Enjoy today’s Day in the life: Keesha Williams, EA at Lift & Co, which is full of Executive Assistant Tips and Tricks.
What are the main aspects of your role?
It changes from day to day, but mainly ensuring the CEO and CFO of my company have all the information and resources they need to perform at their optimal level. This includes meeting prep, email management, travel booking, advanced calendaring and gatekeeping. We are going through an RTO at the moment, so there is a lot of interaction with Shareholders, Lawyers and the Board. I am also the de-facto Office Manager (I just started doing it one day when we had no supplies and just never stopped), so everyone now comes to me to fix/find/order/setup everything!
What is your morning routine before you get into the office?
I hit snooze on my alarm about two times then finally throw myself out of bed (I am NOT an early riser, so I maximise my time in bed in the morning!) then hop in the shower and get ready and out the door. I’m out of the house within an hour of getting out of bed. I’m not hungry in the morning, so I don’t eat breakfast. I’ll have a cup of coffee when I get to the office, and that’s it until lunch. I take public transit to work every day, so I use that time to check emails, review my Executive’s calendars to mentally prepare to fly out of the gates when I get into the office. I usually listen to a Spotify playlist or inspirational podcast while en route to get me pumped, get my world news fix or have a motivational moment. I’m trying to read more, so lately I’ve been reading my book in the mornings instead of opting for the earphones. (Currently reading: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson).
What time do you get into the office and what time do you leave?
Depends on if something like a Board Meeting is happening, in which case I will come in at 8:30 am to prep. Otherwise, I get in at about 9:15 am. Thankfully, our company isn’t strict on start time because we all work crazy hours, so I can take my time getting in and beat the mad rush of Toronto traffic. I usually leave the office by 5:30/6pm but my CEO and I are in constant contact via Slack so we could be checking in or calendaring up until 10 pm on any given day.
What does an average day look like?
One great thing about the industry I’m in is that no two days are the same! My company is North America’s largest data-driven information resource and educational tool. We also run North America’s largest cannabis expo and business conference, provide retail training courses on the responsible sale of cannabis and host the annual “Oscars” of the industry. We do a LOT here! The great thing about an EA role is that the core functions are usually always the same, no matter what industry you’re in.
I get in and prioritise my responses to emails, do a scan of the calendar to move or cancel anything that needs adjusting. I am very meticulous with the schedule and like to ensure there is ample time for meetings, heads down work and enough wiggle room in-between. I tidy up my CEO’s inbox and action/respond to any items that he doesn’t need to do himself. I’m hyper-organised, so I have his Gmail inbox categorised. I will label everything according to the subject so he can have an idea of what an email is about before reading it. I will do a scan of the office for low supplies and place a Staples or Amazon order. We have a weekly team lunch so I manage the ordering for the whole team, I assist the Legal department with admin tasks when needed as well. We’re just now in the final stages of a go-public transaction (RTO) and will be listing on the TSXV, so the last little while has found my days full of legal documents. I work with our internal teams and with the help of fellow, external EA’s (all superstars in their own right) to anticipate needs and prepare everyone for everything well in advance. We are moving into a new office soon and building it from scratch, so I am taking a leading role in making sure that transition goes smoothly and handling the logistics of it.
What do you do for lunch?
If my boss is busy in meetings, I will go out to pick up lunch. We have an app called Ritual where you can place an order at a nearby restaurant and pay through the app, so it’s ready for you just to pick up and go. He will place his order, and I’ll get it. It breaks up my day nicely and gets me away from my desk for a little walk, which is nice! I also use Ritual, so we usually coordinate our lunches based off what I feel like eating but lately I’m trying to save money, so I bring my lunch to work (but only about half the time!)
What is the hardest part of your day?
The hardest part, it that 3:00 pm slump. For some reason, even if I eat the healthiest meals, I still feel like a could do a quick Costanza under my desk! It’s always around that time exactly. I am determined to look into studies on this because I know I’m not the only one this happens to!! I usually take that moment to go outside for 10-15mins and get some fresh air, stretch my legs out a bit and that gives me the final burst of energy I need to finish the day.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
This is very much a “hit the ground running” role with plenty of moving pieces and constant change (which I LOVE!) When I started, my CEO had never had an EA before so we had the opportunity to build our working relationship from the ground up, together. I’m really analytical, logical and OCD-level organised by nature, so this was a wonderful opportunity to piece everything together and create MY ideal role while addressing all the needs of my Executive. We have a great working relationship where I can basically read his mind at this point. I’m honoured by the trust I’ve been given. He also travels a fair amount so it’s fun for me to plan and book his trips and I get to play Travel Agent. I recently planned his parent’s wedding anniversary which was a lot of fun, they had the best time and said it was “exquisite”, so that was cool.
