You need to do physician things. Delegate the rest to someone else.
Look around at our most successful colleagues. They assign non-physician tasks to non-physicians. They use scribes to help them document, midlevel practitioners to perform routine evaluations and procedures, and assistants to coordinate their work. If it doesn’t need a physician to do it, they delegate it to the lowest cost expert.
Getting An Executive Assistant
I hired an executive assistant a year and a half ago. She lives in Colorado and I live in California. She works with me 10 hours each week. We are a team and I am certainly more productive because of her expertise.
I could get an assistant through the group or the hospital, but that would be different. I hire and pay for her services myself. This is my choice. I will talk about why at the end of this post.
8 Reasons To Hire An Executive Assistant
Here are 8 things that my executive assistant is expert at doing:
1. She handles schedule requests.
Scheduling is what first prompted me to hire an assistant. I used to juggle dates and times in my head as I tried to field obligations and requests from phone, email and hallway conversations. I was distracted; I felt as if I was a slave to requests rather than a leader who sets the agenda.
All requests now go through my assistant. I no longer have to tax my limited prefrontal cortex with complex scheduling equations.
2. She ensures that my time is effective.
A full schedule may not be an effective schedule. It takes time to go from here to there, to switch thinking modes, and to get things done. My assistant maintains a comprehensive view of my schedule and ensures that my time is efficient and productive.
She batches meetings together, she ensures I have time to think and accomplish tasks, and she oversees logistics so that I don’t spend my time walking or driving back and forth. She sends maps of meetings to my car GPS, she places details on the calendar that tell me who will call whom and what items are to be discussed. My schedule now flows and I know why I am meeting.
3. She says no.
I like to say yes and have a tendancy to overcommit in the moment. She creates the kind discipline that guides me toward the things I want to do and away from the things where my time and presence are less valuable.
We work to create a template for a structure of my days. She knows which requests have precedence, which appointments may be moved, and which scheduled time is sacrosanct and not to be adjusted. She says no when needed and finds alternatives where possible.
4. She prevents burnout.
I need to exercise, sleep, and eat; I need time with family; and I need quiet time. We schedule these activites first to create the foundation for my schedule; otherwise they don’t occur. These activities immunize against burnout.
There are times when work takes precedence. However, if I borrow against my needs too often, I affect my ability to continue to be a resilient physician leader. She can help me find other time to catch up where possible.
5. She does nice things.
I’ve always wanted to send flowers or small holiday gifts. I’ve always wanted to schedule lunches with staff and key physicians. However, the logistics of doing these relationship reinforcing activities used to leave me flummoxed. The nice things now get done.
6. She arranges travel.
Next week I go to Las Vegas to coach hospitalist leaders and next month I go to Washington, DC to attend TEDMED. She presents me an excel spreadsheet of hotels and flights and their costs. I choose the option and she books it.
7. She manages email.
She sorts work emails and forwards important emails with attachments to my Evernote “Action Items” folder. This allows me to easily review documents that need my attention on my iPad.
There are other emails that I forward for her to take care of, to respond to, or to delegate. When she responds, it is clear that she is responding on my behalf. It is important to maintain a clear delineation of who is responding; it would be creepy if someone were to have their assistant respond in disguise.
8. She keeps me good looking.
At least she tries. Before I had an assistant, things like haircuts, teethcleaning, and doctors appointments were a challenge; now it just occurs. Now that bit of corn in my teeth has a shorter half-life.
How to Hire An Executive Assistant
I need my assistant to serve my agenda and only my agenda. I personally contract for my assistant rather than have the hospital or group contract with her. I want to maintain a clear delineation of role and allegiance. I have seen assistants in organizations downsized and have scope of work changes or be reassigned. I want immunity from such dynamics.
Some other facts about my arrangement:
- My assistant lives in another state.
- She has a local number and most don’t know she lives in another state.
- I pay her only for time that she spends working on my tasks.
- I contract for her service in 5 hour time increments.
- I have met her in person once when in Colorado for an academic meeting.
- We talk by phone, text, video and email each day.
- She has her own richardwinters.com email address.
- Her Myers Briggs Personality Type is the opposite of mine.
I hire my executive assistant through EAHelp.com. They do the hiring and screen the candidates based upon my specific needs. They oversee the orientation process and keep track of how well we fit together. They take care of all of the employment-related issues (legal, tax, insurance, etc). There are other virtual executive assistant companies, such as Zirtual and Staff.com. I chose to use eaHelp and have been very satisfied.
The economics are obvious. Either pay a physician wage to complete non-physician tasks, or pay another expert to do it for less. The most successful physician leaders do more of what they do best and then delegate the rest.