You understand the value of time. Otherwise, the C-suite would have been out of reach. But are you doing everything you can to maximize your time? It’s not enough to hire an executive assistant and just hope for the best. They can be your project manager, personal assistant, and chief of staff, if you know how to cultivate a partnership.

In their new book, The 29-Hour Work Day, Ethan and Stephanie Bull reveal their framework for building an alliance with the right EA to support your professional and personal growth. Their five performance multipliers show how to hire a trustworthy assistant, establish expectations, and set guidelines that will enable you both to accomplish goals.

Letting go of control is hard but with a strong support system, you gain the freedom to focus on the rest of your responsibilities. The book teaches how to communicate with your EA effectively, build a working relationship that endures and find more hours in your day with this innovative approach to identifying your needs and gaining peace of mind.

Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Ethan and Stephanie Bull, authors of The 29-Hour Work Day: A High Performer’s Guide to Leveraging Your EA. Ethan, Stephanie, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.

Stephanie Bull: Thank you, it’s nice to be here.

Ethan Bull: Thanks a lot.

Drew Appelbaum: Help us kick the podcast off. Can you give us a brief rundown of your respective professional backgrounds? Stephanie, why don’t you kick it off for us first?

Stephanie Bull: Yeah, sure Drew, thank you. I started in the world of finance. I was a psychology major in college and never expected to end up in finance but I moved to New York City and lo and behold, found myself working for Credit Suisse First Boston and I was an executive assistant there.

Quickly rose into some project management work and was recognized for my work there and was poached by a hedge fund called Tremblant Capital and stayed there for about eight years and managed the CEO’s life. Everything from his estate planning to buying artwork to his kid’s calendars and also, all of my tasks working at Tremblant for the operational side.

I did a short stint in fashion and learned through that stint, I was working for the CEO of J.Crew and learned that I really enjoy fashion but don’t like working with fashion people and so I went back to finance for a short time and then we moved upstate, we created ProAssisting from there. Yes, that’s the short and sweet version.

Drew Appelbaum: Nice, and how about you, Ethan?

Ethan Bull: Yeah, I went to school at Bentley University outside of Boston, got my degree in marketing, did not know really what I was going to do after college, I did have an internship with Warner Elektra Atlantic, a record label and through that internship, I learned that Warner Brothers was making a movie in New York City and that they needed production assistants.

So I applied, interviewed, got the job, took the train down to New York City. Fortunately, my uncle had an apartment there that I was able to crash at and rode the elevator up on my first day to the production office with Meg Ryan. I was completely starstruck and could barely get words out. She was extremely gracious, really talked me down, that was my first day on the job in New York City and you know, kind of fell in love with entertainment, acting and production work and decided to continue on that path in both studio and independent productions.

I then shifted into the agent trainee program at the William Morris Agency where you have everybody from Yale and Harvard, MBA and JD students pushing mail carts to be an agent trainee because the assistant position in the entertainment industry is really how about I’d say 75% of the people get their start.

I then shifted from William Morris to USA Films where I was second assistant to the Chairman of USA Films while we were making the movie Traffic by Steven Soderbergh that won the Academy Award following year and then, I shifted into advertising as an executive assistant, working for the chief operating office and chief strategy officer at Deutsche, a Madison Avenue head shop. Spent 12 years there and then when Stephanie and I had our second son in New York City, it was time to pull stakes, we moved to upstate New York right outside of Rochester, to a little town called Canandaigua where I grew up.

We quickly realized that the term executive assistant means something a little different in Rochester, New York than it does in New York City and fortunately I was able to land in one of those seats that was commensurate with our experience, assisting the CEO of Rochester Regional Health, second largest employer in Rochester, 16,000 employees, two billion in revenue and I was also director of admin services, leading a team of 80 assistants and we supported 250 healthcare executives throughout that organization.

Then during that time, Stephanie was contacted by a friend of ours who connected her with an international consultant who needed support, traveled the world, worked with Fortune 100 companies and that actually turned out to be our first client at ProAssisting, which we’ve been running for the last three and a half, going on four years as a remote executive assistant company.

Drew Appelbaum: So, you guys have been in this industry for a very, very long time so why was now the time to share your story and this story? Did you have an “aha moment”, do you have something inspiring out there to make you want to write this book?

Ethan Bull: I’ll jump in here. I talk to a lot of prospects looking at our service to potentially partner with one of our assistants and we noticed that some of them don’t know how they want to leverage the support of a great EA. We did see a lot of books, great books, written by executive assistants on how to be an executive assistant.

But we didn’t see many books out there geared towards C-Suite executives, entrepreneurs and business owners about how to really partner with an executive assistant from their perspective, a training manual, if you will and so, Stephanie humored me by agreeing to write this book and we really think there’s a place for it and we wrote it because we were seeing that, both of us with the clients we were working with.

What is an Executive Assistant, Anyway?

Drew Appelbaum: Now, let’s dig into the book itself but I feel like we need to set the foundation first. Can you just define what a personal assistant is and are they one and the same as an executive assistant?

