Articles in: Organization


The plan for a successful project

plan for successAs an assistant, you’re going to be tasked with completing both large and small projects. Whether tackling this year’s holiday cards, planning a multi-leg trip for 3 executives or just ordering lunch for the board meeting, each project can be thought of using the below “outline” to achieve maximum success.

Granted, you’re not going to have to follow this plan by writing out each action or idea for each step every time—especially for the lunch ordering—, however just thinking of both large and small projects from within the below frame work, you’ll greatly improve your chances for success while not missing any important step or overlooking a specific detail.

Take a look:

Outline for a successful project

1. Define success - it’s important to know what you and your boss view as a success for each project you’re assigned.

2. Brainstorm - you need to think of anything and everything needed to reach your definition of success. Don’t worry about being neat or making sure everything is in order, you just need to make sure that your brain is opened up for everything needed for success.

3. Organize actions and steps based on priority and time line - For larger projects, create a work-flow document that lists these actions/steps in order along with level of priority. This is especially helpful when working with a number of different people on the project.

4. Do the work and delegate specific tasks to the proper people/departments - as an assistant you’ll need to do a majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to completing your projects however don’t lose sight of the fact that at most companies, you have other departments and resources at your disposal to help for specific tasks.

5. Frequently check completed work against your time line & priority work flow document - these “check-ins” need to be used to make sure you’re on track to complete the project on time.

6. Once complete, reflect on the outcome of the project - What worked? What didn’t? What could have been done differently for future projects? These questions are very useful for streamlining processes and making sure your next project goes even smoother than the one before.

Next time you have a project, either large or small, think about these steps to ensure complete success. If you have any ideas for steps we might have missed or tactics that you use that help you with your projects, let us know in the comments.

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Articles in: Organization


Email Triage: What it is and how it can help you

triageTo be honest, I don’t know exactly where I first read the term “email triage” before—and if it was you who coined the term, please let me know in the comments and I’ll edit this post—but when I read that term, I realized that I was performing email triage for a very long time without actually having a name or term for the process.

It’s an extremely useful technique for dealing with the vast amounts of both work and personal email that comes in on a daily basis but before I go into detail about what email triage is and how it can help you too, let’s first start by defining the term “triage”:

tri-age
Function: noun
1 a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care
2: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success

When I read that above definition in terms of “email triage”, here is what it says to me: “the sorting of an allocation of treatment to emails… according to a system of priorities designed to maximize success in the shortest time period”.

Now I’ll detail how I use email triage with the hope that you see a use for this technique in your dealings with both work and personal emails to “maximize email success in the shortest time period”.

On Sunday evenings, I log onto my work email from home to take a peak at my inbox and perform my initial round of email triage so I don’t feel caught off guard come Monday morning bright and early when I boot up my computer at work. In this round of triage, I go through and delete any emails that I’ve signed up to have delivered to me daily like The New York Times since I usually keep up with the news over the weekend.

Then I quickly scan through for any emails from my boss as action items for the upcoming week. It’s not that I’m going to actually do anything with these emails, just make myself aware of them for the week ahead. Then, I go through the number of Microsoft Outlook invites that are sprinkled throughout and delete the ones that I can and leave the ones that need to be accepted on Monday morning in my inbox.

Lastly, I familiarize myself with which emails deserve priority. When I log out, I am familiar with what’s happening and have my inbox in tip top shape to tackle the following Monday morning. Two of the best benefits of dealing with my work email in this fashion is that I’m not stressed out come Monday morning and I’m on top of any questions my boss has first thing in the morning.

Email triage has also crept into my personal email habits which allows me to label emails and keep them as either read or un-read so I know what I need to get to and what can be left for when there is a break in the day… again, reducing my stress—even personal email can be stressful—and keeping me on my game with email communication.

What about you?... how do you handle the massive amounts of email you get on a daily basis?

