“A Week in the Life“ is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week in the Life” is an executive assistant at a startup. She tells us about how fast-paced her role gets, her coping mechanism and why she continues to show up every day.
My day starts at 7:00 a.m., but I’m usually awake from 6:30 a.m. It takes me thirty minutes every morning [between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.] to beg my body and brain to get out of bed — why is it so difficult to get out of bed as an adult?
At 7:00 a.m., I start running around to prepare for work: I arrange a few clothes here, I do a petty chore there, and then I have my bath. No matter how many tasks I have to complete, I always leave the house by 8:00 a.m., because work starts unfailingly by 9:00 a.m. Today is no exception as I dash out of the house at exactly 8:00 a.m.
My job feels like I’m doing every other person’s job with them, and I don’t have a fixed role. My tasks for today include assisting the sales team to create pitch decks for their clients. It also involves helping the creative team fine-tune a deliverable for a client. Additionally, I also have to assist the CEO, who I’m primarily hired to assist, with ensuring everyone turns in their deliverables. My saving grace is that I’ve always been an everywhere but nowhere person, and over time, I’ve learnt to have eyes on multiple things at the same time.
It’s 8:30 a.m. when I get to the office so I take some time to relax. I make a phone call to let my housemates know I’m at work. I spend a few minutes remembering all of what I did last week, and how to bring it forward into the new week. Then I mentally prepare myself for whatever kind of day that’s waiting for me ahead. At a few minutes to 9:00 a.m., I turn on my computer and Slack notifications begin to troop in. Now my day truly begins.
A typical day in the life of an executive assistant involves a lot of fire fighting. Something is always going on somewhere that requires your attention. However, if you take your eyes off from other tasks and focus on one for too long, you might lose the plot. A lot of the work involves compartmentalising and focusing on putting out one fire after the other. I don’t attend to notifications immediately they come in unless I’m free to immediately work on it. I also try not to dismiss the notification tray because out of sight is out of mind. My day is planned to the tiniest detail, and that’s where my trusted Airtable comes into play. With it, I’ve automated every form of reminder possible. A snippet from my Airtable notifications today looks like this:
10 a.m. — Reminder to remind the sales team about closing invoice payment.
10:30 a.m. — Reminder about meeting with potential clients. For the meeting, you need to have prepared slides to convince them why they should part with their money.
1:00 p.m. — Reminder to eat so that you can function.
1:20 p.m. — 5:00 p.m. — Firefighting. Firefighting. Firefighting.
The process is not seamless because things still slip through my attention but I’m always improving on it. I like to think I’m a work in progress. If you asked me to describe my job, I’d say it’s pretty much doing almost all that the CEO is doing but in an assistant capacity. It’s a lot of being on top of all that’s happening in the company but not collecting CEO-level salary.
My colleagues woke up today and chose violence. That’s the only rational explanation for why I got to work and they started to hail me as “Executive”. It’s ridiculous because what’s the use of an executive title if I’m still jumping buses all over Lagos or still flying bikes to work? I won’t lie, there’s a lot of pressure to perform at this job. Because of the proximity to the CEO, there are a lot of expectations. There are people who expect your salary to be out of this world. Lol. There are people who expect you to automatically know a million and one terms and buzzwords because you’re the CEO’s eyes and ears. There are also people who think you are the baby CEO so you have some magic solve-it-all solution to their problems. Everyone with their unique wahala.
I’ll be spending time today with the guys in the finance department to go through our books, and I’m stressed in advance. I know that after I close from work, I’ll have to do a lot of studying. Mostly because finance guys use a lot of terminologies I’m not familiar with. Half of this job is nodding enthusiastically through big words in the day and spending my whole night furiously Googling the meaning of these words. The other half of the job is dreaming about sleep because I haven’t been sleeping enough.
I’m trying not to worry too much because I’m still new in the role and I think I’ll settle in with time. It’s just that my performance review is coming up and I don’t know where I stand — I know it’s neither good nor bad but I can’t say where I fall. I wonder why human beings have to go through so much stress to earn money. It’d have been nice if I could just walk down the street and someone would dash me money.
I don’t want to let down the entire company so this means that I’m always on my toes. Sometimes I’m grooving over the weekend and I see a message from my boss and my heart skips. However, I’m learning not to panic when messages come in. The toughest part of my job has to be learning in a short period of time what has taken other people years to learn. Because whether I like it or not, I have to perform and collaborate with the different teams in the company. My job is to figure out if I want to cry, faint or lose my mind before I learn what’s required of me. I rotate my options depending on my mood that day.
On the flip side, the best part of the job is that I get to meet people. Every week I get to listen directly to rich, smart people talk about their work. Even though I’m in these conversations to assist the CEO, I still find some of the meetings fun. Like the meeting I’m in today. Although I’ve zoned out a couple of times, I’ve enjoyed listening to the banter and business-speak. Thankfully, every time I’ve zoned out I’ve had buzzwords like “ecosystem”, “investor” call me back to the present.
I can’t wait for lunchtime because all this talk with big English has left me feeling famished.
I need to sleep. But I don’t sleep well because I don’t own my time. I sleep late because my colleagues won’t stop texting me till late at night. I also wake up early because people still won’t stop texting me. I can’t nap in the afternoon because someone always needs me to fill out a form or pull up a document for them. This has led to me constantly falling asleep in awkward places. Today, I slept off in front of the T.V while watching The Office for the hundredth time on Netflix. My housemates already call me 30+ and sleeping off just validates their theory.
I hope that the long hours and anxiety-driven schedule are worth it. I want to learn as much as possible about what it takes to successfully run a business in Nigeria. I also don’t mind forming useful relationships along the way. As long as everything builds my competence to the level where I can successfully run my own company [N.G.O] one day. Even though I’m constantly looking at the big picture, I’m also learning to take things one day at a time. After all, this is just my second month in this role. I need to be more patient with myself and I also need to sleep. Thank God the weekend is upon us. By Sunday, we resume the rat race all over again.