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ADHD Seeking Personal Assistant?
February 11, 2011 1:57 PM   Subscribe

ADHD Seeking Personal Assistant? I'm 35 years old, married with children, and an assistant professor on tenure track with relatively high research and teaching expectations. I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (predominantly inattentive) in the summer of 2010.

It felt like a real revelation, and I think has been overall a source of good change. Prior to that event, I felt like my life was a giant jigsaw puzzle made up of a million pieces, and while I might occasionally manage to get a few areas of the puzzle to fit together, I never could see how it all fit together. It never occurred to me that there might be something that could explain so many things in my life that have always seemed unusual (eg, my procrastinating tendencies, short-term memory challenges, simultaneous tendencies to either pay very close attention ("hyperfocus") or not at all, and on and on). I have been reading a lot of books and articles on ADD and ADHD, am seeing a counselor regularly (sort of a cross between therapist, life coach and spiritual director), and take 40 mg Adderral daily. I think I would like to hire a personal assistant next, but do not have the budget to do so. I also don't really know what it is I'd be asking this person to do or help me with even if I could come up with the money. I wanted to ask a few questions, that have probably a range of possible answers, but I also wanted to get advice and information from others because I thought that probably AskMeFi readers might have some overall suggestions I hadn't considered.

First, why do I think I need a personal assistant?

I need one for reasons related to my problems with money. I have a PhD in economics, yet I think my ADD symptoms make it so that I cannot get set up with really basic tools to stay financially organized. I am constantly losing major amounts of money as a result - embarrassing levels. I'm talking like forgetting to pay bills, and as a result having to pay really high fines. I've used Mint.com, Quicken, homemade spreadsheets of my own design. I've tried tricks where I keep every receipt and try to do through some system I concocted involving that. And it always follows the same pattern - as I tend to hyperfocus, I will hyperfocus in the beginning, and for a spell - maybe between 2-3 months - it will work fine. Then something will either happen or I will just realize I am no longer using the system. And then I return to my longrun equilibrium, which is no system, no plan, and everything blowing around me. That's where I kind of am now. Behind me on my desk are expenditures for a trip to a conference where all I had to do was take the $600-700 in receipts and give it to our secretary, and she would then reimburse me, so long as I did it pretty soon after returning from the trip (like within 2 weeks). That lapsed, and I've been too embarassed to go talk to people, as I feel like I am already viewed as a complete spaz. I have underneath that stack another set of receipts from a business trip in November worth probably $400 that I didn't submit. And the worst one of all? I arranged for a speaker to come and present research, told the person that we would pay for the flight, and then realized about 1 week before the person arrived that I hadn't ever booked the flight. Flights which were normally $300-400 were now $1200. Rather than ask my dept, I ended up eating the cost myself. "Eating the cost" here means putting it on a credit card, not drawing from savings, which if not for automatic savings accounts built into my job, I wouldn't have anything.

I've gone through a lot since the ADD diagnosis, and recently I realized that while it is true that I may very well be biologically prone to this, it is not true that I cannot create things that will make it so that I no longer "lose" $2000 in a 4 month span like this. I personally believe that if I just keep trying harder, though, like I've been doing my whole life, I will lose everything that is important to me, like my wife and my job. I just don't think that I can myself, on my own, do it with behavioral modification, because I feel like I have tried everything in the past, and I always return to the same chaotic equilibrium. THe only thing I know to try is to really think outside the box, and that's why a personal assistant seemed sensible.

The hard part in this is that I think the thing that is and has been destroying me is actually the only thing that could ever make a person like me successful. With the ADD comes an intense level of never-ending creativity and when I do hyperfocus on those things, and with the help of Adderral eliminate a lot of the procrastinating stuff, or at least mitigate it a lot, I am able to be the kind of teacher and researcher that I think I am suited for ultimately. But only if I can manage it, control it.

So the personal assistant would be necessary at the very least for money stuff - both at home and at work. They would manage my calendar too. They'd help me with scheduling - stuff at work with students, colleagues, help me remember not just what I've scheduled but what I need to schedule. They'd help me design the infrastructure that normal people can design but which for me seems like an impossible task.

But I also would want someone who maybe can themselves even go further. Half the things I need, I don't even know the name for. And probably most of the things I think I need help with, I may not. So here are some questions.

How do you find people like this? I don't even know what I'm looking for.

