Last Minute Quality Giving on a Beer Budget

December 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

How fast this time of year has come…again! It’s cliché to say how time flies, but this year I can honestly say it really did, faster than ever before. So here we are in the midst of the holidays with 2 days until Christmas, Hanukah is over and the New Year looming.  I have put together some good, quick (and cheap) ideas for gift giving because any assistant knows, the best rule of gift giving is to make sure it is something the person would like want or need instead of something you think they should have.  And this blog is for you, the assistant.

The busiest time of the year for an assistant is the holidays. Not only are you responsible for your own regular duties, but you must now add handling holiday cards and often hundreds of gift buying duties. (To date, the smallest amount of gift giving I have been responsible for are 80 gifts and December is always a blur). For years I’d end up spending way too much money doing last minute shopping for MY family. Aside from toys, it became very hard to find inexpensive gifts on such short notice. Here are some ideas.

Have you visited your local Goodwill store lately? Yes, you heard me right.

Here’s what to look for—

1) Ugly pictures! Yes, but take out that cheap piece of “art” and replace it with a photo you’ve taken of someone in your family. Depending on the size you can get the frame for $2.00 and the photo for $.25. Or you can spring for the canvas print option, where your photos are printed on ready to hang canvas. These start at $13.00 for the 5×7 size. Walgreen’s, CVS, Kinko’s offers this quick print option and same day printing. Or online check out www.shutterfly.com, www.zazzle.com, or www.vistaprint.com.

2) Mugs and commuter coffee cups—Pair a clean, unscratched mug with a $10 Starbucks gift card. Mugs cost about $.25 to 2.00 and some are often new. If you want to splurge you can buy someone a stainless travel mug with their photo on it for $12.99 at CVS, Walmart or Costco. Better yet, a photo of you and your bestie. Just supply the photo of you and your friend’s mug.

3) Set of dishes—A teen just getting started would appreciate these but don’t get them grandma’s china. It is also perfectly acceptable to mix and match. Even more appreciated if it comes with a grocery gift card.

4) I have found one or two collectable books in the book section, but this takes a bit of time and patience. But you can find some a book for everyone’s taste.

Lobster Gram, Cheese Club, 1-800-Flowers, Beer-of-the Month, Wine-of-the-Month—it’s an online smorgasbord!

If it’s really crunch time, get online and buy a gift and take advantage of their “print it now” option to print a gift certificate that tells them their gift will be arriving soon. Try to present it as a gift that you print on nice paper, put it in a pretty envelope, and tie a bow on it! Done.

http://www.livelob.com, www.1800flowers.com/Christmas, http://www.greatclubs.com

Gift Cards—

Once it was thought to be impersonal to give a gift card, but they are so customized now you can get a specific card to anyone’s favorite store. Make it even more thoughtful with an accessory. Maybe pair ear buds ($10 Best Buy or Walgreen’s) with an itunes gift card $10. Pair a usable tool or paintbrush with a Home Depot gift card if someone is fixing up his or her home. Dinner and a movie (give Subway and AMC) gift cards. Of course, the price is up to you with gift cards, but remember to put thought with it and it will be appreciated. And you don’t have to go to a million individual stores. You can get most cards at any gift card carousel at any major grocery store (at least in Los Angeles you can).

Magazine Subscriptions—

Talk about the gift that keeps on giving! Sign someone up for a gift subscription, print out the certificate notification, and attach the current issue of the magazine. Easy breezy and fully customizable to someone’s personal interest because there are magazines for planning your wedding to bass fishing. Remember, what do they like? Cooking? Traveling? Self-Help? Hint–look for coupons online before purchasing. You almost never have to pay the price on the card that falls out of the magazine.

http://www.magazinediscountcenter.com

Kinko’s—

Have you been there lately? The best gift I ever gave to my family was a calendar with all of our birthdays noted. On the top of that family member’s month was photos of them that I had or they had posted on Facebook. On the front was a collage of photos of all of our family members. I knocked out 25 gifts in one fail swoop and they are still asking for another calendar. Who knew? It took time, but it was much easier than tromping around the mall. And I could upload it all to Kinko’s website and picked it up 2 days later. Check out your local Kinko’s where you can get many quick and personalized gifts. Bring your iphoto library and order away!

http://www.fedex.com/office

A Donation Has Been Made In Your Name To—

There is always an organization that can use money to provide desperate help to others. The Red Cross is an international organization that shows up to every disaster and helps those in need. But there our countless others that may hold a soft spot in the heart of your gift recipient. Maybe they’ve had a family member die from a disease and you can donate to the organization that is working to find a cure. You can pay and print out your donation card to present to your recipient. The amount you donate is unknown to the recipient. And you get a tax write off. This is especially good for the person who has everything and many people benefit from one gift.

