SAN DIEGO — In March, when Larry Lewis led Harriet Schechter into his dining room, he was handling the details of three construction projects. His typical working day began at 5 a.m. and ended 15 hours later.
"He pointed to his dining-room table, which was almost invisible under piles of paper, and rolled his eyes," said Schechter, a professional organizer who runs a business in Pacific Beach called The Miracle Worker.
"Piled in among the papers were all kinds of things he needed for his work, but hadn't had time to organize. A phone number scrawled on a piece of tile. The name of a concrete company written on the flap of a cardboard box. His wife had just brought the mail in, but she couldn't find a clear space to put it down. It was chaotic."
But not unusual.
There are, said Schechter, many people like Lewis--"bright, successful people"--who are involved in so many projects that they simply haven't the time to keep up.
So, a few months ago, with the idea of helping overextended clients, Schechter began a list of people in San Diego County who save others time. She offers it free to whoever wants it.
"There are people who will wait in line for you at the (Department of Motor Vehicles office), take your visiting mother-in-law sightseeing, wait at your home until the plumber comes. Just about anything," she said.
"Some, like Picnic People--who will plan a picnic for you whether you have 10 guests or 1,000, and who employ a Hollywood set designer to design such picnic settings as a 17-foot-tall pirate ship--are big companies. But most of them are more along the lines of The Stowaways, a mother and daughter team who unpack for people who have just moved."
At first, her list grew slowly.
Then, early in July, she met Stephanie Culp, author of "How to Get Organized When You Don't Have the Time."
"Stephanie is known as the organizer's organizer. She told me that she'd been collecting time-savers, too, but in the Los Angeles area," she said. "She inspired me to tackle my list with renewed energy."
Grocery shopping and cooking are two time-consum
ing tasks that many busy people are glad to be relieved of, Schechter said, "at least part of the time."
Kathy Yato, who organizes shows for her watercolorist husband, John, (well-known for his detailed local scenes of the Hotel del Coronado and Balboa Park) said their life is so hectic that she was delighted to discover that Doorstep Diets would deliver three meals a day right to their home.
"We have lunch and dinner delivered about three or four days a week now," she said.
Joanne Guy, founder of Doorstep Diets, employs two cooks and three drivers and bakes all her own bread and muffins.
"I also used to bake croissants for the breakfasts," she said. "But I had to stop making them to get into the American Heart Assn.'s book. All the meals are made from Weight Watchers recipes."
"We're not on a diet, but John was born in Japan and he loves that type of healthy food, with a lot of vegetables, fish and chicken," Yato said. "And on the days we work from 8:30 a.m. to midnight, we're too tired to cook."
"We were recently asked by a bachelor attorney to find someone to cook dinner at his home three nights a week," said Karen Cebreros, founder of Elan Timesavers. "And an elderly lady asked us to find someone to shampoo and set her hair in her home. And a client who is an Iranian businessman asked us if we'd take his parents on shopping trips. There are different requests all the time."
Elan employs 18 part-time people.
"With all the skills they have between them, they can tackle just about anything. And if they can't, we'll find someone who can."
Janie Ponteprino, a teacher who describes her life as "Busy, busy, busy, " said that the quality of the life she and her husband lead has risen considerably since they hired Elan to take care of not only their house cleaning, but also the yard work.
'Sense of Freedom'
"We have a wonderful sense of freedom, because we no longer have to spend our entire weekend doing chores," Ponteprino said.
"How these businesses get started is often interesting," said Schechter. "A lot of them are based on empathy for their clients.
"Four years ago, Joanne Guy was a working mother, coming home at night and cooking Weight Watchers meals for herself. She realized that the Weight Watchers recipes were a lot of work for someone weary at the end of a long day."
Cebreros worked at Xerox for 10 1/2 years and said she was instrumental in getting Xerox to finance its current children's day-care program.
"I know how hard it is for a working woman to be faced with something like a flooded kitchen, or a baby-sitter who doesn't show up, just as she's dashing off to work," she said. "I want people to know they can call us for anything. "