Recently I’ve been muttering about how I’d like to get an assistant, and part of the reason for that — besides enabling my own laziness, of course — is that it seems like in the past couple of months both my basal level of energy has dropped and the amount of stimulus I have (in the form of correspondence, business issues, various responsibilities ranging from trivial to fairly significant) have increased, and as I result I’m feeling myself slipping behind on a number of fronts.

I’m feeling it particularly in case of e-mail, where there has been especially significant recent growth; whereas before I could barely keep up with it all, now there are substantially more e-mails I don’t respond to, even when I intend to; I make a mental note to reply but then later in the day they’ve dropped below the fold and I’ve clean forgotten about them, and often later I simply can’t find them. I’m almost certain, for example, I was recently invited to be a Guest of Honor at a convention, but I can’t remember which convention, and now I can’t find the e-mail where the invitation was extended. So if you’re that convention, er, sorry. Please send that e-mail again. But even very close friends have suffered my e-mail lapses in the last couple of months, along with other correspondents of both a personal and professional nature.

I hate it because it makes me feel like a flake. Some of that is about me being flaky, I suppose, but some of it is simply having to ride herd on a mailbox that’s gotten progressively unruly. I think at some point I may have to steal a march from Lawrence Lessig and simply declare e-mail bankruptcy and start over. And that’s just e-mail; there’s lots of other stuff, too, which I can’t declare “bankruptcy” on.

To be sure, this general increase of busyness and responsibility is not a bad thing; it’s a reflection that my career’s going nicely, and it’s sure nice to be popular. But it’s getting near the point were I think I’m going to need an actual outboard brain, because my brain is close to max. And while on one hand some risidual Protestant Work Ethic in me points and laughs at the idea of me getting an assistant of some sort, that same work ethic can’t help but notice it’s up to its neck in stuff I’m supposed to be doing. All of it’s got to be done; some of it could be handled by someone else.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of writing for 500 words about how I’m finding it more difficult to get everything done. I am my own worst enemy, thank you very much.

In any event: Sorry to be behind on everything. I’m working on catching up.

30 Comments on “Pixellated”

  1. Well, it’s not like you’re the first person who ever needed an assistant. Some would argue it’s a great honor to have enough business/busyness to warrant needing an assistant — and having the business funding to pay for same. Just, uh, avoid having to draft up some commercial paper to borrow the money for the payroll right at the moment, ‘kay?

    Dr. Phil

  2. Hi John,

    It sounds like to me you might want an assistant to go through and prioritize and answer some of your basic email. You can outsource that virtually, either in country or out, pretty easily and cheeply.

    Also, I don’t know if, as a fellow-geek, you know of GTD, but many of us find it an extremely helpful time/to-do management system. :-D


  3. I second the GTD recommendation, and add that I like the 43folders.com approach, in your case particularly this bit:
    Inbox Zero, and also Making Time to Make (same site, but I’m concerned that if I put in too many links my comment will be held for moderation, thus increasing your workload).

    I recently stomped the Protestant Work Ethic on its ugly little head and hired a cleaning lady. Not only is my house clean, but it frees up much, much more energy than I expected, beyond the few hours a week I spent cleaning. I also get back all the time and energy I spent worrying about cleaning, making excuses for not cleaning, and procrastinating about cleaning. I imagine having an assistant has much the same synergistic effect.

  4. I kind of thought you were approaching the fame-and-connectionz limit to need an assistant for affairs soon. It’s all properly in the progress of things. You aren’t wussing out.

    I’m not sure how much GTD will help when going through your inbox, literally, really would be days of work even if you simply parsed and then ignored everything. Probably not at all.

    Hope you can find the wherewithal to hire an assistant. In a perfect world you’d be able to field two—one for your affairs, and a web goblin, but it’s not a perfect world and the first one is probably more important than the second.

  5. I’m also of the feeling that you’ve probably arrived at that point legitimately. It’s time to let someone else help you (with your e-mail, at least).

  6. I’ve long advocated the concept of “Liferuptcy” — that is, when life duties become too onerous, there should be a way to shuffle them off entirely that don’t involve sticking one’s head into the oven.

    Have you looked into those overseas online personal assistants, like taskseveryday or oDesk? They sound pretty darn cool, I have to admit!


  7. I understand the Protestant Work Ethic, and especially the Feeling Like I’m Just Lazy part. I’d recommend checking out Tim Ferriss’s “The Four Hour Work Week” (preferrably from a library) and reading his chapter on outsourcing your personal work. He has recommendations on companies to use, what a virtual assistant can and can’t do, and things I think most people wouldn’t think about (Be sure to be very specific and set time limits on tasks. How important is a native English speaker? etc.) Hopefully it helps. Good luck!

  8. Thank you for activating your BrainPal(tm). Your BrainPail(tm) includes the optional SmarterMail(tm) module to handle all of your e-mail and blogging needs!

    We’ll just need to go through a few simple questions so that your BrainPal(tm) can synchronize with your existing e-mail accounts and blog software.

    Please say “yes” now.


  9. John,

    A blogger I read and respect, Pam Slim, hit the wall in her consulting biz and now, I believe, uses a virtual assistant from http://www.multiplestreamsteam.com/. No idea of costs etc, but she talked about it here: http://www.escapefromcubiclenation.com/get_a_life_blog/2007/01/the_near_delusi.html. The local company she mentions won’t work for you since you two don’t live in the same town, but perhaps the virtual company would? She’s very approachable so drop her an email if you’re interested.

    Oh and on finding email… setup a GMail account and have it fetch emails from your server. The search feature in GMail is great so even if you don’t use it as a primary mail interface it’s nice as a search engine for your mails.