Any other advice is much appreciated. The good news is I think I have always been going in the right direction, and I'm grateful for all the help from friends and loved ones. I am excited about this phase of my life, as while it seems to suggest I'm not probably able to do some of the things I've been beating my head against the wall trying to do for as long as I can remember, it is possible for me work around them. And that's encouraging for me.
posted by scunning to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
(Talk to your financial person about the reimbursements - I work for a university and although you're supposed to submit your receipts promptly, it only really causes a problem if it's past the end of the fiscal year. It seems borderline dishonest to me to refuse to reimburse faculty travel if the receipts aren't turned in right away, and I have never heard of a university doing this. We here have pretty clear policies stating that you're not supposed to make or lose money traveling on university business. The flight, yeah, try to hand that one off to the dept secretary if you can, or get the guest to pay and reimburse them.)
posted by Frowner at 2:04 PM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Perhaps a virtual personal assistant? There's several such services. There was an Esquire article by Al Jacobs a while back where he detailed some of the tasks he offloaded.
posted by jamaro at 2:19 PM on February 11, 2011


To some extent, I do things like this for my partner (and vice versa). If it's a matter of paying the bills, would your partner be willing to do it? I'm not saying to lean on her entirely, but there might be things she's willing and able to take over.

What kind of counseling or other help have you gotten for ADHD? There are some people who specialize in this kind of thing--not personal assistants, per se, but sort of practical counselors/coaches.

Have you looked into a support group? It sounds like you feel very alone, weird, like a freak or the "spaz" at work. It might do you worlds of good to seek out others who are in the same boat.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:20 PM on February 11, 2011


Why is your wife not managing the household finances? Does she have equal difficulty doing so? I mean, that's part of the point of a marriage, split up duties so you play to your strengths -- or at least avoid your weaknesses. If she can manage the bills competently, LET HER MANAGE THE BILLS. You now have bathroom-cleaning duty.

Have you considered hiring a student 10 hours a week or something to manage your appointment calendar and work receipts? That would be a PLUM student job, especially if the hours were flexible and they thought they could get a great rec letter from a faculty member who knew them pretty well.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:21 PM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dear Scunning,

YES. Do it. Get a personal assistant, even part time. That seems like a very wise, practical decision. If you've lost $2000 in the last couple of months, they will be worth the cost in no time.

It just sounds like the smartest thing to do. I bet it will help you feel more relaxed, less guilty, less worried, more peaceful, and that will help your work, your marriage, your health.....DO IT!!!!
posted by sleeping beauty at 2:29 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Behind me on my desk are expenditures for a trip to a conference where all I had to do was take the $600-700 in receipts and give it to our secretary, and she would then reimburse me, so long as I did it pretty soon after returning from the trip (like within 2 weeks). That lapsed, and I've been too embarassed to go talk to people, as I feel like I am already viewed as a complete spaz.

You must have figured out by now that we (academics) are eccentric and odd, right? Just submit it, nobody will care. They will not think you are a spaz. People do much worse things.
posted by special-k at 2:39 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've worked as a personal assistant many times. Each client has different needs, but everything you're needing is totally within the reasonable realm. You could have a student-type or you could look, maybe on craigslist, for an experienced personal assistant who might come with checkable references. Or you might ask around for recommendations from colleagues or friends. Totally doable, and you should.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:45 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is your wife not managing the household finances?

Yes, your spouse should probably be in charge of bill-paying for your household. If you both suck equally at that, you guys need a personal assistant for your home finances as well as the personal assistant you need for your business-related travel and finances.


I myself would not get a student, even a grad student, as a personal assistant for the business stuff, but would hire someone who is a professional with experience in managing people's business schedules and finances. There are a lot of people who do this (also managing small practices for doctors).
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:52 PM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Academic here. Everyone turns receipts in late.... 2 weeks barely counts!
posted by kestrel251 at 3:02 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


From what you've described here, you don't need a personal assistant as badly as you need help managing the guilt and anxiety this is causing you. Being late turning in receipts is normal behavior, eating two grand because you're too embarrassed by being late to even try to get your expenses reimbursed is seriously self-destructive.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:22 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can place an ad for a personal assistant on Craigslist, if you live in a major city. State your requirements and desired qualifications.

But, yeah, virtual assistants are good. Have a look at this blog post.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:24 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, post for a super organized student to handle a little of this for you for pay, but I think it would be dishonest to frame it as anything but a secretarial work study position, equivalent to working in the dining hall. Don't hire a student as a "research assistant" only to have them tracking your receipts and booking your appointments instead of doing academic work. That would be the worst kind of intern abuse.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:30 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Former academic secretary here. Two weeks is nothin'. I had to chase down fools for months after a particularly big seminar shindig my boss threw.