The bottom line is that the holidays really are NOT just about giving. I find that when I am together with people I care about, or reconnecting with them just because it’s the holidays, it confirms the sense of love and caring we all have for each other even if we don’t talk regularly. It reminds us all how connected we are—old and new relationships. And find gratitude in everything, even that difficult family member. Be grateful that you’ll only have to see them during the holidays!

Have fun, hug your family and really see and appreciate them. I appreciate you, everyone who has kept up with my blog. Happy 2014—here I come!

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5 Quick Tips for Surviving & Thriving Your Work Day

September 23, 2013 § 2 Comments

Can we all agree that Personal Assistants have stressful jobs? Best Workday EverWe are responsible for other’s lives, their children and their workplace. Coordinating it all smoothly and seamlessly is an art, especially when you know you’re cool-under-fire demeanor is necessary to professionalism and sets the tone for your employer.

But what do you do for yourself to survive your workday and better handle tomorrow?

Here are 5 easy apps/websites to help you:

  1. Do you take a lunch break? Any break? So many of us power through lunch and eat while we type. While the boss is eating, you’re taking valuable time preparing for the next meeting or activity and your break is your drive home at the end of a 12 hr. day. For those of you diehards, try an app called calm.com. For just 2 minutes you can refresh yourself. This can be done hiding out in the bathroom stall. Why this is helpful—Taking a break and eating, has physiological benefits to our productivity and brainpower. Taking two minutes resets your brain and takes you out of chaotic behavior to realign priorities and make you more effective. http://www.calm.com
  2. My best talent as a PA is also my downfall as a PA. It is being able to handle multiple tasks at once. I hear conversations and am acting on them before I am told, all the while doing something else. Multiple interruptions make you forget what you were doing two seconds before. Did you know that most people can only focus for about 20 seconds? Multitasking has its place but time has proven it’s not the productivity amazon first touted. There is an amazing app called focus@will that seamlessly streams music “that boosts productivity 400%” (see their science page) and you select the genre of music. It memorizes your preferences and learns what you like. Why this is helpful—Focusing and completing projects is a very rewarding experience that fills you with a sense of accomplishment. http://www.focusatwill.com
  3. I once worked in an office where every morning we had a code word for the mood of the employer so we could all be aware of the tempo of the day. (Sometimes a knowing glance would do). And like any relationship, after time you also know how to shift their mood. But guess what? Did you ever think the bad mood could be yours? There is an app for tracking your moods during the day called My Mood Tracker. I recognized at 2pm without lunch I’d get grouchy, at 4pm I’d be tired, and around 6pm we’d all be punchy, laughing at nothing and everything. Why this is Helpful— How you react to your boss, job, etc. may be your mood. By identifying a pattern you can recognize when you slip-up, or get down, and correct it.  www.mymoodtracker.com. If you’re really into this technology, check out this article: http://tech.co/best-habit-and-mood-tracking-apps-2013-08
  4. Did you have a good day or bad day? Review your day at the end of the day. Highlight the good and think about why it was good. Human nature is to focus on the one thing that went wrong and ignore 100 little things that went flawlessly right. Why this is helpfulBy recognizing what you did right builds your self-esteem and makes you less likely to engage in self-deprecating behavior. Working confidently helps you focus and perform better. Don’t forget, you’re a rock star in a crazed world and pull off miracles on a daily basis. Check out the app iDoneThis to assist you and have a written reminder of all you accomplished. http://www.idonethis.com
  5. Did you slip up today? Don’t harp on your mistakes; learn from them. Look at what you would do differently next time, and I’m not talking about why your boss was unhappy. Why this is helpful—Doing a review of what went wrong helps you leave it at the office and, more importantly, not magnify it later in your mind or wake you up at night. By recognizing where you failed or why, or if you really did, keeps history from repeating itself. Byron Katie is a favorite self-help guru of mine who teaches you to examine your core belief systems by examining events. By asking yourself four simple questions: “Is it true? Do absolutely know it’s true? What happens when I believe that thought? Where would you I without that thought?” you can change your limiting behaviors forever. Judge-your-neighbor is her app. for iPad but she has other tools as well. http://www.byronkatie.com.

