Managing your boss’s schedule like a mega star

In my mind, the single most important aspect of our role is to save our Executive’s time. Saving our Executive time means they can spend that time on making the organisation more successful. There are loads of different ways we can save our Executive’s time, but I think it all starts with the fundamental task of diary management.

Most assistants manage their Executive’s schedule and most Executive’s live by what is in that schedule. So, if we can take control of our Executive’s diary we can really add value. Here is the Practically Perfect PA guide to managing your boss’s schedule like a total mega star!

Create a routine for your Executive

Who doesn’t love routine. Children absolutely thrive on it and Executive’s are not that dissimilar (*ahem*). It is really important that your Executive starts each day knowing what they have to achieve. If they have a familiar routine each day it means that they can start achieving stuff pretty quickly. I really like the do / build method outlined in this article. Basically, the do / build method means that you block time for ‘doing’ tasks, such as answering emails, attending meetings or writing reports, and you block time for ‘building’ tasks such as training, brainstorming, networking or strategic thinking. Every day your boss should have time for doing and time for building. Ideally, it should be the same time every day.

All well and good you might say, but what happens when you need to schedule an important meeting outside of your Executive’s ‘doing’ hours? Obviously, with any routine you have to be a little flexible. If there is a board meeting that has to be at a certain time you will have to adapt your Executive’s schedule but this should be the exception. You are the gatekeeper of their diary and your job is to aid their productivity so try to stick to the routine as much as you can. There is so much research that suggests routine is the key to good time management. Creating a routine will certainly keep your Executive focused and productive.

Blocking time for specific tasks

Within your Executive’s day to day schedule you should block time for specific tasks. This should be reviewed on a fairly regular basis. For example, they should have time in the morning to review their schedule, this could be on the train into work or it could be over coffee in their office with a do not disturb sign up. This time should be blocked in their diary. They should have time each day to review emails, prepare for meetings, catch up on reading and importantly some time for them to have breathing space (for lunch or just to think things through). These blocks will be at the same time every day so that they do become routine.

Keep meetings to a specific time

Meetings are a necessary part of your Executive’s day, but they should be completely necessary. Before accepting any meeting it is important to understand what the meeting is about. Would a call or email exchange be more time effective? If the meeting should go ahead schedule it in the ‘doing’ block and then specifically in the meeting block. External meetings should be blocked together (one morning per week perhaps) with time added for travelling.

There are recurring meetings your Executive will have throughout the week. Make sure they are at the same time each week and try really hard not to move them. Most meetings should last no longer than 30 minutes. Your Executive’s time is precious, so do try to bear this in mind when people are asking for longer meetings (you know who I mean!) You could introduce stand-up meetings with your Executive’s staff (this will keep things moving along swiftly!)

The Doctor’s waiting room

I don’t know about you, but when I phone up to get a Doctor’s appointment, I am given a time slot and that is that. I can come in and wait during the open hours surgery, but otherwise, I have to take the appointment I am given. Okay, the reception staff at my local GP don’t have the best customer service skills, but I take the appointment I am given without much complaint! Now, I wouldn’t suggest you have an open hours surgery for your Executive but you could block some time for your Executive to have an open door policy that allows people to come in with ideas and a catch up chat. Otherwise, tell your colleagues and clients when your Executive has an appointment available (obviously, give a few options) and stick with that time slot. Your Executive only has so many hours in the day and you should only make appointments that fit in with their routine… Unless it is an emergency!

Email Management

The saying goes that unless you own your emails they will own you. It is really important you do everything you can to reduce the amount of emails your Executive receives in the first place. Once you have control of the inbox, you can schedule time for your Executive to action and reply to the messages.

Work in progress

Your Executive’s schedule is a work in progress and must be accessed on a regular basis. Can you adapt the schedule for certain activities or planned events? Does your Executive need more time for extracurricular activities? Is it working and what isn’t? What can you do to help them save even more time?

You are your Executive’s time manager so make sure you have regular meetings (which you can schedule in their diary) to review how it is going. Getting to a point where you have your Executive in a productive routine takes time but it is worth it. Your Executive will be much better at their job, and you will be a total rock star.

We are thinking about running a one day training event for Personal Assistants on time management and making your Executive more productive. The event will be in London in Summer 2017. Please fill in your details if you are interested in attending. 

Are you wasting time?

So today I am sitting at my kitchen table hoping to write a few blog posts before my son wakes up from his morning nap. I have my laptop open, blog up and running, notebook and pen by my side and a cup of tea that has already started to go cold. I am ready to start working. However, in the last ten minutes I’ve checked Facebook, checked my son is breathing, thought about some flights I have to book later this evening, sung the theme tune to Peppa Pig in my head at least twice and eaten three (okay four) biscuits. Productive I am not!

This is a pretty typical state of affairs for me at the moment, I blame baby brain, but I must say I was a little, shall we say, inclined to procrastinate even when I had a full eight hours sleep every night. On my good days I could power through tons of work, but on my worst days I would spend a lot of time doing non urgent stuff and then wonder why I had a huge to do list building up with really important stuff on it.