Stephanie Bull: Well, Drew, the term executive assistant, it’s always interesting when someone asks you, “So, what do you do?” and you say, I’m an executive assistant and they say, “What does that mean or, what do you do?” The question is, “What don’t I do?” Because I’ve been asked to do so many various tasks and part of the book, we break down the role and we call them performance multipliers and one part of the executive assistant role is acting as a personal assistant. That can mean different things for different people but generally it’s running their family or home life, calendars, travel, things of that nature.

Ethan Bull: I would just add that Stephanie’s exactly right. It’s not what we don’t do or can’t do, we probably can do that and the five performance multipliers are the being a business partner, being a project manager, a chief of staff, an assistant/scheduler and then what Stephanie was mentioning being that personal assistant. So being a top-level executive assistant kind of encompasses all of that.

Drew Appelbaum: I imagine there is different kinds of executive to assistant relationships out there. What would you say that the average and the typical executive-assistant relationship looks like these days?

Ethan Bull: I would say that obviously, it’s being someone who is keeping things off of that person’s plate, taking things away from that person’s plate and really being that single point of contact for the principle to you know, have a 10 minute conversation and their to do list goes from 15 things down to three.

Now, getting into specifics, it’s calendar management, it’s interacting with vendors, clients, prospects, it’s research, whether that’s doing travel planning or figuring out where to hold the next board meeting and then there’s the personal side of things, in terms of putting my kid’s soccer schedule on the calendar so I don’t miss one or a higher end and a higher level is manage my art collection.

Or, interact with my housekeeper or my gardener to make sure the lawn is cut for the party on Saturday. That’s kind of – and it changes depending on the principle but that’s kind of an overview, would you agree Steph? Is there anything that I missed?

Stephanie Bull: Yeah, no, I would absolutely agree with that. Yeah.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, has this relationship changed over the years, is it the same now as it was say, 10, 20 years ago?

Stephanie Bull: That’s a very interesting question, it’s one that we’ve talked a lot about actually in our business because it can be sometimes industry specific in terms of working in finance and Ethan and his entertainment background, it was, the assistant was expected to do everything and roll up their sleeves and “I can order underwear for your father next week, absolutely, I will do that.”

Ethan Bull: Which is true, you did do that.

Boundaries and Respect

Stephanie Bull: This is a true story, that’s why I said it. “Yes, I’ll call a taxi and send your girlfriend’s modeling portfolio down to her agency right now” and you don’t blink an eye, you just do it with a smile on your face and you’re compensated commensurately because it’s the attitude, right? It’s, “Yes, I can do this, I will figure out a way to do this” and problem solving.

Given sort of me too and I think there’s been a light shed on inequality in the workplace on so many different levels, I feel like that’s changed, there is more definition now. I think in companies, boundaries that are built out for people to know like, “This is an okay thing, this is an appropriate thing for you to ask of your assistant. This is not an okay thing” and I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole on this show but I think personal things, some might say, “Oh well, you know, that’s not appropriate for them to ask this of me.”

I never said that in my job, I was never asked to do anything that felt inappropriate but in terms of just the personal nature of it, so what do you think Ethan?

Ethan Bull: I would just add that I think the real inflection point was when the Blackberry was introduced followed by the iPhone and I think that introduction of technology in our roles, Stephanie in particular because I was jealous of Stephanie back in the day because she worked for a hedge fund and they coveted their Blackberries and I had my little flip phone and I couldn’t type a text out to save my life.

But along with having that Blackberry, I can count more than half a dozen times where Stephanie and I were out to dinner, she would get an email and then she’d had to step out onto the sidewalk and either call the travel agent, call the airline, change the restaurant reservation, adjust the calendar because she had that power in her hands now and back then, you weren’t being compensated adjusted.

There was no adjustment and comp, there were was no remote work policy, so it was just keep doing and that is really where I think it expanded in terms of us providing work during our personal lives when we are outside of office hours but then also the principles, understanding that we have this capability now and if we are not saying no and why not ask and why not see where we can go.

So I really think that was a huge inflection point from a technology perspective and that being said, that has allowed us to do what we do with ProAssisting by providing remote executive assistance support. So it is a double edge sword, you know? I think that was just important to note at.

Drew Appelbaum: For sure, what is the optimal relationship between executive and EA look like and what are some of the benefits that executives could see when everything is really locked in with a great executive assistant?

Stephanie Bull: I’m just going to jump in because three things come to top of mind. It’s organic when it’s working well. Communication, communication, communication, mutual respect, and trust. When you are communicating on a regular basis, assistant and principle, whether it’s text or emails or phone calls, just keeping a dialogue.

It is like your work spouse, it really is, that’s the relationship and as long as the principle respects what the assistant is doing, the assistant is respectful of the principle and their time, that trust is a natural byproduct of that good relationship, where the principle asks something to be done or is expecting something to be done on a certain date and knows it’s going to happen and doesn’t have to micromanage the assistant, doesn’t have to remind them or check in, things just get done. So those are the things that come to mind for me.

