Starting your first Executive Assistant role can be daunting.
To help stay ahead of your workload, here are a few of my insider tips to make your new role a little easier.
Seasoned EAs will already be familiar with these tips and some of them may seem obvious.
But when you are new to the job and have a thousand things thrown at you, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve ready to go.
Who am I to be giving you this guidance?
In addition to being a content writer, I have had a career supporting executives in some of Australia’s largest companies – Tenix, Orora, Wesfarmers, Talent2.
I’ve supported global executives, which gave me great exposure to international travel and multiple time zone diary management.
Times have changed since I was last booking travel, but the needs of your executive won’t have. When your executive travels, they are more pressed for time than usual.
Tight travel times, foreign locations, back to back meetings and time zone changes make for a lot of detail to get correct.
Help them out as much as you can, use your initiative, try to pre-empt all possibilities.
Make a travel pack each time they travel.
Travel document pack
- Hard copy maps of the local area showing their route from airport to hotel and meeting place(s) – just in case they have any tech issues
- Details for how they are getting around, including contact numbers
- Hard copy of their run down sheets (see example below in Diary Management section) showing details of meeting times and participants (in the correct time zone); locations including meeting room numbers; details of the local assistant they can contact if they urgently need something
- Printed copies of any relevant documentation they need for meetings
- Packs they need for clients
- Print any reading material they want to read on the plane
Emergency kit for travel
To ensure smooth sailing whilst your executive is on the go, make them a small kit that will help them out quickly with minor emergencies.
Use something like an empty small first aid kit – the little pockets make packing easier and will stop everything falling out when it’s opened.
Stock it with things like:
- a usb stick
- wet wipe towelette sachets
- sunscreen sachet
- small tube hand sanitizer
- a few tissues
- rubber bands
and anything else you think may be helpful during an emergency.
Make it specific to each person – for example one of my female executives appreciated safety pins / needle & thread / spare buttons in case of wardrobe malfunctions.
Make sure the finished kit is small enough to be held with one hand and packed easily into an overnight bag.
Run down sheets
Run down sheets are indispensable for keeping both of you on track.
During periods where you have limited contact, they help you communicate updates and schedule changes.
If your executive’s phone dies on them or their laptop won’t boot up, the run sheet will provide a hard copy of their schedule that has enough detail on it to keep things moving.
It’s also a handy way to keep check of everything you need to be across and acts as a catch for things that are missed.
Email or print out a hard copy for your executive at the end of each day so you both know what’s up first in the morning.
Here’s an example of the format I used for run down sheets:
Updates / confirmed section
This is a dot point list of confirmed meetings and updates on work in progress.
I found this extremely handy when I had both my executives travelling overseas and no face time.
I could easily summarise what had been happening each day and give progress updates so we stayed on the same page.
It’s also a very kind way to give your executive a snapshot of the day instead of sending too many emails.
To do section
This is a dot point list of my current action items so they know I haven’t forgotten about something and it’s on track.
(Of course you will be keeping another running list of ALL your tasks as well – but this ‘to do’ list is a concise version that relates to your executive – they are not interested that you need to order conference supplies or that their new monitor needs unpacking and setting up).
This is an abbreviated run down of their actual diary for the next few days.
This is important for them to have a hard copy on hand in case their phone or laptop does not work.
- times / dates
- meeting names
- locations & meeting room info
- conference call dial in codes
- any heads up notes i.e. additional / guest attendees, updated agenda
Don’t overcrowd the schedule – but try to give them the information they would need in a scenario where they can’t access their digital calendar.
Set yourself up.
- Get a copy of the corporate organisation charts and relevant divisions so you know who you are communicating with and who is a part of your greater team.
- Get a copy of the corporate calendars and put all corporate and finance dates into both of your calendars. To run your calendars effectively you need to know what is coming up – this helps with keeping your executive on schedule as well as making your life easier.
Monthly reports and the like come around very quickly and you will most likely be responsible for collating a load of information from multiple sources in various formats. Give yourself time to collate and format reports so that you don’t make errors.
