I have written a lot about diary management over the years, which is not surprising when you think assistants spend at the very least a third of their day organising their manager’s calendars. Juggling our boss’s time is a complex operation. There are also a lot of tasks related to diary management, for example ensuring our managers get to their meetings on time, understand the reason for the meeting and are prepared for it. Unfortunately that is not where diary management ends, assistants also have to manage the time their managers spend outside of meetings. Suffice it to say, diary management is a complicated and time consuming task but an essential service assistants offer their managers. So I thought I would put all of my favourite tips together in one blog… here is my  ultimate guide to diary management.

 Diary Management fundamentals

Assistants should manage every part of their Executive’s calendar, it should be completely controlled by you and your Executive shouldn’t edit the calendar at all (in an ideal world!) Instead they should direct all meeting requests to you, including any verbally agreed meetings. Ensure your Executive is kept in the loop when changes are made to the diary, especially any changes or cancellations that take place during that day.

How to ensure you manage your Executive’s diary effectively

Every assistant will manage their Executive’s diary differently. Yes there are certain protocols we all follow but on the whole the service should be tailored to the needs of the Executive. Ensuring you manage your Executive’s diary effectively is ultimately down to communication. Within the first few days of working with an Executive an assistant should ask this vital question – How do you organise your calendar and how do you like to have your meetings set out? If you missed out of this step and have been working with your Executive for a while it is well worth revisiting this question in your next catch up meeting. Discuss how the diary management is working and if there are any new initiatives you would like to introduce or if they would like you to organise the calendar differently.

Once you have complete control over the diary it is really important that you understand how to maximise your manager’s productivity through your diary management skills. Firstly it is important to know at what point during the day your manager is at their peak. Are they are a morning or afternoon person, do they take a while to get going in the morning or start to flag in the afternoon? A good way of finding this out is by monitoring when they need caffeine! Once you have this information you will know when is the best time to schedule meetings for them, when to leave time free for them to get stuck into their emails or write reports.

Practical tips for diary Management

  • Recurring appointments are a simple way of ensuring your Executive meets regularly with key individuals, such as direct reports, clients and of course their assistant. Recurring meetings are great but they also have to be managed quite carefully. Never schedule recurring meetings for more than a year in advance, if the meetings are frequent I would suggest 6 months at the very maximum. Keep an eye on recurring meetings, do the attendees change the time / date frequently, do they often get cancelled. If this is the case it is worth revisiting the meeting details with your Executive and the attendees. Are the meetings still worthwhile – would it be best to schedule them less frequently, should they take place over the phone rather than face to face.
  • Don’t delete recurring meetings. This will delete all of the meetings and you may need a record of certain appointments. Instead change the recurring meeting end date so that any previous meetings remain in the diary.
  • Quite often you will be asked to find time for a meeting that may or may not happen. It is well worth putting a ‘holding’ meeting in your Executive diary but do ensure that you set yourself a reminder to confirm the meeting or delete it from your calendar.
  • Prior to confirming a meeting in the calendar always look at what your boss has schedule either side of the meeting. Do they have a difficult meeting that will effect their mood, do they have something scheduled that requires their concentration – writing a report for example. Do look at how their other meetings will effect their performance and plan accordingly. If they have an important deadline for a report that morning, schedule a little bit of breathing space that afternoon.
  • Always factor in travel times and a little extra. As much as your boss might want to cram a lot into their day you don’t want them arriving at a meeting completely frazzled.
  • A great way of setting reminders is using the ‘all day’ appointment feature on Office Outlook. This is a great tool to remind your boss of important dates, colleague’s annual leave and any general information they need to know but do not need to action. Do just bear in mind that some ‘all day’ reminds can look slightly different depending on the devise your Executive is using. Make sure an ‘all day’ event does not block out their entire day. It can look messy.
  • I love using categories and colour coding on Outlook Office. I colour code and categorise everything from birthdays, client meetings, 1-2-1s with colleagues, reading and email time, holding meetings and even lunch. All of the different parts of an Executive’s day can be colour coded so that you both know what they are doing at an easy glance.
  • Research shows that there is a 75% greater chance that a person will complete a task if it is in their calendar.* On that statistic alone it is worth including deadlines in your boss’s calendar and scheduling time for your Executive to  complete important tasks.
  • If you have two screens at work always keep your boss’s calendar open on one screen. If this is not an option print out your manager’s diary so that you have a working document for the day. You will be asked continuously throughout the day what your boss is doing and where they are.
  • Every calendar entry should come with the following information (at a bare minimum):
    • Date, time, location
    • Attendees
    • Agenda / meeting purpose
    • Supporting papers
    • Type of meeting (conference call, face to face etc)
  • Every decision you make regarding your Executive’s calendar should be decisive and it should be made with your Executive’s precious time in mind. You are the gatekeeper and you are there to ensure your manager’s day is productive. When responding to diary appointments everyone should provide you with an agenda or purpose for the meeting. Don’t ever except meetings from people that have said your Executive ‘will know what it is about’. They might – but you don’t! You will need to know about every meeting in case your boss asks – so ask! Again this is down to communication, if you are ever unsure  about a meeting do ask your manager.

 Bring up Folders

This is my favourite tool for keeping on top of supporting documents for meetings. My bring up folder is a big expanding folder box in which I have put 31 dividers for every day of the month and then dividers for every month of the year. I put all of the information my Director needs for each meeting or general documents they require for that day in between each divider. At the end of every day I give them the following day’s paperwork in a clear plastic wallet with a printed copy of their diary for the day on top. I number each meeting and the papers are also numbered and placed in order depending on what meeting they relate to. It is one of my favorite tools as it means my manager has everything they need for that day and are well prepared. As I go through their emails I can print off the important bits and bobs and just add it to the bring up folder for whenever they need to see the paperwork again and then I can just get on with my work rather than trying to remember everything.

*Source: “Take Back Your Life!,” Sally McGhee

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2 comments

  • Hannie October 24, 2014   Reply →

    Nice article, thanks! Do you have any tips on how to create time for important urgent meetings? It’s impossible sometimes to get important people together on a short term.
    One tip is to see whether there is another important meeting were everyone is already scheduled to attend and then plan a meeting right after that one. It will probalby cause other meetings to be rescheduled but at least you have all those VIP’s in one place.

    Tip nr. 4 is a bit unrealistic to me. If your manager has an difficult meeting that will effect their performance, plan something less stressing or breathing space. This is almost impossible, they diary is crazy sometimes. When there are a lot of demands, the manager just has to stay on the rollercoaster and make the best of it. When it’s meetings all day, the other work still has to be done. This is not healthy at all and you can point this out but an assistant doesn’t have any real power to stop this, she can’t say NO when the manager says YES.

  • Louise October 28, 2014   Reply →

    Thank you very much. It really doesn’t matter how long you have been in the “business”, a new perspective keeps you current, so you are not doing things in the same old way.

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