I identified this weakness pretty early into my self-employed days and read a lot of books to help me get a little more productive. So, if you are anything like me and actually waste a lot of time at work, here are a few of my favourite insights from some of the experts in time management.

Getting Things Done by David Allen 

  • The first time you pick something up from your in-basket, decide what to do about it and where it goes. Never put it back in “in.”
  • When people with whom you interact notice that without fail you receive, process, and organize in an airtight manner the exchanges and agreements they have with you, they begin to trust you in a unique way… It noticeably enhances your mental well-being and improves the quality of your communications and relationships, both personally and professionally.
  • When you start to make things happen, you really begin to believe that you can make things happen. And that makes things happen.
  • Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.
  • Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.

Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

  • At least twice a week, I pause in the rush of work and have a meeting with myself. (If I were part of a team, I’d call a team meeting.) I ask myself, again, of the project: “What is this damn thing about?” Keep refining your understanding of the theme; keep narrowing it down.
  • Don’t think. Act. We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.
  • You may think that you’ve lost your passion, or that you can’t identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true. Fear saps passion. When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

  • When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them.
  • To be “interest-ing” is to be curious and attentive, and to practice “the continual projection of interest.” To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

The One Thing by Gary Keller

  • You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.
  • It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.
  • When people look back on their lives, it is the things they have not done that generate the greatest regret… People’s actions may be troublesome initially; it is their inactions that plague them most with long-term feelings of regret.
  • If everyone has the same number of hours in the day, why do some people seem to get so much more done than others? How do they do more, achieve more, earn more, have more? If time is the currency of achievement, then why are some able to cash in their allotment for more chips than others? The answer is they make getting to the heart of things the heart of their approach. They go small. Going small is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most. It’s a tighter way to connect what you do with what you want. It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Fortune does favour the bold and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.
  • Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.

Eat that Frog! By Brian Tracy 

  • One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not to be done at all.
  • The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place. Once you actually begin work on a valuable task, you seem to be naturally motivated to continue.
  • Everyone procrastinates. The difference between high performers and low performers is largely determined by what they choose to procrastinate on.
  • What are your three most important business or career goals right now? What are your three most important family or relationship goals right now? What are your three most important financial goals right now? What are your three most important health goals right now? What are your three most important personal and professional development goals right now? What are your three most important social and community goals right now? What are your three biggest problems or concerns in life right now?

And last but not least… Here is a great infographic from the Time Doctor on 44 ways to be more productive. 

Are you wasting time?

5 Ways to Slay Small Talk with Your Boss

You’ve got an event coming up and your boss suggests that you meet and travel together. You know that this is a great opportunity to have one to one time with her, but are not sure if you have anything in common. You start to imagine hours of uncomfortable silence, like a bad date, but one where you have to the see the person again. This could be the longest and most career-annihilating journey of your life.

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How can assistants add value in the workplace?

Firstly, happy New Year! Last year was a mixed bag wasn’t it?! I hope you all had a lovely break and are looking forward to the year ahead. As usual, we have a packed schedule for 2017, starting with the Assist Conference in February.

Today I am writing about one of the key themes for this year’s conference – using your tool kits to add value within your organisation. I used to struggle with this during my career as an assistant. Sure, I worked on projects that contributed to the success of the organisation but I had many skills that were not used because nobody knew I had them and I didn’t proactively promote them. It took a while, and a thoroughly excellent boss, for me to gain the confidence to promote my skills, to go into meetings and say ‘actually, I can do that’. The first time I was given a project outside of my usual role was nerve racking, but I did a good job (I saved my organisation a lot of money) and from there I had more confidence in my toolkit, my colleagues did and my Executive did. Which meant I got a lot more interesting work and was able to add value in different areas. The moral of the story is that assistants have a huge amount of skills and can add value in a number of areas within the workplace, we just need to have the confidence to promote ourselves.

During the conference, we will have a session on confidence in the workplace, but let’s look at areas assistants can add value. This article from Eat Your Career, suggests 6 ways to add value and I think it is a great place to start for assistants. The 6 areas are:

1.    Save money
2.    Make money
3.    Improve efficiency of a process or procedure
4.    Improve quality of a product or service
5.    Fix an existing problem
6.    Prevent a future problem

Saving money and making money.

Assistant’s work with suppliers on a regular basis and can easily research and suggest new suppliers which might save the organisation money. Every year it is well worth reviewing all of the suppliers that you use and renegotiating your contracts. You will inevitably save your organisation a little money and potentially you could save them a lot.

Making money for your organisation is a little trickier. Well.. Actually, maybe not. You save your Executive a lot of time. Time that they spend building relationships with existing clients and making new clients. So effectively, you do make your organisation money. A LOT OF MONEY. Not many of your colleagues can say that!

If, however, you would like to make money for your organisation in a more traditional way think about networking. There are lots of opportunities for assistants to network either through industry events or through specific assistant events. While attending these events it is always worthwhile thinking about how your organisation can benefit other’s. What can you sell at these events. This is how your Executive thinks while attending networking events and you should act the same.

Improving efficiency of a process or procedure.