  10. Assuming that it is affordable and effective, what we’re looking at here is another aspect of the same problem that generated the “possible adds/webgoblin” discussion earlier.

    From my, personal and selfish, perspective the answer is simple. Again, assuming affordable and effective, the thought of getting someone/something else to do the non-Scalzi required processes to free up scarce Scalzi-time for the stuff that _is_ Scalzi-required is a no brainer. “Protestant Work Ethic” is really “Finds It Hard To Delegate” in disguise. I vote for more Scalzi-Stuff(TM): storys, Whatever, conventions, etc. Just remember, no contracts with Tempe.

  11. I love GTD too, but I think it depends on whether you’re a list-oriented person. You may want to look at the virtual assistant idea – pay by the hour for them to deal with routine administrative (virtual) stuff. I hear that real life personal assistants work well too.

  12. As an interim solution you could buy a pet sloth.

    Could you even imagine how productive you’d feel after a long day in the office, only to come out and see your pet sloth had only moved three feet since you’d started working?

    Pretty damn productive I’d imagine.

  13. A minimum wage college student, especially one whose major is English. You’d have a line forming at your door for the job.

  14. @8. Exactly what I was thinking. :D

    Of course, that begs the question… what would John Scalzi name his Brainpal?

  15. Oh, hire the assistant already. If it makes you feel better, you can tell yourself you’re contributing to the country’s economic recovery.

  16. I’m pretty much a nobody, as far as the grand scheme of things goes, and I have 538 unread e-mails in my AOL account, 2 unread e-mails in my Yahoo account, and 5 unread e-mails on my school account (as I type this, my AOL account is probably getting even more… mostly spam but it’s so hard to wade through it to find legitimate e-mails!)…
    So don’t feel bad if you need to get some help with your e-mails! Goodness knows I could use it, and as I said, I’m pretty much a nobody!!!

  17. How much is your time worth? Is it always that value or does it change with what you are doing? Copy equals Cash yes? What’s the per word rate on emails? How do you figure the pay rate on a data migration and merge of two Whatever DB’s? How much time do you spend doing things that most anyone could do?
    I have to assume you read Grumbles From The Grave. RAH went through the same process.
    Back to today, my only sugestion would be to get a personal email for friends and family,a buisness email and a general email. This assumes you don’t already have this set up.
    Good luck finding good help. If you do find it reward it.

  18. Get an assistant, you deserve one. You need one. They need a job. E-mails get answered. bookings get done. Your ride up has only just begun(meaning going to get even more popular) so make it easier on yourself get someone to help out.

  19. Sounds like a good problem to have. Better to have too much work than not enough! I’ll be your virtual assistant. Just Kidding. I think. Maybe not….

  20. Anny Mouse @ 16 said:
    “I’m pretty much a nobody, as far as the grand scheme of things goes, and I have 538 unread e-mails in my AOL account, 2 unread e-mails in my Yahoo account, and 5 unread e-mails on my school account (as I type this, my AOL account is probably getting even more… mostly spam but it’s so hard to wade through it to find legitimate e-mails!)…”

    I’m also a nobody, and I average just under 500 e-mails a day at home, of which about 2/3 are spam. I waste very little time on separating the spam from the legitimate mail, as I have a very satisfactory Bayesian filter that is a plug-in to my e-mail software. (In addition, my e-mail software also does a very nice job of redirecting the legitimate e-mail into the various folders that I have defined, using the criteria that I defined – but that is a separate issue.)

    Now that I have the Bayesian filter “trained”, it catches approximately 99.5 percent of the spam, and the rate of false positives is currently running somewhere under 0.01 percent. Because of the (very rare) false positives, after the filter has finished moving the spam into my “Junk” folder, I still skim down the “From” names in the index file of the “Junk” folder. That takes me less than a minute, after which I delete all the spam.

    The Bayesian filter I use is specifically designed to interface with the rather obscure e-mail software that I use, but I know that there are other Bayesian filters available to use with almost any mail program on the market, so I suggest that you look into using one. I won’t say that the spam filter that I use was “the best $15 that I ever spent”, but it certainly comes close to winning that title.

    With best wishes,
    – Tom –

  21. Scalzi, you’re internet famous. What’s the point of being internet famous if you can’t have an assistant?

  22. Stan @24:

    Too early in the morning for Heinlein references. For a minute there I thought you were trying to restart the straight guys with cats are gay thread.

  23. I found that when we approached 50 books a year — actually closer to 60 now, I think — the spreadsheet in my head stopped being able to keep track of things with any degree of competency or regularity. So I hired a Director of Production who had zero publishing experience beyond loving the sf/fantasy field, and taught her enough in a year that she’s now handling about 1/3 of the titles that flow through SubPress.

    In the same time, our business increased so much that my business partner could no longer keep up with both the invoicing and shipping, so we outsourced the latter.

    Add to that I have a lawn service, a part time garden helper for my wife, and a regular cleaning service, and it’s made my life a bit more manageable, if not unhectic. Of course, there’s still the 200-250 emails I receive each day that require some sort of response or action on my part…

    Welcome to being successful, John. Outsource as much as you reasonably can, especially those things you don’t enjoy, as your time is best doing the work — the writing — that generates income, and that no one can do for you.


  24. Get an assistant. Tell your Protestant work ethic that you have expanded your small business and are now an employer, on your way to being a major economic force, and it will have to shut up.

    Seriously, it will make you feel less guilty if the work is being done, no matter who does it. You will have more time to devote to the things only you can do, and you will be doing your part to lower unemployment and increase liquidity in the financial sector.

  25. Stan @ 24: You need Gay Deciever.

    Hah. I’m not a car, nor can I dimension hop, but I am desperately in search of a job. Too bad that I just signed a six month lease up here in NYC. Yarg.

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