Also, any problem you can throw money at to resolve your angst over it is one you should throw money at to resolve. Mr. F and I hate doing laundry and work long VFX work weeks (45-60 hours and sometimes more)-- we got fluff n' fold service. It feels vaguely decadent, but it frees up a lot of time on the weekends for us to have a personal life that doesn't involve 35 pounds of dirty clothes.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:42 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where is your spouse in this? If she's at all capable of managing the household finances, give it all to her. She must know this is not your best area. But you need to pick up something else in exchange.

Next, so many professors are absent-minded like this. Talk to your department secretary. I don't know if you should tell her you have ADHD, but do tell her you are having problems with remembering to turn in receipts and such. It's not her job to help you do this, but if you follow the regular rules, her job is easier too. So see if she has any suggestions for you.

I do think a super organized student could be a big help, just to get you set up with some systems.

Finally, you have got to forgive yourself for being forgetful and distracted. Your anxiety about this is not going to make it better!
posted by bluedaisy at 4:13 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had to submit receipts for our project team the last couple of years, and the other members of the team frequently take a year or more to get receipts to me after travel. It's no biggie.

It sounds like you do want exactly what you say: a PA. My father has one in his job and she does exactly the stuff you suggest: deals with finance, organisation, scheduling, reminds him of stuff, etc. Unfortunately good PAs can be expensive, but if you had one who just worked for you one day a week, and came up with a good organisational and scheduling system for you, maybe you could flounder through the other days alone? How bad can things get during the other six days? Not bad enough that she/he can't make it all right again when she/he is back.

One possibility for paying for it, if it is primarily work related, might be some sort of salary sacrificing deal - at least that would save you on taxes. Alternatively, at our university, any money people make from consulting, royalties, etc goes into a special account that they can use for things like paying someone to teach their classes, or conference travel, or paying a research assistant. People can also top up these accounts from their own personal money. Maybe your university has something similar? The advantage is that then the salary of the person they hire (in your case the PA) is handled by university payroll, and they are covered for university benefits and so on, and you don't have to deal with any of the paperwork.
posted by lollusc at 5:19 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It felt like a real revelation, and I think has been overall a source of good change. Prior to that event, I felt like my life was a giant jigsaw puzzle made up of a million pieces, and while I might occasionally manage to get a few areas of the puzzle to fit together, I never could see how it all fit together.

Wow, does that ring a bell!

The psychiatrist who diagnosed my ADD recommended that I work with an ADHD coach. I sort of scoffed at the idea of a "coach," but it was life changing. Basically, my meetings with a coach consisted of me saying, "I have trouble with ___" (exactly the kind of things you're asking about) and her telling me how to approach it step by step.

Seeing a coach might even help you make better use of an assistant-- after all, remember that even a good assistant will need you to explain what you want done and require some supervision. CHADD is a good place to start looking for a coach. If you're seeing an ADD specialist for your Adderall, they should also be able to give you referrals.

(While I was looking for the CHADD directory link, I found this article on ADD and personal finances-- might be helpful.)
posted by Sifleandollie at 5:38 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I occasionally work in the film industry as a Director's Assistant. On feature films and some television projects, an assistant for the director is part of the budget. My last job like this was working for someone who, if not clinically diagnosed, definitely has all the characteristics of someone with ADHD. In addition to "office" or "job" related tasks (breaking down scripts, taking notes in meetings, dealing with scheduling and correspondence) I also did personal life stuff as well. Lots of travel arrangements for wife, kid, nanny, etc. Lots of dealing with his living arrangements. Lots of errands.

If your department allows you the funding to have an assistant, that would obviously be the way to go - that said, my bosses generally pay me separately for certain "personal life" tasks, especially if that involves giving me money to go do something for them (e.g. birthday present shopping for the kid). And the "office" tasks come first, obviously.

One thing I'll say, though, is that the ADHD personality stuff required a degree of flexibility. It was a lot like babysitting. For instance I once had to go downstairs to our post-production house to rip him away from shooting the shit about film stock with the techies, because he had a casting meeting Right Fucking Now, Man. I had to keep him on task in meetings. I had to bug him about stuff that most people would remember (watching dailies, for instance), because he had zero time management skills. I had to remind him Every Fucking Day when it was time to come in from lunch, because he'd get distracted and have the whole damn crew waiting. Communication and task management was also an issue, because he'd forget about important things until the last minute, sending me out for toothpaste at 10pm when I'd been lolling about looking for something to do all damn day.

A lot of the time, I felt like I was his boss, and not the other way around.