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Articles in: Organization


How do YOU handle being slammed at work?

paperworkYep, that’s right… I’m slammed with work… Work at my “day job” I might add.

We got big news as an ad agency recently: We’re merging with another shop.

Our North American agency of under 1000 employees is merging with a world wide agency with over 8000 employees. Usually when a smaller shop merges with a larger shop, the large shop takes over and cleans house but with this merger, it’s the other way around. Our management team and a majority of our employees are staying put while the North American arm of the larger agency is being folded into us.

And that’s a really good thing with one negative, short-term consequence.

First, it’s great because my boss got promoted and is really running the show now on the account management and operations side of the business. Love my boss, we’ve got an amazing working relationship and so my position is secure… and until ProAssisting (which she knows about and supports) takes over and allows me to devote all of my time to it, having a “day job” for a boss I love working for is a great thing.

BUT… there is a ton more work on my plate as a result. Dealing with spreadsheets and organization charts and trying to get all of their information to match with ours is a big—and very confidential—task… one that falls to me to make these documents as coherent as possible for my boss… thus, I’m slammed at work.

How do you deal with being slammed at work? For me, I batch my tasks and try to take things one step at a time. Also, if something simple pops up that would take me 3 minutes to complete, I do it, get it out of the way and then return my focus to the larger tasks. I usually find that at the beginning of such large tasks, the work seems overwhelming but as I get into it and start knockin’ bits and pieces of it out, it never seems as bad as I thought it would be. As a last resort, sometimes I come into the office real early, stay late or come in on the weekend to have some time with no distractions to get caught up and get back on my game.

How about you?... How do you deal with being slammed at work?

Flickr Creative Commons image by gregoryjameswalsh

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Articles in: Organization


Is “zooming” better than multi-tasking?

multi-tasking womanWe’ve all heard about multi-tasking and how every successful assistant needs to be a good multi-tasker to succeed in their position. Here at ProAssisting (and in our positions as working assistants) we believe in multi-tasking so much that we teach it in our assistant training program along with downloadable templates to facilitate this kind of work.

However, Alyssa Gregory recently wrote a blog post over at SitePoint about “Zooming” which got me thinking about multi-tasking and if there is a “better way”.

I’m assuming that most of you know what multi-tasking is and if you don’t, just take a look at that picture in the upper right hand corner and you’ll get the idea pretty quick. As for “zooming”, a term coined by Terri Lonier which she describes in an article over at Inc.com, it’s about being singularly focused on one task at a time while being able to see the big picture in between each task.

Both Alyssa and Terri look at zooming from a small business owner’s perspective but after reading both of their articles, this kind of thinking can have a positive influence while working as an assistant. What I suggest however is that we don’t throw multi-tasking out the window but rather combine if with zooming to get maximum efficiency.

Here’s what I mean: As an assistant, we all have to do tasks that we could do with our eyes shut and one hand tied behind our back on a daily basis which is just part of the job and for these tasks, multi-tasking works really well. But when we’re dealing with coordinating a big meeting or trip, if we are able to look at our project from a “30,000 foot level” as Terri explains—the big picture—, we give ourselves the opportunity to find solutions to specific issues or problems that we wouldn’t normally see.

Additionally, if we are able to stay completely focused on these larger projects when we’re working on them, as “zooming” suggests, we are less likely to make mistakes while getting the project done in a shorter period of time.

Approaching work as an assistant in this manner is a mind-set shift more than anything else but the more I think about it, the more I want to make myself a “zooming-multi-tasker”. Who’s with me?

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Articles in: Organization


The Devil Is In The Details

devil in coffeeI’m sure you’ve heard this expression before:

“The devil is in the details”... right?

It’s a great expression that can be applied to any number of different circumstances but here at ProAssisting, we truly believe in this statement when it comes to assisting… any kind of assisting, period.

The ultimate step to being a great assistant is to gain the complete trust of your boss. When this trust is built, even if you do screw something up (which is rare because you’ve spent time doing your job right to build that trust), you’ll get a pass and they’ll let the mistake go.