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It’s Summertime and the Living is…Just as Busy as Before???

August 18, 2013 § 1 Comment

So many assistants look forward to the long weeks Yoga on beachwhen their employers go off on their family vacations with the kids. We dream of lazy days of rolling into the office after 10:00 am, catching up with friends who didn’t know we were still alive, and checking out all those amazing places you make reservations for your boss during the year (massages and restaurants are at the top of my list).

Many of you will be left with “spare time to-do lists” that never happen. For me that always included my home obligations. Being home more to manage my own repairs or having my kid’s friends over more so they actually experienced a social life was really important! But I was usually the last one offered time off. Everyone must get their vacations in while the principles are out-of-town, but the assistant is  usually left to supervise all the repairs the owners want done while they are gone. Often these plans are made before they go away in repeated comments like, “While I’m gone is a great time to do…”

I remember one Easter week I had to move the contents of a two-story home in Bel Air into storage, have floors replaced, house painted and furnishings moved back in like nothing happened. I did say Easter WEEK! While you may get a hefty bonus for pulling off Mission Impossible-esq duties, it wears very thin. Sometimes you just want to be at the beach.

The solution? Make your lists of what needs to be done and schedule in time for yourself to be off. Make sure you tell your employer that this is the opportunity for you to get time off so you don’t have to take it when they are back and more inconvenienced. Tell the staff too. Remember, the last one to make vacation or stay-cation plans is the one that loses. And yes, they will survive one week without you, even if they have to put someone else in charge.

And no, I’m not completely crazy. You may not be able to turn your phone off but you can minimize the times you have to check it. Set up a time at the end of the day to return emails and leave messages. (If you do it at the beginning of your day you will stress about what you cannot do and this is counter-productive). Make it clear in your vacation voicemail and email responder the times you are available. I learned way too late in this game that if you don’t make time for yourself you will never feel rested, recharged and ready when they return.

Summary—

  1. Plan a to-do list for your employer and schedule when the vendors will work that is realistic and allows for a couple of extra days for delays
  2. Schedule when you will be off within this time frame
  3. Make sure EVERYONE is aware of the time you are off (this includes vendors)
  4. Make sure you have elected someone in charge to make decisions, cleared by your employer, and tell the vendors in advance
  5. Program your voicemail with a message that your are off and when you can respond and leave the number of  who is in charge in your absence
  6. Program your email with a vacation auto responder to notify everyone that you may cannot get back to them and leave the email of the person designated to respond in your absence
  7. Enjoy your time off!  Your family will not care how hard you worked for them. It’s the memories you create with them that count.

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Move Easy-Top 5 Things to do to Make Your Move Easy