Also, personal finances aren't usually part of the job description. The ADHD guy mentioned above had an accountant for that. I often had to mail things to said accountant, or call up Amex about something, or get Applecare on his new phone - anything more complicated (like paying his bills) was above my paygrade.
posted by Sara C. at 9:11 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Frowner, and others who noted the association between shame/guilt and the lateness - I had thought that I might need to directly address this feeling of extreme embarassment over these mistakes, and historically I have always. I think what gave me hesitation over the really large mistake last fall involving me forgetting to book a ticket and then choosing to pay for it myself ($1200) was that I was taking over a duty in my dept bc the person who traditionally did it was on leave. I had already screwed up the scheduling of an earlier speaker. In hindsight, this is something I cannot imagine knowing what I know now about the ADD I would have ever in a million years said yes to - to actually be the one responsible for a public good like this where the only skill needed to do it is the one skill I don't have! Before the diagnosis, it wasn't that I was in denial, it's that I was so focused on trying to realize the things I was good at that I didn't really have the language to articulate so clearly that I really couldn't handle the kind of tasks that required so much diligent attention to details and organization. I'm not sure if it is that I actually "can't", or if it's that I just find it tedious and boring. I don't even necessarily notice that I'm bored- I just start to do something, and if it's not interesting to me at that moment, I literally cannot draw upon the resources needed to do the task, whether that is attention itself as a resource, willpower, or what . I may sometimes even fall asleep doing stuff like that, but more often than not it's an hour later and I'm reading something online or writing an email than doing whatever it is I started out doing.

What ultimately happened is that my job, being tenure track, with the research expectations and the teaching expectations, and even the collegiality expectations being what they were - three areas that when I was hired I just felt certain wouldn't be a problem for me, as I only had evidence ex ante that I was going to excel in all three areas. But in economics, because the publishing lags are so severe and long (if you hear back from a journal in six months, that's fast. Oftentimes, the story is more like time to publication is over a year from the point of submission, which when you add to the time it took you to do the study means it might be 2-3 years from the time you start a study before it gets published), and I never actually submitted anything until after graduation, I found these things happening in my life that I did not anticipate. Specifically, the taking on of really high risk empirical studies - high risk for a lot of reasons (unclear if there was an audience at all, unclear where I'd send the papers, unclear if I would even have a chance at decent outlets, unclear if the empirical methodology would be satisfactory, and so on) - and my inability to say no to myself. I began taking on a lot of studies simultaneously. I could've seen that coming, because my adviser in grad school had regularly told me "let's put that idea on the back burner" - probably said some form of that phrase 20-30 times in my entire time there. My hyperactivity, if I have that, only comes out intellectually - when presenting at conferences, or teaching, or maybe in just working through some new idea for a project. I figured I also just needed to play the odds, because the lags were so severe, and have multiple projects going on - that seemed like a portfolio problem, and that seemed like the right solution, and as those old projects are panning out finally, maybe I was right.

But in the shortrun, it was intense. I started to sense that I was losing ground and that I might get fired - not enough publications, not soon enough. Teaching quality was erratic - I think it's almost true to say that in the classroom, I am either the most inspiring teacher these students have had at this university, or I am the single worst teacher they have ever observed. It's that kind of high variance in performance that I think describes most of my life, actually - very either/or, with extreme outcomes. What I wanted to do as a teacher was play to my strengths, but because economics is a subject that requires a lot of intensive kinds of student-teacher work, particularly the development of effective forms of examination (eg homework), and because I hate writing exams and homework with every fiber of my being, I have had the hardest time actually preparing students for the exams. I've taken to now posting all my old exams so that if nothing else, since old and new exams are highly correlated in terms of how I test, students can at least prepare, and that has helped. But the point is, there were these kinds of things involving ADHD symptoms and my scholarly and teaching output that made me think that I was viewed negatively in such a way that I was afraid I would incur even worse costs if I were to say to my chair "I just cost you $800 over the cost of the flight", and despite being actually told to turn in my receipts, I just sat there and didn't.

It's not so much guilt and shame over my inattentiveness, though that has been a theme and I think I am making real healthy progress on that front, and have for a long time. Though the several posts on here asking me to ask why I am experiencing again shame and guilt over this - which I agree I think is happening - are making me think. But I think what's unique is that unlike other times in my life, I sense really high stakes in the situation I'm in. I cannot say I know if I'm at the margin for tenure, though I suspect I am but I suspect my vita now shows that in expectation I will pass the research threshold for my university, where that threshold now seems perfect for me - some quality standards and some quantity standards, and while not necessarily the quality standard I hope to personally achieve in the longrun, I suspect I would've gotten hammered if they had been any higher.

As you can see, I cannot maintain a coherent thought without it turning into this long dissertation.

