Michael S. Hyatt is the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. He blogs at michaelhyatt.com on "intentional leadership." He writes on leadership, productivity, publishing, and social media.

I left my role as CEO of Thomas Nelson in April 2011. I thought I could get by without an assistant. Boy, was I wrong.

As a result of greater focus on writing, my blog traffic spiked and my comment load doubled. I started getting more email. I had to book my own travel. I soon felt overwhelmed.

Initially, I thought I’d hire a part-time assistant. I even created a job description and sent it to several people I thought might know of someone. A few people applied.

But then I started counting the cost:

Where would I put them, since I work out of my house?

Would I have to supply my assistant with a computer? a cell phone? other equipment?

Did I want to pay payroll taxes and keep up with the paperwork?

So, I switched gears and considered a virtual assistant (a “VA”). I re-read Tim Ferriss’s excellent chapter on virtual assistants in The 4-Hour Work Week (see Chapter 8).

I had hired a “VA” a few years ago while I was still at Thomas Nelson. I did this more as an experiment than anything else. I hired someone in another country for about $10 an hour. It was cheap, but the service was disappointing. I decided this time that I would hire someone domestically.

I posted on Twitter that I was looking for a virtual assistant. Within an hour, Bryan Miles of eaHELP responded. We talked by phone a few minutes later.

Bryan assigned a virtual assistant, Tricia, to work with me. I was immediately impressed with her. She has worked for me since August, 2011 and I couldn’t be happier. People I interact with, assume that we are working out of the same office. She has her own michaelhyatt.com email address. I routinely get compliments on her responsiveness and efficiency.

Here’s what she does:

She screens my email. She checks my main email accounts, handles what she can, and “redirects” the messages that require my personal attention to my private account. She has reduced my email load by 90 percent.

She books my travel. She handles all the details, including airline reservations, hotels, car rental, etc. She sets up a trip in TripIt, so I have everything I need in one place.

She makes calls on my behalf. She makes appointments (both personal and professional), confirms my appointments, checks my voice mail, and follows up as needed.

She manages my calendar. Almost nothing gets on my calendar unless it passes through her first. We have agreed together that I will only accept appointments on two afternoons a week, and she works to stay within those boundaries.

She handles other projects as needed. I continue to turn over more and more to her. For example, she recently screened all the people who had applied to be a community leader on my site. She and my manager, Joy, ended up picking the final ten I appointed.

Basically, Tricia can do anything that doesn’t require her physical presence.

I started using her for five hours a week and quickly went to fifteen. I found that I was so much more productive that it was well-worth the additional investment.

Tricia has now become such a partner in my business that I no longer even think of her as virtual. She’s just one of my teammates—and a very valuable one at that.

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