In order to do this plan back from the due dates in your calendar – don’t ask for reports to hit your desk the day they are due – ask for them a few days in advance. That way there is time to go back for clarification if need be and time to create a professional report.
Setting up internal meetings for a busy group of executives can get messy when you email for availability.
Even if you have synced calendars, it can still be hard to determine the time that will suit all meeting attendees.
I’ve found Doodle meeting planner really handy and very easy to use. It’s free and you don’t need to create an account.
This is really helpful for coordinating with other EAs as it’s quick and saves a lot of time.
You can create a poll with the dates and times that are available for a meeting (see pic below).
The responses are then auto collated into one place giving you an instant snapshot of when all participants are available to meet (see pic below).
I liked using Time and Date meeting planner when I had global meetings to organise.
It is very straightforward and allows for multiple locations to be selected for time comparison.
It generates a grid of time options based on your location selections, and colours each option in regards to how close the suggested times fit into standard office hours.
In my example (pic below) I wanted to search for the best time for a 1 hour conference call between Melbourne, Singapore and London on Thursday 4th August.
In less than a second I received a list of options (pic below) and could immediately identify one time bracket that would suit all participants.
For most events you will be the person who needs to remember everything and cater for everyone.
Along with all of the other supplies you will take with you for the event, here are a few items I highly recommend you bring along to help avoid pesky oversights:
- packets of Blu-Tack
- at least 2 spare power boards
- a few spare power cords
- spare laptop adaptors
- thick brown packing tape (to cover projector/laptop electrical cords to avoid trip hazards)
- electrical tape (because it fixes everything)
I always made use of our wonderfully stocked stationary cupboards to help cut down on venue costs for supply (which is typically outrageous) and brought along:
- white board markers and erasers
- coloured Textas and black Sharpies
- a few packets of pens
- large bull dog clips
- flip charts (butchers paper)
- spiral notebooks
- sticky notes
If you have been given a really tight budget, I recommend making use of the equipment you have in-house instead of hiring from the venue. Most corporate offices have several projectors that can be booked for days on end, just make sure you test the projector BEFORE you leave the office and check you have the right cords packed in the case.
Flip chart stands are cheaper to buy than to hire in the long run so if your team uses them a lot invest in a couple.
If you purchase and share them with another department in your office it’s even cheaper.
Know your IT support people – if you can, get a dedicated support person for your executive to speed up response time for technical dramas – and treat them nicely. These are the people who will rescue you when your executive’s phone won’t display their calendar or a projector is malfunctioning right before a big presentation. So always be nice, it will pay off.
Know your EA network – you will need them. You can utilise your assistant network when your executive travels to ensure they have a local contact when overseas or interstate / interoffice (this is so handy when they need a printout / catering ordered last minute / the projector doesn’t work etc).
You will spend a lot of time on the phone organising diaries so look after each other.
Be supportive of other EAs and the greater admin team. When your executive all of a sudden needs 50 bound copies of a report for a meeting in 10 minutes you will be glad you can ask another assistant for a quick favour.
Return the favours too. Being an EA is a lot easier with a supportive network.
There is no sense in working against each other.
Remember you are a gatekeeper to your executive’s limited time.
Your job is to sort out what they need to see and act upon from the endless emails and voicemails they receive.
I’ve worked with EAs who have struggled to strike the balance between being an effective gatekeeper and being a downright bitch. Don’t be one of these people. But don’t be a push over. Keep in mind the directive of your executive – remove emotion and work on facts. Be approachable, honest, direct and sincere.
We know our executives appreciate us, but being an EA is – for the most part – a thankless job.
The majority of the time your work is unnoticed because nothing has gone wrong.
You can seamlessly pull off a successful event on the tiniest budget with barely a moment’s notice and no one will blink. But if you forget the power boards for that conference and haven’t planned one with the venue provider everyone will be looking your way.
I wish you all the best of luck with your new role, hopefully some of these tips will assist you with setting up systems and processes that will help you master your workload and competing demands.
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