Maybe some of you have talked to my amazing assistant Tessa. If not, you may have seen her name in my post Free Yourself from Your Business. I have always believed in the value of a great assistant: someone who can take on some of those daily tasks so you can focus on the bigger picture and give you the confidence that things will keep getting done even when you’re away from the office.
If you still don’t have one, I get it: It’s a commitment of money and, at first, time. But I can tell you from experience that those commitments pay off huge dividends in both money and time. If you don’t have an assistant, make that one of your goals for this year. I know it’s a hard time right now, but things will get better. Your business will boom, and you’ll want to have someone on your team who can help you manage your time, your calendar, your contracts, your communications with clients and vendors. You’ll want your very own Tessa.
I think it’s pretty obvious that I consider Tessa a godsend to my business, but I’ve learned a lot from her personally, too. That’s what I want to share with you today.
Tessa and I have regularly scheduled meetings, and in one of those last week, she started off as she always does: by asking me how I was doing. When Tessa asks me this, she’s not asking about how my business is doing; we’ll get to that. What she means is how am I doing, personally. It’s an important question, especially right now, and we spent more time than we usually do talking about our lives.
Tessa has a lot on her plate, and did even before Covid-19 changed all our lives. She and her husband, married in October, have a large blended family of six children. They also have two of Tessa’s nephews living with them, and a pet rabbit. Tessa works part time for me, and she also does work for three different nonprofits. Since the schools in Florida have closed down, she’s added homeschooling to her resume.
Just hearing her description overwhelmed me, and I asked her how she was possibly juggling all of that. Her answer was that she was already ready.
Tessa’s Approach: Regular Meetings to Keep in Touch
Tessa explained that even before she and her husband got married, they knew they wanted to do things differently than they had in their previous marriages. So many people think relationships just happen, but Tessa and her husband knew from experience that what you neglect can’t grow. They wanted to make sure that they made their relationship a high priority so it could continue to grow and strengthen. To do that, they drew up a contract committing to each other that they would meet for 30 minutes three times a week.
Those meetings always start with prayer. Tessa says there’s a lot of chaos in their home, and they don’t get many date nights—especially not now. Praying together gives she and her husband a chance to ground themselves as a couple in their relationship and their faith. Tessa and her husband believe that God doesn’t change or take sides, so that time connecting to Him puts all of the chaos of the world in some perspective.
That part of their meeting isn’t just about praying, though. It’s also about exploring their faith. They talk about the challenges they face in their faith; they listen to each other with respect. Tessa says this helps them remember that they are human and vulnerable, and that helps them remember that about others.
After that time connecting with God and each other, they tackle the logistics of their busy lives. They talk about their work and their schedules. They look at what’s coming up, what priorities they have and what challenges they face. This doesn’t just cover work but also self-care, because they know that life isn’t just about being productive; it’s about being happy and healthy, too. This part of the meeting keeps them accountable to themselves and to each other.
Next they tackle the kids: what’s coming up, priorities and challenges. Since they co-parent each other’s children, and they each have their own parenting style, this is another area where listening and respect are vital.
Tessa and her husband have been doing this for more than two years now, and what she says she’s learned is when to keep her mouth shut and just listen, which is something we can all probably work on. For her husband, she thinks the meetings have given him an opportunity to see how patient she can be, and maybe, she admits, the meetings have helped her become even more patient than she was. She does say they help keep her from being overwhelmed, and it’s when we’re overwhelmed that we’re most likely to get punchy.
It Works in Life—and in Business
What strikes me is how Tessa uses this approach not just in her personal life, but also in her professional life. Just like we all have different ways of relating to our family and friends, we all have different ways of relating to our clients and colleagues. We have different ways of dealing with challenges and conflict; we have different goals and visions of what we want our careers to look like.
When Tessa starts out our meetings by checking in with me, she’s showing me that she cares and that she’s invested in me personally. Because we have faith in common, we might talk for a few minutes about what we’re learning spiritually. Then we talk about what’s going on in the business, how we can help other members of our team and our clients. Tessa says this makes her stronger as an individual member of the team, and she believe it makes the team a stronger unit. She’s absolutely right.
This approach also helps us stay focused on what we’re trying to accomplish. Early in our working relationship, I was traveling a lot and didn’t have as much time as I wanted to manage her well. We ended up trying to accomplish too much and not getting anything done very well. (I can testify to Tessa’s great patience!) It was only when we narrowed in on the three most important things I needed her help with— client care, my schedule and our e-newsletter—that we found our rhythm, and our success. We even found the capacity to add projects as needed. Sometimes we might get to a point where we’re trying to take on too much, but Tessa helps us get refocused back on those three basic tasks, the mission that she is with me to achieve.
A Great Side Effect: Clarity
Tessa says that that clarity of vision and mission—both in life and in her career—is actually one of the unexpected outcomes of holding meetings like this. It’s so easy to get caught up in the material goals of life: having wealth, having a high salary, owning nice things. But life is more than that, and her meetings with her husband have helped them both keep their eye on the bigger picture, on what they want out of life and on their priorities: God first, partners second and team (children, family members, friends, clients and others) third.
It also gives both of them greater clarity in what they want out of their careers, and this is something Tessa sees so many clients struggle with. They have a hard time telling you what the vision and mission of their business is. Without a clear vision of what we want to accomplish, we can’t see the path we will take to get there. This is especially true in times of chaos and crisis, like now.
Life is about relationships. So is business. And right now, those relationships are more important than ever. Especially if you, your partner and your kids are all at home together, you may be more physically close than you’re used to (and maybe more than you’d like to be!), but that doesn’t mean you’re psychologically close. With everything changing so quickly and so much worrying information flooding us, right now may be the perfect time to think about starting meetings like Tessa’s with your own partner and maybe even your whole family.
How to Do This for Yourself, in Life and Business
If you do, Tessa has three tips to help you make the most of your meetings:
- Come up with a written contract that sets expectations and goals. Sign it and commit to it. You can see the one Tessa and her husband wrote below.
- Pick three days of the week that you’ll meet. Set the time and a location. Pick a place where you’ll be comfortable. Whenever they can, Tessa and her husband meet on their back porch.
- Always start by grounding together, whether that’s through prayer or checking in with how you both feel. Use your time to talk about what really matters to you, as individuals, as a couple, as a family. Focus on what you need and how you will get where you need to be, as an individual and as a team. Also, focus outward, on what you can do to help other people.
You can also do this with your business partners, your team and even clients. It doesn’t need to be as formal (you don’t need to sign any contracts), but you can follow a similar approach:
- Touch base on a regular basis.
- Start by checking in personally. We’re all stressed; we’re all dealing with the unexpected. Remember that we’re all human, and we all have different perspectives, so listen and respect. You won’t always agree, but by listening and respecting, you’ll probably find you have more common ground than you thought.
- Focus on the three most important things you’re trying to accomplish together. What’s next for each of you? What are the challenges? Don’t forget to focus on successes, too. Celebrating is a big part of what helps keep us going through thick and thin.
Tessa will be the first to tell you that she doesn’t like the spotlight on herself, so I really appreciate her letting me put the focus on her for this article. We’re all looking for ways to deal with these strange times, and while some of the techniques will be new—like giving talks online instead of in person—some of the solutions we need are already right here.
I asked Tessa how her meetings with her husband have changed because of Covid-19, and she said they haven’t much. They’ve gotten a little longer because she and her husband spend more time praying for other people. But their meetings were already ready to take on life, whatever it brings. We can be, too.