So the logical question is: how do you build that trust? - WARNING: get ready for my baseball analogy…

You build that trust be consistently hitting singles and doubles with the occasional triple or home run. And consistently hitting singles and doubles amounts to: making the car service reservations perfect every time; if your boss can’t find the car, you struck out… by making sure the schedule for the next day is up to date and confirmed; if an appointment never shows, you’re out… by making sure your boss’ desk is stocked with their favorite pens and paper; if they have to ask, out again.

These little things, details if you will, are the singles and doubles that you need to nail every time to gain your boss’s complete trust and then have a chance at hitting the triples and home runs by taking on bigger and more important projects. Hit one of those out of the park and you’re well on your way to being a “right hand” and either an eventual promotion or raise, your choice.

In the end though, the devil IS in the details and if you can keep that front of mind when assisting anyone, you’ll be well on your way to gaining their trust.

Flickr Creative Commons image by Chris Blakeley

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Assistant tip: Batch your tasks

imageThis is just a quick post about batching your tasks.

One of the less glamorous parts of being an assistant is that you have to perform certain tasks over and over. Things like making travel arrangements, completing expense reports and filling out time sheets are just a few different tasks that could benefit from batching.

Let’s say you work for more than one person—and in today’s economic climate, that’s the norm instead of the exception—and they all have expense reports that need to be done. If you batch each step of the process together, you’ll get in a groove and be able to finish all of the reports quicker than you would if you did each step for each report individually. Tape all of the receipts onto paper at one time; make a copy of each report at the copier at one time; complete all of the coding for each report at one time… you get the picture.

You do need to watch out to not mix up any of the paperwork and be sure to not put the wrong receipts on the wrong report but if can keep that straight, batching each part of the process for all reports makes sense and will save you time.

When I used to waitress, one of the best things I learned was to take a few steps as possible to complete as many tasks as possible… my customers didn’t really know the difference but I can guarantee you that that specific piece of advice put more tips in my pocket by the end of a shift and I still use that advice today working as an assistant.

Figure out where and how you can batch your tasks. You’ll save time and it will make those tasks a little more bearable.

Flickr Creative Commons image by ararejul.

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Articles in: Organization


Find Efficiencies in Everything

image

Finding efficiencies is the name of the game in many different fields of work but especially important when working as an assistant. In today’s “high speed” and “always on” working culture, being able to complete your tasks in as few steps as possible clears the way for you to do more work while being less stressful.

To help put this in perspective, let’s take a look at the definition of efficiency:

ef-fi-cien-cy [i-fish-uhn-see]
-noun, plural -cies.

  1. the state or quality of being efficient; competency in performance. 2. accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort: The assembly line increased industry’s efficiency.

The words that stick out to me in that definition are “ability to accomplish a job with minimum expenditure of time and effort”. As you can see in the picture we chose for this blog post, that can be as simple as having all of the right programs open and ready for use on your computer desktop throughout the day.

Other examples include using an online system to make reservations instead of calling and being put on hold OR going to the register in the back of the drug store at the pharmacy counter when there is a line up front OR only walking to the other side of the office to drop stuff off after you have multiple things TO drop off.

My first job was working as a waitress and during my stint serving drinks and food, another more experienced server gave me some great advice: Take as few steps as possible to complete the maximum number of requests from your customers. That advice still holds true for me today as I assist the CEO of a multi-billion dollar hedge fund; he might not be able to put his finger on exactly what he appreciates about my multi-tasking, namely my efficiency, but he appreciates it nonetheless and your boss will too.

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The Most Powerful Assistant in The World

Obama and LoveWho is the most powerful assistant in the world?

That would be Reggie Love; President Obama’s personal assistant or “Body Man” in presidential speak but a personal assistant nonetheless.

This reporting by ABC News does a good job of explaining what Love does for his job by listing some of what he carries with him to take care of his boss:

“…an array of small, everyday items, such as a toothbrush, mouthwash, cough drops, aspirin and wet naps.”

