Office Managers and PA’s across the world are using Roomex to save time and money on their work-related hotel bookings.
This innovative tool comes at no cost and with no contract but saves on average 21% on hotel bookings. In the words of the Office Manager at Keystone Group, “The booking system is flawless and so easy and quick to use. We have saved precious minutes and sometimes even hours by not having to shop around to find best prices. Any queries are answered in minutes and with exceptional levels of customer service.”
Take a look at how Roomex can help you save time, money, and of course solve those face-palm moments.
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!
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.
Being a personal or executive assistant is a career in itself, with the right drive and ambition you can carve out a highly rewarding working life as an invaluable support resource. But what if you don’t find it enough for you? How do you make the jump from your current role into perhaps a completely different industry?
Recently, the OpenMeet team had the pleasure of participating in the annual Practically Perfect PA Assist Conference 2017, where we ran a few workshops. The discussions amongst our workshop participants were so interesting that we decided it would be a shame to restrict the knowledge we gained for the people in the room!
Instead, we are going to share what we learned over the next few OpenMeet blogs, so stay tuned!
We used a combination of iPads and Post-it notes to ask our workshop attendees questions about what makes an event supplier great, and what makes them not-so-great…
What does a good event supplier do?
- Excellent communication skills, keep in touch with their clients
- Upfront about service costs, no hidden fees
- Client-focused service, listen to client needs
- Professional, fulfils agreed expectations
What is frustrating from an event supplier?
- Lack of appreciation for the client relationship, e.g. Not understanding the client’s needs, or not rewarding repeat business
- Issues with deadline management, e.g. Meeting deadlines or having unclear invoice deadlines
- Poor service, being unreliable and not communicating
Event supplier ‘Red Lines’ – things to avoid!
- Asking for the full payment before providing their services
- The supplier can’t prove previous successful services
- The supplier won’t accept feedback
In summary, our 7 key tips for choosing a great event supplier are to make sure that your supplier:
- Has strong communication skills, keeps in regular contact with their clients and provides prompt updates
- Is upfront about what their services cost
- Will respond to your needs and provide solutions
- Will meet deadlines
- Can demonstrate their past successful services (for instance, they can refer you to other clients)
- Does not demand full payment up front (a deposit is reasonable)
- Accepts feedback, including criticism. Bonus points if they display this feedback somewhere prominent for prospective clients to read!
In terms of ensuring that you are choosing a supplier who will do these things, a certain amount can be determined by internet research and by preliminary meetings with the supplier. However, sometimes nothing is better than experience and word-of-mouth, so take advantage of PA networks as much as possible!
Our next few blogs will be based on the insightful information we gathered from our workshop participants at the Assist Conference, covering topics such as how to ensure career development is central to the PA role, and how to ensure organisations value the work PAs do.
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.
What is iTranslate
iTranslate enables travellers, students, business professionals, employers and medical staff to read, write and speak in 90 languages, anywhere in the world.
What does it do?
With iTranslate you can translate text or websites, start voice conversations or look up words, meanings and even verb conjugations in over 90 languages. No training needed. Just start speaking and iTranslate recognises your voice, converts your words to text and translates them into another language. The app can also be used offline to save on any roaming charges. With the safari extension users can also translate whole website and pages.
Why does it benefit assistants?
This is a great app for Executive’s to have on their phone when they travel aboard. Who doesn’t need a quick translation every now and again? The browser extension also let’s assistants translate documents and websites really easily. The translation may not be completely accurate, but with iTranslate you certainly get the gist of the language.
Why is it Practically Perfect PA tech of the week?
Living in Spain I’m sure you can imagine how heavily I rely on a translation app! This is my favourite app and I would really recommend it for business travellers.
At the Assist Conference a few weeks ago I did a session entitled ‘creating powerful presentations’. I wanted to share the slides and notes with you guys today… Here you go!
At some point in an assistant’s career they will be asked to put together a slide deck for their Executive.
This could be for a presentation in front of the board, for other members of staff or a pitch to win new clients. Whatever the occasion it is really important that the slides reflect the key points that your Executive is delivering.
