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What Does A Personal Assistant Do?

As you may already know from reading my rants in my previous ‘How much am I owed?’ blog, in a not so distant previous life I was a Personal Assistant (also known as Executive Assistant) for nearly 10 years (a couple of those years you could also class as a Virtual Assistant thanks to COVID). 

‘What does a Personal Assistant actually do?’ I hear you cry, well the ‘official’ definition of that job according to Google says ‘a job title describing a person who assists a specific person with their daily business or personal tasks’ but what that actually means is ‘an individual who does precise guess-work based on unreliable data provided by those of questionable knowledge … aka wizard, psychic and miracle worker’. For example, emailing your boss asking them to choose between option a) and option b) and getting ‘yes’ as a response. What am I supposed to do with that?? 

There is one main skill you need to be any of the above - you need to be exceptional at organising. I am if I do say so myself, but that doesn't mean I like doing it. Here are a few examples of why… 

People will commit until you ask them for £££

An office meeting
Photo by Redd on Unsplash

Organising the annual Christmas lunch (that nobody really wanted to go to but felt obliged) was unfortunately part of my job description - one of many thankless tasks on my to-do list. Everyone in the team says they are coming so I book a table and give them a deadline to pay their £10 deposit. But, of course, as soon as someone needs to actually put their hand in their pocket they become flakier than puff pastry. Cue the excuses:

  • ‘Oh sorry I keep forgetting to go to the cash point’
  • ‘I can’t remember my banking app log in’
  • ‘Oh send me your bank details again I deleted your email’. 

Blah blah you get the jist. Some colleagues, a lot more senior than me (and considerably richer might I add) even ask if I can put their tenner in because they ‘haven’t had time’ to give me the money … seriously? 

Just because I organise the thing doesn’t mean nobody else can ask for or work out the bill. 

Carrying on from the above example, when it is time to ask for the bill the whole table turns to look at me - has everyone else lost their voice? The bill arrives and there is a chorus of ‘how much do we owe’ again, everyone looking at me. Can nobody else use a calculator on their phone? It appears not. 

I get stung for extra costs - Every.Single.Time. 

A girl in a mustard sweater types on a laptop
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Which is fine but the £2.50 postage costs don’t half add up when you have a team of 30 people who are all about to celebrate a ‘big birthday’, get married or have a baby. Let's say, for argument's sake, the team chips in and we have £100 to spend to get Sandra something splendid for her 50th birthday. There we have a nice, lovely, £100 round figure to spend. Until that is, we order a voucher of some sort but the delivery costs me £2.50 … we are hardly going to give Sandra a voucher for £97.50 and I’m not going to go back to the team to claw back £2.50 by asking for 8p each am I? Oh and then she also needs a card for everyone to sign … fair enough, I can pick up a cheap one for £1, but here I am again, footing the bill. 

It might not seem like a lot but say, on average, I am out of pocket by £3.50 each time, just 5 group gifts a year over ten years leaves me £175 down … ugh wish I hadn’t just worked that out. 

This leads me into buying the gift itself … I don’t know every team member well enough to know what on earth to buy them. 

Actually I don't even like most of them so why would I care what we buy them for their new house? My email to the team asking (pleading) for some ideas as to what they might like falls on deaf ears and there are zero responses. Even the office gossip who knows everything about everyone and what the cleaner’s sister’s cousin’s boyfriend had for tea last night doesn’t have a clue so I am stuck trawling the internet for ‘best new home gift ideas’. I don’t even do that for my own family and friends. 

Just because I organise in my professional life, does not mean I want to organise in my personal life.

My boyfriend calls me his ‘personal life PA’ - I know right, how is he still alive? He seems to think that because I organise every single hour and every single day of my working life that when I come home it is all I want to do there too ‘you are the best at it’ he says. Well duh, I am (because, but it doesn’t mean that he can’t at least try. Although it does, who am I kidding? I am methodical, a perfectionist, and a control freak so why the hell would I let him organise anything? Poor guy can’t win. But still at least trying might get him some brownie points. 

It’s the same with friends - I am the nominated ‘social secretary’ of our friendship group and even when someone else suggests we do something and everyone says ‘yes - great idea!’. The assumption is that I will then go ahead and organise it … it has to be me otherwise we just wouldn’t see each other. Take note - just because one of your friends is a chef doesn’t mean they want to cook every meal when they socialise. Or just because one of your other friends is a nurse doesn’t mean they want to hear about your health issues every time you see them. 

So take note, and for god’s sake, at least offer to help the organiser of your friendship group/office/life instead of thanking god the job isn’t yours. 

An office facing onto the city
Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

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