July 24, 2013 § 2 Comments

One of the things we do as assistants is move homes, imageswell not on our backs, but our employers move…a lot. They buy new homes, vacation homes, remodel, re-decorate on the regular, or just create whole new environments. What’s more, you may be in charge of getting their extended family organized and moved-mother, father’s, and kids off to college. I have had all of these scenarios. And you know what? It is always a process and things do go wrong. But after years of experience, you have a back up plan, right? Most moves I’ve done are with the family on vacation or out of town. It’s not our stuff so we may not know where to place things. Clear communication with your employer before the move is essential. Tag items that are being sold, staying in storage as well as what is returning and to which room. One of the best ways to make sure you are thinking like your employer or where they want things is to look at where they came from. Here are the top 5 things to make your move easy and eliminate stress: 1)    Create a realistic schedule and system, with a built in buffer for unexpected hiccups—There are many components to a move and trust and hire experts – packers, movers, storage, proper art removal and art storage, piano movers, computer removal, electronics removal, construction cleaners, organizers. Make sure you understand what each of these specialists needs to do their job expediently yet carefully. Create a timeline so you do not overlap your scheduling of vendors. It should consistently flow. 2)    Organize the move out as much as the move in  – clearly mark boxes that correspond to where they came out of so they can go back into the same area. It’s best to color code a room so the boxes from that room have the same colored sticker on the outside. When the boxes come in, they go into the correct room to unpack them. (Kitchen-red, bathrooms-blue, girl’s room-pink, boys room-blue, baby’s room-yellow, etc.) Idiot proof it. 3)    When packing, you should be careful not to mix areas in the same box. Don’t pack drawer 5 contents with drawer 6 unless it is clearly delineated in the box where drawer 5 ends and drawer 6 starts. It is better to use more boxes if that means you’re not mixing contents from one area with another. Trust me, unpacking is a breeze this way. Make sure all cash, jewelry, and valuables are handled by your employer. They should put the contents of any safes in their safety deposit box at their bank. 4)    Take photos – they are worth their weight in gold. You may or may not remember what you packed but if you photograph the area you packed before you pack it, it will eliminate needless writing on boxes and searching when you’re looking for what you want to unpack. Photograph the whole house, even inside of drawers prior to packing. 5)    Make sure everyone understands your system—Your system is no good if those helping you do not understand and implement it for success. And don’t micromanage. Consistently spot check on the work being done but be respectful of others and their abilities. Don’t forget, it takes a lot more time to move in than out since beds must be made, items must be re-hung in closets, glasses and dishware may need to be re-cleaned, rugs need to be measured and placed, and all items organized neatly. This really can happen without stress and it will be a big accomplishment when it is all finished. Sign offP.S. Make sure to thank everyone involved. You may be the grand coordinator but make no mistake; you can’t do it by yourself and give credit where credit is due.

Women Supporting Women Rock

May 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

I had a heartwarming experience lately with the most unlikely of persons. imagesI say unlikely because the old paradigm of competition in business, with women in general, is changing. The Internet is giving women an opportunity to start businesses and reach the masses like never before. And with more women doing business with other women, a new level of support and authenticity is emerging.

I grew up in a time when you were encouraged to climb to the top and kick over the ladder when you got there so you couldn’t be followed up. Women were taught that to compete in a man’s world, you had to think and behave like one to get ahead. I can still painfully remember the first time I was betrayed by my good friend in the workplace yet I  never had it in me to do what some women feel they must.

I’ve always believed that what works for a man, is not the same for a woman. While we can out-think the best of them, we aren’t wired to communicate and strategize in the same ways. The authors of the new book “Mean Girls at Work” offer an exclusive take on how men and women differ at the office. Their conclusion, to paraphrase one bestseller: “men are from the combat zone, women are from the support circle.” [1]

My heartwarming experience came from a confident woman who encouraged me to do what she is doing, to be a competitor. I prefer to support and mentor assistants one-on-one, but Bonnie Low-Kramen has been training groups for well over a decade teaching workshops on everything you will encounter in this profession.[2] Not only did she encourage what I was doing but helped me to make connections with others to expand my business. And she hipped me to an amazing new book by the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, a woman who is “kick-starting modern feminism in the workplace.”[3] My good friend Dee Morrison at http://www.lagirl13.com is always there to advise, and give me an impromptu and amazingly accurate tarot or astrology reading.[4] Marie Forleo, Ali Brown and Sharla Jacobs are all women who are changing the way women do business. A large part of their training is in supporting, connecting and listening to your customers and they’ve all built six and seven figure businesses doing so!

So while the ruthless are still among us, I know things are changing for the better and Bonnie proved me right.  I encourage you to see your business and everyone you encounter with fresh eyes and a willingness to inquire how you can help them. I wish you all love and success!