Your points about the relationship between shame and inattentiveness - these are important ones, and Im going to talk to my counselor about it again. Mainly right now, I feel like I'm dangling from a chandelier, though, and my pants are falling down. I need to get down from the chandelier if I want to safely pull my pants up. The shame and guilt - I'm working on that with my counselor, but in the meantime, I have to get down from this chandelier. I feel like I'm a chronic sleepwalker who every few weeks wakes up dangling from the chandelier, and it's only a matter of time before it kills me - when, not if.
posted by scunning at 5:06 AM on February 12, 2011


On my spouse - the finances is not something that she feels competent in either. We are basically not identical with regards to these organizational problems, but there's some overlapping set on a few things like the finances. The main difference is that while we both feel incompetent, she experiences a level of anxiety that I don't. I am usually just in a different place. Me and these kinds of things is like a guy at his desk working when behind him the wall falls down and there's revealed an infestation of termites. I just pick up my computer and go in the other room. She tries to then fix the wall. IDeally you identify the termites way before that point, and that's where neither of us are. ANd that seems the longrun solution.
posted by scunning at 5:09 AM on February 12, 2011


Is she UNABLE to gain the competence to do the financial tasks (due to ADHD or similar issues), or is it just a very high-stress situation for her where avoidance comes into play? If it's the latter, she can learn. I have worked with clients (I'm a lawyer. You probably don't want to pay my kind of rates for this kind of work.) for whom it's a high-anxiety situation and I help them get it under control and develop systems and learn all the things they never learned, and as they begin to manage it themselves, feels secure in knowing they have "backup" and can call me. (For me, this usually developed adjunct to a different situation -- managing a family trust, or sorting out a financial dispute, something like that that led me to discover their finances were a mess and them usually tearfully confessing they didn't know what to do to fix it. There are much cheaper ways to do this than with a lawyer.)

If your wife thinks she could learn this, it's probably worth the monetary investment to have someone help her learn it and monitor her for a while until she feels confident in it. In the alternative, there are plenty of professionals who can manage this sort of thing for you, including personal assistants. Another option, which might be cheaper, is to seek out a well-organized stay-at-home parent, maybe who used to be an accountant or lawyer or something, and pay them to drop by once or twice a month and manage your bills. As an at-home mom myself right now, I'd definitely do this for $50 or so, extra for tax season, especially if I could bring my kid with me. Plus, organizing other people's shit is way more fun than organizing my own shit, as much as I love organizing shit generally. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:22 AM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee - I wrote the longest freaking response to your post just now and somehow ended up talking about the consumer price index. Which absolutely means I got off track somewhere, so I'm going to try again. To answer your question - I don't believe my wife is incapable at developing the skill set needed to address these issues.

But, I do suspect that there are so many of them, that if she were to take on the finances, it may not be that we end up with the fair division of labor - even if we contracted to do so. There's a systemic tendency for me to fail to follow through that needs to be realistically addressed. I prefer to think of it as for the moment a constraint, as opposed to one of the variables that can be changed.

I like your idea of both the stay-at-home parent, and I like your idea of having someone work with her. My sense is that she and I may be a few steps away from where presenting the latter as an option (ie, someone works with her other than me) is viable. That might require chiseling away at some of the funk that she and I are currently chiseling at which we didn't really realize it was what it was.

So yeah - in the longrun, maybe. It would never make her happy to do it, and it would be costly. And as an economist, I feel sort of like if it's possible to safely have someone else do it, then I'm fine with that, no matter what it is. If I pay people to teach my kids math, I should be able to pay someone to just take over these other things that I actually care about far less than my children. Yet I think she and I have always felt like while it's fine to pay someone to teach your kids, or watch your kids for a bit, it's not right to pay someone to do that which we could do if we could just stop being so lazy - which is again, I think my tendency to always frame this stuff as laziness and incompetence, neither of which felt correct.
posted by scunning at 9:59 AM on February 12, 2011


Eyebrows McGee - one more thing. The student option. I have talked to two students so far about this, both of whom are interested. I talked with one of them today about it, and that one may be more suited for it. But can you provide me with sort of a list in your mind that if I were to actually interview for this job, if it were you, you would recommend doing it this way or that way, and you would recommend looking for people who are this way or that?

I feel like in my head there's this perfect match out there - they can help with the finances, which suggests some organizational talent. But they also have this lifecoach part of them. It's not purely organizational outsourcing that I need, in other words. I feel like this person needs to be a real life coach. But I don't actually know what a life coach is - not really. I feel like they don't judge you, they help you with organizational stuff, details stuff, really critical stuff. They also are able to understand more deeply why you do what you do in terms of what you value. What do I want my life to have in it? WHen I see myself happiest in the future, what do I see? It seems like they have to possess both this organizational skillset (the personal assistant part) AND they need to help find through their own methods what it is that I need so that they can help design an appropriate lifecoaching track for me. One that probably does involve some kind of ongoing interaction with me. But while they shadow me, they don't shadow me too much. We're friendly, and even friends around this relationship, but not necessarily all the time with each other (I need my space!).