Ethan Bull: I would just add that obviously I agree with all three of those points and just to give an example would be along the lines of a principle asking their assistant, “Well, what do you think?” or “Is there a better way to do this?” and when they value that opinion and they are kind of mining the experience of the assistant to get the best out of them and then trust them and go with it.

Or if a principle is talking to a service provider of theirs, they bring their assistant in the room, they look at the service provider and say, “This is my assistant, whatever he or she says goes and I want you interacting with them. You don’t need to talk to me because they’ll know.” When they put that kind of trust in you, you know it’s working. It is kind of the reason that you want to be an assistant and it doesn’t happen overnight but when you find that relationship you want to stick with it.

How to Know You Need an EA

Drew Appelbaum: Now, for folks who don’t have an executive assistant, what are some signs out there that is going on in their work life or personal life that now might be the time to go out and look for one?

Ethan Bull: I would say feeling inundated with inbound requests especially if you are running your own business and you feel like you can’t get back to everybody and you’re being pulled in multiple directions, potentially doing things that need to get done but don’t necessarily need to be done by you and when you can put a dollar figure, how much an hour of your time costs and then compare that to what it would cost you to partner with a great EA to handle that and how much that compounds month over month.

I have those conversations everyday with prospects and really making sure we’re the right fit for them and sometimes we are and sometimes we aren’t but those are the kind of questions we ask in that discovery process.

Drew Appelbaum: So are there any other questions? How do you know when you are vetting or looking for a new service, what are those best questions to ask to make sure you are finding the right fit?

Ethan Bull: You know, whether you are hiring a person full-time to be your assistant that is kind of separate from the world that we’re in, in terms of providing remote support and in the world of remote support, you’ve got a ton of different options. One of the questions that I would be asking is I am partnering with this company to give me an assistant that I really want to trust and I really want to form a great partnership with and they are charging me $45 an hour for this service, how much are they paying their assistant?

How much is the assistant that I am going to be working with getting paid and is that in line with the work that I want this assistant to do? Which it totally can be or do I really want that top-level executive assistant and want them to meet those expectations but also I want them to be compensated appropriately so they are with me for a long time and we can really form that strong relationship.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, what impact do you hope that the book will have on a reader and are there any immediate steps that you hope that they’ll take either midway through or once they put the book down?

Ethan Bull: I would, if they currently do have an assistant, I would hope that they use it as a jumping off point to open a dialogue with their assistant, to form the relationship they want and that hopefully the EA wants as well. If they don’t have an assistant or are about to partner with an assistant, I think our book is going to open their minds a little bit in terms of what is possible and allow them to be really upfront with their expectations and make sure that their assistant is onboard too.

All about kind of creating the equal flow of communication between the two, so there are no ambiguities or misunderstandings and you know, you are getting the most out of that relationship, that is usually where the breakdown happens. Would you add anything Steph?

Stephanie Bull: No, I was just going to emphasize that yeah, I think it is going to be eye opening to readers. They might have someone that they are working with that they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that they have the capacity to take on these additional roles under the same umbrella title of executive assistant” so yeah, I agree.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, you also have a website where folks could find more information. Can you tell us the website and what readers and listeners can find there?

Ethan Bull: Sure, the website is proassisting.com and that takes you to our business, which is providing remote executive assistance to clients across the country but there is a tab at the top that says book and you can click on that to go to the page for, The 29-Hour Work Week, and we look at it as kind of a tool that we are now giving new clients and really kind of allowing them to absorb it and see what’s possible and so that’s how you get to the book there and then there are links that take you to the various stores.

Drew Appelbaum: Well Ethan, Stephanie, we just touched on the surface of the book here. There is so much more inside including those five performance multipliers that you touched on earlier. I just want to say that putting this book out there to really empower and elevate personal and executive assistance is no small feat. So congratulations on having this book published.

Ethan Bull: Thank you so much Drew, really appreciate that.

Stephanie Bull: Thanks so much Drew. Thanks for having us today.

Drew Appelbaum: I do have one question left. It is the hot seat question, so prepare yourself. If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?

Ethan Bull: I would say don’t be afraid to have open and honest conversations with your assistant.

Stephanie Bull: I would say don’t be afraid to place your trust in your executive assistant and know that they will have your back.

Drew Appelbaum: Well Ethan, Stephanie, this has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, The 29-Hour Work Day, and you could find it on Amazon. Ethan, Stephanie, besides checking out the book and your website, is there anywhere else where people can connect with you?

Ethan Bull: I – no, actually. When we’re not working, we want to be private people and we’re off in the background. So yeah, no. There is no other place actually. No, actually LinkedIn is the other place. You know, people can check out our profiles and whatnot but yeah.

Drew Appelbaum: Absolutely, totally respect that. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show and best of luck with your new book.

Ethan Bull: Thanks a lot, Drew.

Stephanie Bull: Thank you.