One of the great benefits of running Practically Perfect PA is the chance to meet some extraordinary assistants either face to face or through social media. I continue to be completely amazed by what these assistants achieve and how they continue to push our industry forward. With this in mind I have decided to start a new section of Practically Perfect PA – A day in the life, to give our readers an idea of how these assistants run the office and their lives!
First up is Lorna Cowan, Executive Assistant to the CEO of Visit Belfast. She has worked at Visit Belfast for the last 5 years and she is a member of the @BelfastPAs networking group. I recently visited Belfast on holiday and I can confirm that tourism is booming which can only mean that Lorna is one busy PA!
What are the main aspects of your role?
To provide a comprehensive executive support service to the Chief Executive of Visit Belfast, as well as to the Board of Directors, key stakeholders, senior management and wider team. Visit Belfast is a very busy, dynamic and fast moving tourism marketing organisation so no day is ever the same. One day we could be working to deliver marketing campaigns to promote Belfast as a visitor destination and the next day we could be hosting a personal appearance by the newly crowned world boxing champion, Carl Frampton!
What is your morning routine before you get in to the office?
My alarm goes off at 6.40am and I hit snooze for as long as I possibly can! If time permits I like to have a quick breakfast and read a chapter of whatever book I’m reading or I’ll catch up on social media (I’m addicted to Twitter! Follow me @LornaCowanNI). I’ll also read my emails, I like to know what’s in my inbox before I reach the office so I’m prepared for the day ahead.
What time do you get into the office and what time do you leave?
On a normal day I’ll be in the office by 8.50am and leave around 5.40pm. On busy days, if we’re hosting meetings or special events, I’ll be in the office earlier and will stay later. I’ll also check my emails throughout the evening and deal with anything that comes up. Flexibility is key in my role.
What does an average day look like?
At the beginning of each week I meet with the Chief Executive to go through the diary and raise any issues that he needs to know about or make decisions on. Immediately after this the senior team meets to discuss the week ahead. The agenda is usually lengthy and I always come out with a long list of actions!
My day to day duties include dealing with HR issues, including recruitment of new staff and providing training and inductions; facilities and office management; liaising with reception to ensure all meetings are catered for and meeting rooms booked and prepared; diary management, including booking flights, hotels and restaurants; preparing Board papers and taking minutes. I also support four directors and our HR consultant so I’ll liaise with them throughout the day to see what they need.
What do you have for lunch?
Depending on how busy the day I am, it can be 3pm some days before I’m able to take a lunch break. If I’m organised I’ll have a healthy lunch of salad and a baked potato, if I’m being naughty I’ll run to Burger King!
My favourite way to spend lunch time though is either a picnic lunch during the summer months in the grounds of Belfast City Hall or in the winter months I’ll have lunch in the Linen Hall library. I like to spend some time relaxing away from the office to clear my head, I find it makes me more productive in the afternoon.
What is the hardest part of your day?
I manage my day quite well so no particular time is harder or easier than others. I find if I keep on top of my ‘To Do’ list and revisit it throughout the day I’m able to adapt to whatever situation I find myself in. Preparation and multi-tasking skills are key. A steady supply of tea and chocolate helps though!
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Before becoming a PA, nearly 6 years ago, my career was focused on marketing and events, so I enjoy being able to combine my previous skills with my PA duties while still working in a marketing environment. Visit Belfast is an exciting organisation to work for and I love being able to promote Belfast. Team Belfast are all passionate about our city and we get to experience the excitement of key attractions and events in advance. We work hard and we work fast but we have a lot of fun doing it!
What has been your career highlight?
I’ve recently become involved in setting up the Belfast PA Networking Group with a small group of other PAs. We all recognised the need for a support network and wanted to develop our networking skills, share ideas and practical advice. My Chief Executive is incredibly supportive of this and encourages me to build on my skills and network regularly.
We are in the process of planning our first event in November, a networking lunch. I manage our twitter page (@BelfastPAs) and enjoy being able to combine my love of marketing and social media with PA networking. I also enjoy being involved in organising events and hope to see the group grow to include more PAs from across Belfast and Northern Ireland.
What do you do in the evening with your spare time?
I’m a member of an amateur choir. We rehearse weekly and are usually working towards a performance. Right now we’re getting ready for our Christmas shows! I manage the choir’s Facebook page so I like to spend time promoting the choir and communicating with members and friends of the choir.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to other assistants?
Networking. Take the time to get to know other PAs, not only will it provide you with an invaluable support network but you never know what contacts they have or knowledge they can share that can help you in your day to day role. Ask questions and listen, never stop learning, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your day job, you never know what contacts you’ll make and how that information can be used. Be prepared for anything!
What would you do if you were not an assistant?
It’s not a million miles away from my current job but I’d love to be a professional organiser, going into people’s homes and offices and helping them set up practical systems and solutions that will help them enjoy their life more without being bogged down with chores and paper work! If I could combine this with my love of social media and get paid for doing it I’d be happy!