That job description sounds so opaque that I bet if I presented it to anyone, they'd laugh in my face! What are the skills the candidate should have to be of any help to a person like me?

Also, how do I start to think about compensation exactly? Is it like an hourly rate sort of gig that we're talking about? It is payment by the actual accomplishment of a service of some kind? What works best for stuff like this? It seems like both the amount of the compensation and maybe the way that compensation is structured is important for such a strange service, but I can't quite figure it out.
posted by scunning at 10:05 AM on February 12, 2011


There are coaches who specialize in ADHD and do pretty much everything you're talking about.

They would be totally used to the way you think and would not laugh in your face.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:08 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sara C - that is exactly what I am looking for. I mean exactly to a tee. I'm looking for someone to be flexible and strict, and to sort of know the difference.

I've had several professional relationships in my life that have been these, actually - they all in retrospect shared some characteristics, even though they were very different jobs. One of them was with a manager at a firm who would edit my research reports. When I brought those reports to them, I think they were nearly impenetrable because the analysis in them just kept going deeper and into more detail. I couldn't actually think about how to say it best; I tended to just focus on the thing and then tried to explain it. This person complemented me perfectly, and I never in a million years could've done this job so well had this person not been my boss - and I never could've predicted what characteristics the person needed to have either. They took those reports and just tore them to shreds with red ink. Yet you could see the person was understanding what I was doing, what I was saying, and saw the value in it. They could see what I was doing wrong, and understood why that would never work, yet recognized the value in what I was trying to do. And they could help me fix it. They could handle the debating over the ideas, too. There was a tremendous amount of give and take, with me somehow both holding my ground and giving up all the ground. I never understood exactly how that relationship managed to produce so many quality things for the clients, but it did, and while I got the credit for it, I couldn't have done it without this person. I mean, I literally couldn't have done it. And I told them that all the time - I don't know why my name was the only name on the report when this person was equally important to it. I had a similar thing in graduate school with one of my mentors.

It seems like it probably did help in both of those situations that the person helping was older. That's one reason why I wonder if a student could do it. They might be too deferential, or not maybe you don't "choose" to be flexible - maybe it was something else going on. I don't know. But, point being, I think what you provided was exactly what I am describing.

I don't think it should be a graduate student, for all the reasons people named. They are here for an entirely different reason. In fact, I want the assistant to help me better for them, and I think that that really requires it not be one of them. An undergrad probably is a much better candidate, or maybe someone from outside the dept if I were to use a grad student.

Out of curiosity, though, Sara C, how would you answer this - say that your Director colleague/boss/friend was going to have to replace you with someone else (perhaps because you were leaving for something else), but he wanted to know if you would be willing to find a replacement for you because he actually doesn't understand what you do for him, but he knows whatever it is, it's critical and absolutely important. Could you describe for me:

1. what sorts of people would you think would likely be good candidates? That is, are there certain people doing certain kinds of things that you'd expect the candidates to currently be now?

2. how would you screen the candidates? what would the equivalent of the interview look like?

3. what kinds of specific characteristics would you be looking for in the candidates once you began interviewing them?

4. what kinds of specific characteristics do you think would be tell-tale signs that a priori this is likely *not* to be a good fit for your boss.

5. and how would you negotiate compensation with them?
posted by scunning at 10:17 AM on February 12, 2011


say that your Director colleague/boss/friend was going to have to replace you with someone else (perhaps because you were leaving for something else), but he wanted to know if you would be willing to find a replacement for you because he actually doesn't understand what you do for him, but he knows whatever it is, it's critical and absolutely important. Could you describe for me:

1. what sorts of people would you think would likely be good candidates? That is, are there certain people doing certain kinds of things that you'd expect the candidates to currently be now?

2. how would you screen the candidates? what would the equivalent of the interview look like?

3. what kinds of specific characteristics would you be looking for in the candidates once you began interviewing them?

4. what kinds of specific characteristics do you think would be tell-tale signs that a priori this is likely *not* to be a good fit for your boss.

5. and how would you negotiate compensation with them?


I'm lucky that all of this stuff is built into my job description. My boss was just able to, like, hire me. Directors get assistants. In the interview, he basically told me straight up "I'm extremely ADD, I need someone who can stay on me about things." So I made sure to stay on him about things. But I'll try to answer your questions.

