They've got contractors to do the office cleaning, and have shifted the call centre to New Zealand. At home, the dog walking and gardening duties have been handed to franchisees.
Day one, lesson one at business school these days must be to outsource everything. How else can the time-poor executive save time in their busy life? For some the solution is not to “hire a hubby” to ease the domestic load, but to rent the services of what amounts to a traditional housewife.
Such a “wife” comes with practical commonsense and the ability to take care of any to-do list, however tedious or formidable. Their contact book is covetable and their countenance calm. And there are now at least 65 of them, male as well as female, available in Sydney and Melbourne.
“For the women in corporate life, I say ‘I'm the wife you've always wanted’,” Debbie Alford says. “And for the men I'm the dream wife - without the ‘benefits’.”
Alford is a personal concierge, sometimes known as a “lifestyle manager”, and her job is to balance her employer’s work-life demands by dealing with the drudgery.
She takes care of busy people's personal business: sewing on buttons, buying school books, organising dinner parties and waiting for tradesmen are all within the brief.
“People are now so tied up with work and kids,” says Alford, a former medical receptionist. “They’re time-poor, or sometimes just can’t handle a certain task. I’m that extra set of hands and eyes. And a shoulder too, when necessary.”
"As long as it's legal..."
The personal concierge is relatively new to Australia. The representative professional body ICALM (Institute of Concierge and Lifestyle Managers) was formed in 2011 - though an ultra-luxe counterpart has flourished in Britain for several years.
That company was started in London by a nephew of Camilla Parker-Bowles and offers a 24-hour global service sourcing wine, staff and song for a base rate of up to $40,000 a year. (“As long as it’s legal we’ll try and do it,” says a spokesman).
Personal concierges in Australia are more superstar housewife than high-end butler and typically charge $50 to $80 an hour.
This represents good value to employers, who are including personal concierge services in packages for high-level executives.
A 2012 study by Think Global Research found that workers spend 1.25 hours of every working day on personal tasks such as banking and shopping.
“That's where the strain comes from,” says Kay Watts, who founded Mr Cornelius personal concierge service last year. “People are focused on work, have to do these work goals, but there’s your other life going down the toilet because basically there’s no time.
“Partnerships become the collateral of a busy working life.”
Mr Cornelius does “all that old outstanding stuff that people hate, like research for what they’re studying, or changing names on passports,” says Watts. “One of our professional clients is a single dad and we’ve arranged birthday parties and fixed up a new rental for him.”
Finding new strategies
Company director Luke Rankin took a different approach when he began to feel pressured. Instead of outsourcing the minutiae that was part of the problem, he decided to confront it. He found a life coach to work out some strategies for achieving better life-work balance.
“Feeling overwhelmed was becoming normal. Everything seemed to happen faster - too much information, too much email, just too much to do,” says the 28-year-old from Shepparton in Victoria. “(With the) coaching, I've built on my natural strengths, making small changes and incorporating them into my daily rituals. Time still flies, but now I feel like I’m the pilot.”
They might have the same remit as a personal concierge - to make life easier - but a life coach is more of a wise friend than a practical helper. Where a personal concierge will muck in or source a solution, a life coach will advise how to find the time and energy to handle your own muck.
Less is more
“When we take time to focus on what is important to us, it clears the clutter to refocus on what the fundamentals are,” says Lyndall Mitchell, a Melbourne-based life coach. “When things are bombarding you, you sink into disorganisation.”
Mitchell is a proponent of the diary, whether electronic or hard copy. In weekly sessions with clients she helps them plan their week while matching it to their “future map” of life goals.
“Do less and do it well,” Mitchell says. “Do the absolute priorities at the start of the day when self-regulation is highest. Get the hard things done and then at three or four o'clock when you're looking for that hit you can schedule things that don't take much brain power.”
Seize any gap to chip away at a rolling to-do list of errands, while still allowing space for things that might crop up, “particularly if you have children”.
Retail design project manager Mark van Tatenhove sought time management advice when he found his workload “was overtaking my life”.
“(I’m) pre-planning my week and prioritising a daily work list rather than reacting to every request that came to me,'' says the 54-year-old from bayside Melbourne.
Jamie McCallum, a 41-year-old golf professional and father of two, says that by using a diary he is “still busy, but managing work time and family better”.
Says Mitchell: “So many people are stretched and place expectations on themselves that are far too high. Be really realistic about what has to get done.’’
And enlist help if needed.