A graduate of Duke University and a varsity member of both their basketball and football programs (in addition to being on the Dallas Cowboy football team before being cut), I’m sure helped Love secure a spot working for then Sen. Obama.

What is interesting and relevant for anyone looking to be or already working as an assistant is to read all of the menial and mundane tasks that Love completes for the President of the United States contrasted with powerful politicians, heads of state and celebrities who want to be his best friend since he controls access to the most powerful man in the world.

The same holds true for any assistant. Namely, you will have to complete projects and tasks that you might feel are below your skill level or not worth your time but you need to keep in mind that with the menial tasks comes great access to information and interactions with superiors and outside contacts that will further your career path.

By not letting the small stuff get you down and keeping an eye on the big picture of your job and career path, you’ll be able to have a smile on your face when your boss asks for that wet nap.

You can learn more about Reggie and his job in this NYTimes profile done during the ‘08 campaign.

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Plans. Always. Change.

blue-printPlans always change… you can count on it & you should plan for it. What was that quote?… oh, yeah:

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” - Robert Burns from “To A Mouse” & used in the title of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”

And as an assistant, or future assistant, you would be wise to remeber that quote when making plans… meeting plans, travel plans, office plans… you get the point.

If you start from the point of view that whatever you’re in the process of planning has a high probability of changing, you can organize those plans in a fashion that makes them easy to change.

Whether it’s buying a refundable plane ticket instead of non-refundable, ordering food for two or three more people than are scheduled to be in the meeting, reserving a conference room when your boss says that their office is fine but you have a feelin’ they’re going to add more people to the meeting… all of these things are setting yourself up to add, subtract or delete as needed. You’re ready for those plans to change so bring it on!

On the flip side of that coin, sometimes plans change and there is nothing humanly possible that you could have done to expect the change or have prepared for it ahead of time. Weather delay which strands your boss in a city with no hotel rooms available; car breaks down; god forbid, a death in the family… each of these situations present changes that you don’t have any control over. And in these uncontrollable instances, if you’ve organized effectively, you’ll be able to have all of the information you need at your fingertips to alternate to a brand new plan “B” in the blink of an eye.

The take away? Think of how the plans that you are making can change, prepare for those potential changes AND be as organized as possible so when a change occurs that you could have never foreseen, all the information you need to implement an effective plan “B” is at your fingertips.

Last point: Accept the fact that plans change and don’t let changing plans get you down (especially when you put in a lot of work to make those plans perfect); such is part of your job as an assistant.

 

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Phonesheet.com or ProAssisting’s Phone Sheet template?

The phone sheet is one of the most important tools that an assistant and boss have for keeping track of multiple phone calls. Most offices get more than tens calls per day and some get more than 200… yes, 200 phone calls per day. As you can imagine, keeping track of those calls and not letting any slip by you IS a full time job in-and-of-itself.

And that brings us to Phonesheet.com. This web based service was developed by a former Hollywood assistant and as someone who was a “Hollywood” assistant……I know how important it is to have a solid phone sheet with a system of how to use it so I was more than intrigued when I came across his service. But after looking over his site and the video demonstration, call me skeptical.

Don’t get me wrong, Phonesheet.com is a solid utility and gives you and your boss the ability to have access to your phone sheet via the web but I’m still not convinced that a solid phone sheet template with a key and rules in place isn’t any better. And what if your Internet access goes down? Lastly, at $15 per month or $160 for the year, the price seems a bit high to me when we give you our phone sheet template free in our email series as something from inside our the Member’s area.  UPDATE: Since our email series is being revamped, you can download our phone sheet FOR FREE by clicking this link. Shhh, don’t tell our members:)!

Just remember, either way you go, using a phone sheet properly as an assistant is one of the KEYS to your success and it’s no wonder someone created a business around this valuable assistant tool.

 

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