In the past, I’ve been given scraps of paper and been asked to turn them into something visually stunning – it isn’t easy getting into the mind of someone else and trying to creatively design a slide that evokes their key points (that’s if they even have a key point!)
Nevertheless, creating slides for your Executive can be a real creative outlet. It is a piece of your work that other people will see and appreciate, something that doesn’t always happen for assistants. So it is well worth spending time and ensuring you create a really memorable slide deck for your Executive.
With that in mind, I’m going to give you my four top tips when creating presentations and then I will show you some tools that will help you create something a little different.
Firstly, I love a quote on a slide deck to help you explain your point – why not draw from other people’s knowledge!
Before you start to put a presentation together, it is worth considering if your boss even needs slides? This is the first question to ask. The best presentations I’ve seen are based around the speaker telling a story and interweaving it with the points they need to cover. If your boss is a good speaker they should rely very little on slides.
Slides should be one of the last things that your Executive focuses on when creating a presentation. Without a key message and structured supporting points you can’t really develop a slide deck for them. Make sure they have thought this through before you begin to produce the slides.
Has your boss written a script? If so, make sure you have a copy so that you can create an interesting set of slides around their key points.
Once you start working on the slides.
Each slide should contain one point. That point should be on the screen while your Executive is making it. If you are using bullet points set up an animation so that each bullet point appears one at a time. If your presentation contains charts make sure every chart is on a separate slide and is up on the screen when your manager refers to it.
Slides should support your point – not make them. Do not add paragraphs worth of text, this is a sure fire way of sending your audience to sleep or overwhelming them with information.
Slides are there to reinforce the speaker’s point not distract the audience. If you do have additional information to share with the audience use a handout or send them more detailed documents later.
Your Executive has to control the flow of information so that the audience is in sync with what they are saying. Each slide should help with this rather than hinder it.
Images that are thought provoking will make a presentation more memorable. Don’t whatever you do use WordArt or Clipart – yuck!
Get creative. This is your chance to add a really creative touch to your work so do take the time to make the slides, visual, appealing to the eye and different to the bog standard slide packs. Creative slides will make your boss’s presentation more memorable and this will reflect well on you.
Make sure you use good high quality images. Blurred images are not going to make the presentation look very professional so it is always better to use high-res images. Remember the image will be bigger on the screen so it really is worth investing in good quality images.
Don’t use words, unless you really, really have to. Images are much more visually interesting and can be used to emphasise a point just as well as text. If you are using text make sure it is readable, particularly for those at the back of the room.
Keep the slides simple. As most assistants are advanced users of PowerPoint the temptation to use all of the features can be high. However, this should be avoided in favour of a simple effective design.
Keep decorative fonts to a minimum and only use animation when it helps make key points stand out. Do not have too much clutter on one slide. It is better to use more slides which are simple, readable and easily understood than squeezing everything onto a smaller number of slides.
Use bullet points sparingly. I often find it really useful to speak through my key points and then use one round up slide that lists what I have said. This keeps the audience on track and in sync with my thoughts. Does your slide even need bullet points, can you create a list with a little bit of spacing around each sentence? This tends to look a bit more modern than the standard bullet point image.
Stick to one type of alignment for the text. A centred heading and left-aligned text doesn’t look too good so I always prefer left alignment even with the slide heading.
If you have very little time to put a presentation together here is a simple trick – use white text on a plain black background. It looks modern and projects well on the screen. Simple but different and it will help the presentation stand out.
Ensure the slides have a consistent feel throughout the deck. Avoid using different themes, fonts and colours. Each slide should feel like a new chapter in the same book. If your organisation does not have standard themes there are lots that you can use online and via PowerPoint.
Do, however, think outside the presentation theme – it can be a little boring if you are just using your Organisation’s theme on every slide. Can the company theme just be used on the first and last page? Yes, themes look professional and consistent, but they also limit your creativity.
Try to think about your organisation’s brand in a more creative way – if for example the company colour is green do a Google search for ‘green’ and see what images appear and then use them for your slide backgrounds. This is more creative than having a green font or a green sidebar.
