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Perceptions · 11 April '23

10Xing my Productivity

When I first considered getting an Executive Assistant (EA), there was a tinge of guilt nagging me. As an early-stage founder, I questioned myself. Do I really need an EA? Can I justify the expenditure?

The short answer is, probably, yes. As a Founder, you are juggling a million and one things. The more you can optimize your time to focus on high-value tasks, the bigger the impact you can have and the more productive you can be. Ultimately there are certain things only you can do, however, there are lots of things you do now that others can do (much better than you even?!)

Spoiler alert: if you’re looking to try out having an EA you can actually get your first month free

I had experience working with EAs previously but I knew I hadn’t worked with them in an optimal way. That’s when I came across an agency called Athena.

Athena isn’t just an ordinary agency that sources an EA and then is done with it – they actually trained me on how to be a better delegator.

What I love about their approach is that their founder Jonathan Swanson – himself a successful entrepreneur (as co-founder and Executive Chairman of Thumbtack) – recognized that one of the blockers to a productive EA relationship is the ability for someone to delegate.

Athena runs a training programme for new clients where they send a weekly email with tips around how to “10X your delegation.” By delegating better we become more productive.

Ideas include using their voice delegation app to dictate messages (as we can supposedly talk 4X faster than we type), asking your EA to pre-draft emails, getting your EA to help with meal planning, or even helping you be a better friend by sending cards or gifts on your behalf!

What’s even more unique is that feedback with Athena is both ways (I appreciate this because feedback is a core part of our values at Learnerbly.) Just as I give Loraine my EA feedback on her progress, she gives me feedback on my delegation skills. I even get a rating! Athena scores you in terms of how you perform compared to a cohort of other CEOs (everyone loves a good benchmark right?)

I would say I’m probably still a B- at the moment…

The whole process has really helped me reflect on what a control freak I am (which I’m sure friends and family will relate to) as well as the importance of letting go and mastering delegation.

There have been numerous threads on Founder communities I’m involved with asking about working with Executive Assistants. I thought I’d share my personal journey (which is ongoing) both as a form of accountability and also to help fellow Founders with their journey of delegation and improved productivity.

A lot of the points below will probably seem trivial or common sense to those who may work in corporate life and are used to having EAs. However, for Founders (who may, like me, struggle to let go) or those working with an EA for the first time, these may be useful.

Here are the areas where I’ve found working with my EA, Loraine, to be the most helpful:

Scheduling meetings

This was always my ‘safe space’ for working with my EA traditionally. It’s very easy to copy in my EA to help schedule meetings. This is especially important as we expand into the US. Meeting with people spread across multiple time zones is a challenge so having someone to coordinate diaries is a real-time saver.

However, if this is the only use case you have for an EA then you may be better off leveraging the AI tools in the market. They can assist with scheduling meetings pretty effectively.

Relinquishing inbox control

This felt very strange at first. I remember having multiple conversations with our Head of People Experience at the time about this. She was encouraging me to do it and said ‘you’ll never look back’ and how right she was!

I’m not entirely sure what was holding me back – perhaps it was the embarrassment of using my inbox as my to-do list (sending myself emails as reminders?) Or perhaps it was a sense of mistrust? I receive a lot of sensitive information – is it ok for someone else to have access to this?

Trust is essential between you and your EA and as soon as I got comfortable with doing this, Loraine got stuck straight in.

Today I simply can’t live without it. Loraine helpfully categorizes my emails into 4 sub-inboxes: “Important” (which require me to reply soon); “Review” (for ones which I need to glance over but doesn’t seem urgent); “Reminder” (for the emails I send myself as things to do…I can’t be alone in sending myself emails can I?) and finally, “Promotional” (for newsletters or things which may be spam and can be deleted/unsubscribed from.)

When I’m in a hurry or on the move it helps focus my attention and ensure I’m not scrolling endlessly through the hundreds of emails. Instead, I can respond to those which are urgent and ignore the rest.

Pre-drafting emails

Another great thing about giving inbox access is that Loraine can pre-draft responses on my behalf. Whether these be invitations that need to be sent from me to an event we are running, or responding to external requests, having a pre-drafted message which I quickly review and then press send cuts out a huge amount of my time.

Social media management

As a Founder, you’re also the ‘mouth piece’ for the company. Loraine helpfully pre-drafts messages for me to review and then post on Linkedin and elsewhere (emojis and all!)

International travel

One of the stable tasks of any EA is travel management. What I’ve found particularly amazing though is the extra level of detail Loraine goes to – finding the local restaurants, suggesting places to visit, checking reviews for the hotels pre-booking. She creates a briefing pack for each trip with everything I need to know including my itinerary, where I’m staying, flight details, and suggestions on what to do.

One of the things I’ve also really valued is the flexibility Loraine has shown around managing her time. This isn’t something I would say should be expected (after all, Loraine who is based in the Philippines already adjusts to working UK hours.) However, when I’ve been traveling to the US West Coast (8 hours behind the UK) she’s proactively suggested changing her hours slightly to provide additional overlap time to support me when I’m operating in a different time zone.

This has proved invaluable in providing last-minute help with tasks / research / errands which I just WhatsApp her about.

Conference preparation

When attending meetings or conferences it’s helpful to know who else is attending and figure out whom I might want to meet. Loraine does all the pre-research looking at delegate lists, profiles, and where necessary pre-arranging meetings. Equally important are the follow-ups which she proactively checks in with me about.

Personal life

This is an area I think I’m still yet to fully relinquish. Athena has playbooks around how your EA can support you in personal matters. Whether it be meal plans, arranging holidays, or researching gifts for friends. There’s a whole heap of things I could be getting support on which I haven’t really explored. I suppose this is where guilt kicks back in! Thinking about it though as a Founder, I know I’m ‘always on’ and there isn’t really the concept of work vs life – it’s all a blur.

Given no Founder ever works 9-5 it makes sense why optimizing your personal life will enable you to

  1. have more time to spend decompressing
  2. free up time (should you wish) to spend on your other priorities (which may also include working more….not something I’m advocating for per se!)

Mastering this will get me into the ‘A’ grade territory I think!

Athena usually operate on a waitlist basis as they train their EAs in batches and have more demand than supply of EAs at any one time. They clearly know what they’re doing as they already work with CEOs of 1000+ companies (with a combined enterprise value of $20bn) as well as VCs and even some A-list celebs.

That said, as someone who has now referred numerous Founders to them, they’ve kindly offered me a referral link for people to skip the waitlist and get their first month of Athena services free (worth $3k!) Check out this link.

If you’re hesitating about whether an EA is right for you, feel free to drop your questions or share your experiences of working with an EA. I’d love to hear them!

Finally – in case you’re wondering…neither my EA (nor ChatGPT) wrote this blog for me…I may be looking to boost productivity but I haven’t got to that stage …..yet.