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Working for Free is Called Slavery-Get Involved

May 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Anyone who has worked in a home as a personal assistant, nanny, housekeeper, imagescaretaker, driver, major domo, house manager etc. should be paying special attention to a California Domestic Worker’s Bill AB241. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s office summarized, “It is focused on ensuring six rights for domestic workers: 1) overtime; 2) meal and rest breaks; 3) three paid sick days; 4) workers’ compensation; 5) the right to use kitchen facilities; and 6) the right to have some hours for sleep (eight hours recommended, with some possible exceptions). The previous bill also included cost of living increases, 30 days notice of termination and Cal OSHA protections, all of which have been omitted from the current version.”

Modern day slavery isn’t a new problem. As long as there have been people who work in other’s homes, there has been a need to clarify and specify the pay structure and job responsibilities of employees. It is one of the last industries that often and purposely ignore state labor laws and it’s an accepted mindset of employers that needs changing.

Most publicly we recently saw this with Lady Gaga not acknowledging that her assistant, who accompanied her 24/7/365, was entitled to overtime pay. (https://assistantsurvival.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/big-monster-behaving-badly/) The obvious reason workers accept abuse is fear of being replaced. There is no one to enforce the laws, no liaison between the worker and employer and it becomes a contentious relationship you’re fighting your employer to for overtime pay-one that never goes over well.

However, when the employee is hired from an agency, the agencies work on behalf of the candidate and client to make sure the job expectations are outlined, hourly rate agreed on, and time demands clear. Even then, I have seen the responsibilities and hours get skewed once time on the job sets in. But unfortunately, most people do not use an agency to hire someone, settling instead on getting recommendations from their friends for new hires.

So how can a worker protect themselves from miscommunications or  uncompensated excessive hours? I recommend going into a position with a written job description or asking for one to make sure you’re all on the same page. It should include the max hours you are expected to work, holidays off, with or without pay—especially if it is a salaried position. It need not be a confrontation, just clarifying so you can make plans and have a life. Frankly it is good for both sides. Email it to your employer, whether they sign it or not. At least they will be aware of your understanding of the position.

Everyone that works in a home (especially live-in employees) should get behind this bill to see it to fruition because there are powers in numbers and awareness in involvement. You can get involved via this link: http://www.domesticworkers.org/news/ca-bill-of-rights

More reading on this topic: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2013/03/07/domestic-workers-california-bill_n_2822520.html?view=print&comm_ref=false

It’s not just happening here: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/life/canada’s-modern-day-slaves-filipina-nannies

5 Key Things You Need to Do When Laid Off

May 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Many of my friends are currently out of work and some are starting completely new careers. images-1As a personal assistant who freelances, I’m always “between jobs.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a personal assistant or a CEO, these quick tips are useful to anyone who is in unemployed.

1)    Revamp your resume—do so professionally. Make sure it is current with the styles others in your industry are doing. Ask the best headhunter in your industry for a referral on a resume professional. It’s worth the investment.

2)    Let people know you are looking for work. While you are fresh in the minds of those you had been working with currently, ask them if they know of anything you can follow up on. Make it easy for them to pitch you by telling them what you are looking for. Give them your resume once it’s redone or at the very least, a bullet pointed list of your strong points. If they have to think too hard about how they can help you, it won’t happen.

3)    Analyze your bills and cut out all frills. I don’t care how much money you have saved, cut your bills now (not later). Goodbye 200 premium cable channels, 2,000 minute cell phone plan, Starbucks venti lattes and impulse shopping. You don’t know how long you will be unemployed so start saving now.

4)    Become a quick learner of the unemployment department’s system. Find out what benefits you are entitled (or not) with unemployment and apply. This info is crucial to knowing immediately what you can be expecting financially so you can make a budget and begin making payment arrangements with utilities if necessary.

http://www.edd.ca.gov

5)    Make it a job to look for a job. Set aside scheduled time daily to follow up and do what you need to do to find work.  Meet with friends and others on their lunch hours to catch up and stay connected.  Offer them suggestions on how you can help them, for free if need be, with a project. You’ve got the time and they will think of you first when something comes up. Be a solution to their problems and they will appreciate you for it. And network with new friends. Click here to find out what Lindsay Olsen’s blog on how to find groups in your area.

http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/04/25/finding-a-job-through-networking-groups

Men are notorious for having their self-esteem tied to what they do. Remember-you are not your job. A job is what you do for a living. You are no less important because you are unemployed. And remember, this is temporary.

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