If your Executive has a number of topics to cover during the presentation to ensure you have a transition slide that indicates to the audience that your Executive is moving on to the next topic. This slide should look slightly different to the rest of the deck.
Do start with a really great cover page that will pull your audience in from the first moment the slides are on the screen.
So lets have a look at a few alternatives to standard Power Point…
First off we have Prezi which is a really popular alternative to PowerPoint. Here are the key points
- It is a free if you allow access to the presentation otherwise you have to pay – it is from $9 per month
- The website is easy to use, you can share the presentations easily, download or collaborate with other member of staff.
- The zoom in technology is different from PowerPoint and if you haven’t seen a Prezi presentation before it looks pretty cool, although I do know people talk a lot about Prezi overload.
I used to use haiku deck all the time when it was free. They now have a freemium model in place which costs from $9.99. Just to say the best thing about this presentation builder is the link to stock free images.
To finish off the list, slides.com, is a cloud based presentation software that allows for easy collaboration. The advantages: Full editing capabilities; can present from anywhere; cloud based; comes with analytics; incorporate html and css in the presentations
Slidebean has a dynamic means of creating slides for presentation givers. Their USP is that they have slides that design themselves. You add the content, and the slides create themselves. The software is easy to use, quick to develop presentations and there are plenty of templates to choose from.
Google Slides has all of the elements you would expect from a google product. It is free, there are plenty of templates and if used with Google Docs you can collaborate in real time. This is helpful if you are reviewing the slides remotely with your Exec.
Last but not least is Projeqt
Again this is a freemium model. You can create a presentation from scratch or upload it from a PDF. You can then weave in other elements such as website content, YouTube clips, PDFS, charts or social media – such as recent tweets.
Lastly, I’d like to run through a quick and dirty list of tools that will help you with your slide creation and also some useful resources in general for slides.
Designing graphics for websites, social media platforms, presentations, and brochures can be a tricky business. It can be expensive to hire a professional and painstakingly difficult to do with inadequate tools and software. Canva is an online platform and app that allows users to drag and drop images and text into a number of different templates which are available for free or a minimal cost (usually $1). Canva have also launched Canva For Work which will provide many more templates specifically for businesses.
Free stock images
The images on Stocksnap.io may look familiar as this is my go to website for the images I use on Practically Perfect PA. I love the easy search function, the images are always beautiful and compliment my website.
Pixabay has loads of free images and some that you have to pay for. You can also search for illustrations, videos and vectors on this one. I use this website when I need to find an image that matches certain words rather than general business images.
The images on Gratisography are pretty random, but generally good fun. New images are added weekly and you can sign up to receive them via email.
I like FindA.Photo because you can search images by colour. So if you are putting a presentation together and want to use images that reference your corporate branding and colours this is the website for you.
Again, Picjumbo is a website you sign up for and receive free photos via email. You can also search on the website for images they have already released.
The pictures on Unsplash are really vibrant and quite different from your usual stock images. I find the collections of photos quite useful if I am working on a particular newsletter or presentation. For example, they have a great collection of autumn photos on the website at the moment.
I use FancyCrave mostly for their tech and food images. The website is easy to navigate and they have loads of other high quality images on there.
So it is a screen and webcam recorder that can record on-screen activity for short tutorials, visual presentations, and communicate while you demonstrate! The free features include:
- 15 minute recordings
- screen and webcam recording
- Instant publication to YouTube
- Ability to save the recording as a video file.
The pro version has a load of other features including editing tools and this is only $15 per year. There are also plenty of tutorials on the website to get you started.
Turns your slides into a moving video. Can add voice over, music and some animation
Present.me is a free piece of software that, instead of editing/creating presentations, presents slides you’ve already built.
Once you’ve made a presentation with other software, you can easily upload it to Present.me and then optionally add webcam footage to show yourself explaining the slides.
Is the world’s largest presentation sharing platform. It has over 60 million unique visitors per month, so is a really useful platform to promote your presentations. If your Executive is doing a brilliant presentation that will help promote your organisation, it is well worth encouraging them to upload it to Slideshare.
Speaker Deck is the best way to share presentations online. Simply upload your slides as a PDF, and the website turns them into an online deck that you can embed on a website or share on social media via the URL.