1. People who have experience being someone's assistant would be great. An undergrad would probably not expect the sort of relationship I've described. Also, when I was an undergrad I wasn't great at being proactive about stuff like this. You probably don't want someone who will stand around waiting for you to hand them work to do. You want someone whose job description would be Personal Assistant.

2. Put an ad on Craigslist or whatever usual channels exist in your area for a Personal Assistant. When you interview people, explain a little of what you've said in this thread to them. Explain that you're looking for someone because you have trouble keeping basic aspects of your life organized. Explain that you're looking for someone who can be proactive about keeping on top of things, even being a little pushy if need be. See what their reaction is. It might be helpful to draw up a list of exactly the things you'd expect them to do, but I don't think you should necessarily give it to interviewees - that's more for your own sense of what you're looking for.

3. Someone who is a little more experienced, or with a little more chutzpah than your average 20 year old college kid. Someone who can relate to you as somewhat of an equal. Someone who has experience with admin/clerical work.

4. Hm, I'm not really sure. The only thing I can think of is that it's not a job for a shrinking violet, or an 18 year old kid who wouldn't know HOW to do a lot of the things you need.

5. My rock bottom rate is $750 a week, before taxes. But I live in a big city, work more than 40 hours a week, and am a college educated professional on the payroll of huge media corporations. When I do more casual freelance assisting/consulting, I charge $15 an hour to individuals. If you live in a small college town and are going to be forced to hire someone with little or no experience, you could probably go down to $10-12 an hour. You should have whoever you hire keep track of their hours and invoice you periodically so you can see how it breaks down.
posted by Sara C. at 10:31 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


All of these posts are so helpful, and not to sound sugary and flowery, but thank you to everyone. It occurred to me last night kind of randomly from nowhere - I was struggling to articulate to myself as well as to this student just what it was that i was needing, when it occurred to me - this is exactly the sort of thing that AskMeFi is perfect for. So thanks.

lollusc - great comment. Thanks so much. I had actually started to think along these lines. Can you suggest who I should talk to at my university? I ask that because, I am not exactly sure because I am tenure track just what I should and should not reveal locally. I'm much more comfortable talking to someone in HR or whatever than I am with maybe people in my dept (though I have told a few trusted people). I have not told my secretary, for instance, and I haven't told my chair. I've been debating about my chair, because basically I don't want to say something that I will regret, and if it does come back to bite me, then I will regret it. So I've sort of been stuck, particularly with regards to these receipts and eating that plane ticket and so on.

Also, to lollusc and others - what should I say and what should I not say exactly to people? It's not so much that I ate these costs, particularly the one last semester involving the plane ticket, because I am so ashamed of myself as I am kind of risk averse over this whole ADD thing, and because I am tenure tack. ADD is kind of stigmatizing - most people think what you are calling ADD symptoms is "sin", or "character flaws", or "laziness" or whatever. I'm sure every disorder is stigmatizing, but I suspect that those disorders that are "crypto-disorders" are stigmatizing in ways that isn't the same for other kinds. I may not be experience discrimination, but it is embarrassing anyway to tell someone I have ADD and for them to tell me that I'm justifying my laziness, and that all I need is a swift kick to the pants.

That's more of the motivation of wanting to absorb the costs myself - some of these, you're right - I will go and submit them to my secretary. I think I just have to do that because she is expecting them, and has asked for them, and I really hate this equilibrium. Plus, I know that I hate this equilibrium more than the other one in which I do go and give it to her, and just accept whatever happens. I have been in it enough, and gone through it enough times that I know it's sort of more of a psychological fixed cost than anything.

But I also think probably, for just professional guidance if nothing else, I could use some advice as to whether I should tell the secretary I have ADD. Should I tell my chair? Should I tell anyone else? WHo should I not tell? What's the upside/downside of telling/not telling? That's not really obvious to me. As part of my personality is a complete lack of inhibition, I have to almost create rigid, draconian rules in social situations like "do not talk in a conversation for more than 2 minutes straight" because I know otherwise I will somehow have talked about a topic going to several tangents for 45 minutes otherwise. So, to be a loving, more encouraging person, I think I have had to realize that it's okay to just not talk talk because the reasons I am probably not shutting up anyway isn't because I have something valuable to say so much as I just literally can't stop talking - like my brain just won't shut down. So rules like that help me. But for this, in terms of who I should identify and tell and who I shouldn't, it's not as clear. I've told a few closest colleagues, but no more. And I think for now, I'm just not interested in telling anyone. But man it sure would make things easier if I could go to my chair and say "look, this happened. And I didn't want to tell you because I was embarassed. But I got diagnosed with ADD last summer, and I think it happened because of that, and I just want to tell you. I'm not asking for special treatment, though it would be awesome if the dept would just absorb some of this, but if not that is fine too. But the reason I'm late on my receipts is probably because I'm stuck in one of my ADD-induced equilibria again."