Again, this is an area that Assistants can ace. We are heavily involved in the day to day process and procedures within our organisations. If there is an area that you think can be improved then it is well worth speaking to your Executive about making some changes. Sometimes, it is worthwhile just making the change – if you can – and tell your Executive after. That my friend, is proactivity!

Improving the quality of a product or service.

To improve the quality of a product or service firstly you need, you have a good understanding of what your organisation does. Business acumen is so very vital for assistants, but many of us probably do not know all of the ins and outs of our organisation. What are the top products, who are the clients, what services does your business offer them? Once you have a greater understanding of what your business does you will have the knowledge to participate in conversations about the business and make suggestions. You have regular contact with your Executive and you have access to reports and documents so you are in a good position to add value in this area.

Fixing an existing problem, preventing a future one.

Assistants are natural problem solvers, most of us will have this skill in our toolkit. We are really well placed in the organisation to see problems and prevent future ones from occurring. Just think, how often we are called upon to sort out the problem with the photocopier? Our colleagues come to us with all manner of issues, so why not take the time to solve these issues so that they don’t happen again. This really can add value to the organisation and aid productivity.

Assistants add value everyday.

Often without really knowing it. We are hugely valuable to our organisations. We have so many skills that can be put to good use. During the Assistant Conference, we will explore these skills in greater detail and help you unlock your potential. Places for the conference are still available so do check out the website for more information… Here are a few more details below.

Assist Conference 2017

During the conference, we will be discussing all of the important tools that assistants need to succeed in the role – now and in the next 5 years. Taking place on the 24th February in London for only £300+VAT. If you would like to book your place on the conference, check out the programme or the speakers, please do make your way over to the website.

How can assistants add value in the workplace?

The productivity killers

At our recent regional events we discussed some of the issues that are facing assistants today. Lots of challenges came up, but one that struck me as typical across all industries was the actual amount of work that the assistants had to do. Assistants are taking on more and more tasks and are involved in all sorts of projects. This is great (as long as we are appreciated for it and well… That is a whole other blog post!), but it can also be overwhelming. How do we keep on top of all of the work that we have piled up around us? How do we ensure we are, and here comes the dreaded word, productive. Today, I’m going to write about the productivity killers. Those annoying things we do that stop us being productive. Here are my top five.

1. Interruptions

This has got to be the number one productivity killer for assistants. I once counted the number of times I was interrupted throughout my day. I think I lost count by lunchtime. It was ridiculous and often completely unnecessary. To ensure you get through everything you need to do in a day you have to minimise interruptions. This means you have to be tough when people come up to your desk to speak to you. Some assistants are quite happy to just tell colleagues that they are busy and can’t stop to chat, answer a question, make a cup of tea, get them a pen out of the stationery cupboard etc. Etc. But, other assistants may need to employ a few tactics to make it really obvious they are not to be disturbed. I always found headphones helpful. When I had my headphones on it meant I was trying to concentrate on something and quite often the less bolshy colleagues would tip toes away. If I had something really urgent I would often book myself in a meeting room for an hour or go out to a cafe. Obviously, I’d let my Executive know so that they could find me if they need anything.

2. Powering through your day

I’m so guilty of this one. I try to power through work, but often find myself staring at the computer and wondering why I can no longer feel my backside. Regular breaks are so necessary and you will find you are much more productive after a short break. Also, taking a quick break away from your desk means you can catch up with other colleagues and find out what is happening in other parts of the business which will help your career development. Win win!

3. Keeping everything stored in your head

I know most assistants love lists. I love love love lists and use them in every aspect of my life. From experience, I know I am much more productive when I have a list of tasks to work through. Lists basically keep me sane as well as productive. I don’t know if you are getting the message, but, I highly recommend you keep a to do list. If you don’t, start today, right now. Trust me, your life will change overnight and your productivity will skyrocket.

4. Saying yes to everything

So this might be the reason you have so much work in the first place. There really are only so many hours in a day and assistants can not, and should not, say yes to everything asked of them. You have to know what is actually expected of you and push back on work that you should not be doing. Don’t get me wrong, I know for assistants this is a balancing act. You want to be helpful to everyone, but don’t want people taking advantage. My rule was that I would be mega helpful when I wasn’t busy. If I didn’t have much on then I would have the time to do the small tasks that colleagues would ask me to do. When I was busy, which was most of the time, I would say that I didn’t have the capacity to do that task.

5. Prioritising your work load

We have such variety in our role that it is almost impossible that we enjoy every task given to us (urgh expenses!) Putting off hard or boring tasks can be a real drain on your productivity. Make sure you plan some time in your week to get these tasks done and off your to do list. Unfortunately, they don’t magically disappear so the quicker they get done the quicker you can work on much more interesting tasks.

Core soft skills: Diplomacy

Next up in our series of blog posts on core soft skills I am going to look at diplomacy and tact for assistants. Assistants have to possess a number of soft or interpersonal skills. Some are essential, some are nice-to-haves and others can be handy but not always necessary. Diplomacy (or at the very least tact) is an absolute must have. 

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