on the credit account, or that they have access to petty cash.  Otherwise they are going to have to interrupt you to accomplish the task.  This keeps it from being a big benefit to you and makes their job frustrating as well.

Hiring an assistant can be a key step in increasing your personal productivity. By planning ahead you can make the transition to working with an assistant a smooth one, whether your goal is world domination or some less dastardly objective.

We have also written The Ultimate Virtual Assistant Guide that helps prepare you for working with a remote assistant.

Originally published on October 8, 2005


  1. says

    The more details and specifics you provide for your project, the higher quality outcome you will receive. Your goal is efficiency and productivity; be clear and concise with your objectives, and finally when hiring your assistant, make sure they will be accountable.

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