I just don't know if I think telling some of the more senior people something like that is even remotely smart. I feel like I'd rather get a PA or lifecoach, and just implement that which would minimize its occurrence ever again, period. But maybe that's irrational, I don't know.
posted by scunning at 10:50 AM on February 12, 2011


Awesome Sara C - I'm printing this out. I am going to send this link to someone I proposed this to today. If it's okay, maybe I could email you through metafilter email system?
posted by scunning at 10:53 AM on February 12, 2011


Of course! And good luck with your search.
posted by Sara C. at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2011


Just referring to something you mentioned above about worrying that having your wife take over the finances - if she's willing and learns - being an unfair division of labor: the fairest division of labor is the one that you are both happiest with.

I'm also ADD and have happily turned over the vast majority of the household finances to my boyfriend. We worked out the average monthly expenses, divided it 60/40 (according to percentage of income in the household), and I set up my bank to automatically dump my portion of the expenses into a joint checking account every month. He then uses it to pay all the bills. He also does more of the housework than I do, because he doesn't mind doing it since he can think about programming problems while he moves around, and if it's left to me to do I'll forget to do it. It suits us well: the bills are paid, the chores are done, and we're both happy.
posted by telophase at 2:54 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the people to ask about the sort of scheme I was talking about are HR or your Business/Finance Office. NOT your department administrator or academic colleagues. Chances are they won't know about all the possibilities, and, as you say, you might be uncomfortable telling them all the details.

As for what to say to people - as little as possible. Hand receipts over and say, "Sorry I'm a bit late on this" (if you actually are - two weeks is not late: six months, maybe). You don't need to explain why or what exactly happened. If and when you get a PA setup (and I really really discourage you from going the undergrad student route - they won't know what they are doing and you need someone really competent here), then you tell people, "Hey, I got myself a PA. I'm paying for it out of my own money (or whatever your solution is), and it's really helping me streamline my admin tasks so I can concentrate on my research!"

Finally, my sense is that the people deciding on your tenure are not going to be influenced hugely by whether or not you are late with paperwork, cost the department a few hundred dollars extra because you screwed up some flight bookings, or whatever. They are only going to care about your research, teaching and service responsibilities. (And depending on what sort of university you are at, maybe only about one of those.) Don't stress about all the other stuff.
posted by lollusc at 5:09 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"But can you provide me with sort of a list in your mind that if I were to actually interview for this job, if it were you, you would recommend doing it this way or that way, and you would recommend looking for people who are this way or that?"

I think the really key points would be a) really really organized and b) willing to ride your ass to get things done. (B) is going to be hard to find in an undergrad, but they are probably out there.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:36 AM on February 13, 2011


The shame is sometimes the worst part.

Grad student with ADHD. I finally got over it and turned in some receipts for travel about six months late. It was a student travel grant, too, through a largish organization. I was really embarrassed... but I needed that damn money back, so I swallowed it.

The grant administrator's response? "You have all the makings of a brilliant academic." It is seriously par for the course to turn this stuff in late.

I learned a few years ago that when things go wrong because of my ADHD, I have to 'fess up sooner rather than later. Be honest about what happened, apologize ONCE, and either say what your plan to fix it is or ask what can be done.

And I wish you great luck in finding a good personal assistant. I would encourage you not to hire an undergrad; especially not a female undergrad. Even though you're totally on the up and up, that is just going to look bad. But a good personal assistant -- jeez, that would be so awesome.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:37 PM on February 13, 2011


Thanks everyone. I learned more from every single one of these comments than I can say - both about the thing I needed help with (what's a PA?) and what I didn't know (I need to fess up about my receipts).

On Saturday, I interviewed a student who is graduating who had never heard of this position that was half coach and half assistant. But he has all the makings in his personality and current activities to be the thing I think I need which is someone who will be willing to work with me on a semi permanent basis to help me move towards my potentiL. He is a personal trainer, who is graduating soon, and has the kind of spunk and compassionate altruism that I couldn't put my finger on. We are going to try a one month trial and see how it goes. I have a feeling he will intuitively figure out what I'm needing. There needs to be intuition, a one of relational intelligence and relational maturity, some base knowledge of ADHD, and the ability to experiment with stuff. I figure if it doesn't work, I will have paid for information that will help me in the future.

Thanks again.
posted by scunning at 7:23 AM on February 15, 2011


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