Monday, January 26, 2009

Curiosity Might Have Killed the Cat, But It Will Help You

Above all, one the most useful things you can be in any profession, but especially as a person assistant, is curious. I often tell people that being a great personal assistant is something that can't totally be taught - a large part of it is innate, but that isn't entirely true. One way to stand out in this type of job that you can cultivate as a skill is to be curious and informed. I know that sounds vague, so I have included a list of tips and sources below that let you know how I stay in the loop with what's going on in the world, what trends are heading your way and where to find the best gifts.

1) Listen to and read all sorts of media. Try to stretch yourself and find at least some information that you would not normally be interested in. At times that new information ends up being something really fascinating that can inspire you to think of a cool gift, a solution for a problem or just make you well informed in case it comes up in conversation. Below is just a portion of what I read, listen to, etc.

A) NPR - Some favorite shows are This American Life, Fresh Air and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, The NPR News Quiz. These shows are informative, creative and fun to listen to. There are plenty of other great shows on NPR, so investigate and see what appeals to you. Almost all shows on NPR offer podcasts for free and listening to them is a great way to kill time at the gym while learning something. Invariably one of them will educate you about something, inspire you to think of an interesting gift to buy (maybe the book or cd of a guest) or maybe if you're a writer like me - you will be motivated to create something of your own.

B) Newspapers/Magazines/Trade Papers - I'm a bit of a news, pop culture and information junkie. I read things offline and online. You can never know when you might need to know some tiny piece of new information or about some website that could help you at your job or the perfect wedding gift to buy. Just a sample of what I read on and offline: New York Times, Los Angeles Times (which admittedly I don't totally love except for Joel Stein's columns), Time, Wired, USA Today, Vogue, W, Men's Vogue, GQ (occasionally for gifts for guys and insight on men :), Creative Screenwriting, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, People, Wall Street Journal (the All Things Digital Section) and Forbes - believe it or not that's only part of the list. I'm not suggesting you read all of that, but the one thing to take away from it is that it's a diverse list. I intentionally read magazines for men and women and also read things that are serious and much lighter. Don't just focus on what interests you, try to also read things that can help your career in the long run and/or that interest your boss or a client. It will help you to be more valuable to them and you also might spot a great gift idea. One great idea to simplify finding out about new articles in your online publications is to set up a Google home page and add RSS feeds from the sites you like. It makes it much easier to have all or most of it on one page. Click here to read how to do it.

C) Blogs - I love blogging. I'm no blogging virgin. I wrote one a few years back about pop culture and other things on my mind. The great thing about blogs is that it completely democratizes journalism in some ways and makes everyone a citizen journalist, if they want to be. You can have a voice even if you don't work at a newspaper, TV station etc. The downside is that well - EVERYONE gets a voice! In order to sift through it all and find good stuff you have to really look around, ask your friends what they read, find blogs on topics that interest you or pertain to your job and also for gifts it's great to look at very niche sites that post info on new or interesting items along with reviews. A few blogs I read are: Celebrity Baby Blog (great baby gifts ideas on this site), Luxist (this blog is all things high end and often includes interesting gift ideas), Lifehacker (productivity/tech blog), Valleywag (tech info and gossip), Cinematical (movies) and a TON more, but you have to find the ones that are right for you, so go surfing and see.

2) This one is EASY! Listen to people when they talk! You will often find out more about them and what they might like for a present or how you can do a better job to help them (be it client or boss) or someone might tell you about a great gift they gave and you can file it away for later.

3) Stay on top of what's new and fresh by getting on lists for e-mails that track such things. One that almost everyone gets is Daily Candy and it's good, but everyone gets it. Two others that I like are Juli B and Trend Central.

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