SlideDog is software built specifically for presenting already made presentation files. The idea is to use media files to create a playlist and then use SlideDog to present it to an audience.
There are numerous features that make it a pleasant choice for presenting files to a live audience, whether they’re in the room with your or accessing your presentation from a remote browser.
This piece of software is just under $50. It adds features to your computer that lets you write on the screen and zoom into certain portions for a quick explanation. With the screen annotation tools, you can draw all kinds of lines, rectangles, circles, or add text marks or picture marks on the screen. You can use the software to zoom into something on your screen or highlight certain text.
What is Any.do?
Any.do is a productivity app that helps organise every aspect of your life. It is available for free on most platforms, including Apple and Android, web and desktop.
What does it do?
Like most ‘life management’ apps Any.do helps users organise their tasks, set reminders and make to-do lists. It also has a calendar function that synchronises with your lists. You can send tasks to other people, it synchronises with other calendars (iCal, Google Calendar etc.) and you can capture tasks with voice recognition. Here are a few more details from the Any.do folks…
Any.do is available anytime, anywhere, on any device. It’s always ready to take your notes or remind you what you need to be doing.
- Keep all events, tasks, lists and reminders in one place
- Lightning fast sync across Android, iOS, web and desktop
- Share lists and assign tasks to get more done, faster
- Smart widgets keep it all at your fingertips
Why does it benefit assistants?
There are loads of productivity / life management tools on the market and each assistant should pick one that works for them. Overall, they do benefit assistants enormously and I like Any.do because it is pretty simple to use, it looks clean and modern and it is available on a number of platforms. I like the voice recognition element. This might come in handy during meetings with your boss, or when taking minutes, or when someone randomly stops you in the middle of a corridor to ask for something.
Why is it Practically Perfect PA’s tech of the week?
Assistants have to remember a lot of stuff… Stuff for us, stuff for other people, important stuff! Unless we have some kind of superhuman power (which we do, but that’s another blog) we need tools to help us remember all the stuff.
Last Friday we held our third Assist Conference at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms in London. I can’t quite believe I’m saying our third conference as we have been on quite the journey since our first conference. Back in 2015 we had just over 50 assistants attend and this year we sold out (for the second year in a row) with 125 attendees! Looking out at all of the different faces, some familiar and others completely new, I felt pretty chuffed that so many wanted to spend the day with us.
The theme of this year’s conference was The Assistant Toolkit. During the sessions we looked at how we could enhance the unique skills and qualities each assistant needs to further their role and career. The role of the assistant continues to change at a rapid pace and I wanted to make sure that each attendee identified the skills that they already have and others that they can develop to cope with this very demanding role!
As with all of the Assist Events we wanted to make things a little different. We had our unusual badges and gifts and a group of speakers that knew the audience inside and out with many of them working as Assistants currently or at some point in their career.
The speakers presented on different topics, but we made sure they touched on our key themes:
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses: Your tool kit is packed full of unique skills and competencies. During Assist we will help you identify your strengths and areas for improvement.
- Adding value within your organisation: How does your tool kit support your Executive and your organisation? We will show you the areas that you can add value.
- What is in the tool kit of the future: We will look at the fundamental skills assistants will require in the next five years.
- Sharing best practice for assistants: Through best practice assistants can learn, grow and add new skills to their tool kits. We will share best practice throughout the day.
I absolutely loved chairing the conference again this year (and the first year not doing it pregnant certainly helped!) It is such a huge privilege to have so many wonderful assistants take the time to come along to our events. I personally will never take that for granted and I hope those that came along enjoyed the day and felt it was worth their time (which is so very precious).
So far the feedback has been positive and I already have ideas and plans in place for Assist 2018. We already have the dates in the diary – 8th and 9th February 2018. That’s right, we are going to extend next year’s conference over two days. We will have loads more information later this year. As the saying goes… watch this space!
Thanks again to the wonderful speakers and panellists. You all did a fab job. I have to give a massive thank you to William from Gallus Events for keeping the wheels rolling throughout the day. And, last but not least to the attendees for coming along, getting involved and making the day so very special.