What has been your career highlight?
I have worked in different industries over the years, at big and small companies both. I think the highlight so far is being right here, right now. I managed to have lucked out and found the perfect storm of good partnership with my boss, great co-workers, being at the frontier of an exciting new industry and taking ownership of my role. I used to feel kind of like being an EA was looked down upon because it was viewed as a lower-tiered position. I’ve heard people use the “A”-word as if it were a dirty word, but in reality, we are the glue holding everything together. We are the backbone of any strong company/Executive. We are the closest person to the person at the top. You can be as good at this job as you want to be and let this role take you to new heights. When I realised this, I began to take pride in being an EA, and I determined to be the best EA in the game. When other CEO’s and C-level executives noticed and started giving me compliments on my work or the way I handled something, I could see that that attitude shift was paying off. When I hear things like “oh, Keesha’s got it covered” or, “You know it’s going to done right if Keesha is doing it”, I can’t help but feel special and fortunate enough to have found a workplace that notices and appreciates your strengths and hard work.
What do you do in the evening with your spare time?
I get home at around 6:30 pm and immediately take off my work clothes and either a) put on my cosy sweats or b) put on my workout gear and head right back out to the gym. After the gym, I’ll make a light dinner and watch some news or a TV show. If it’s a Monday, my roommate and I will watch The Bachelor and have a glass of wine while we laugh at how ridiculous and fake it all is. My job is very fast-paced and high-energy, so I really covet coming home and unwinding from the day and getting a good night’s sleep. Some would call me pretty boring but, I save my fun for the weekends where you can find me out a music event, up North at my cottage or having an amazing dinner with my great group of friends (I’m a huge foodie!)
What is the one piece of advice you would give to other assistants?
Always keep learning and finessing your core skills. No matter how good you are at say, G-Suite, there are tons of shortcuts or add-ons or life-hacks you can learn to make you even better at it. Not great at Excel? Take a free online course. I would say to read tech blogs to stay on top of the latest tools but to be honest; I am very old school, so nothing beats keeping a trusty notebook. I keep it beside me at all times, bring it to every meeting and write everything down. Also, always communicate with your Executive. Sometimes it can seem hard because they are so busy, but make time, weasel it in their calendar if you have to! (I do ½ hr every week on Mondays) Go over every appointment in the calendar for the week, ask any questions in that time. It will ensure you are both aligned and aware of everything coming up that week. Of course, talk in between those meetings too, but use that time to really pick their brain and plan ahead. Lastly, don’t be afraid to take the lead. Sometimes we hesitate because we don’t want to step out of bounds but, sometimes all you need is some confidence, general awareness and the gumption to “get things done” so, just do it, don’t wait to be asked.
What would you do if you were not an assistant?
I studied English Literature and Art History at University and I love to travel, so I would love to combine those two loves of mine and travel the world curating small art galleries in beautiful locales, or be a paid travel writer (I can’t believe people actually do that for a living, one of them being my Aunt!)
What is the one piece of technology, app or website you could not do your job without?
SLACK – 1000% Our whole team functions on it and it’s our first line of communication.
LastPass – another good one that securely stores all my passwords. Having multiple accounts for the company, my boss and myself, it’s hard to keep track of them all. LastPass does it for me.
MixMax – This tool has been indispensable to me. It lets me see and send multiple availabilities based off my boss’s calendar and allows someone on the other end to select the best time for them and auto-schedules based off their selection into the calendar. When you are booking upwards of 50 calls/meetings a day, this is a huge time and hassle saver. It also has a tracking feature which helps if you need to know if someone received something. I love it!
Can you recommend any events, books, publications, websites, training programmes for other assistants?
Shameless plug, but Practically Perfect PA is an excellent resource for tips and information. I had been looking for something like it online for a long time before I found it.
I’m also a big supporter of local libraries. They are a great source of knowledge. Most of them offer access to online education tools (like Lynda) with membership, which is free! I’m all about constant learning, so I’ll occasionally take courses on Coursera based on management or operations or even a just a random history lesson from Harvard on iTunes to keep the brain sharp and feel like a smarty-pants.
There is a Toronto-based Assistant ‘Guru’ of sorts here named Ann Binstead. She has some brass cojones and can sniff out a good (or bad) EA in a heartbeat. She got me my first contract EA role and has a newsletter that goes out with helpful tips and career advice that I am always thankful to receive.
Finally, Linkedin has a lot of great micro-groups to join and create your network of Assistants in your field or location to get tips or advice from. We are all in the same boat so, let’s help each other paddle!