Being an Executive Assistant myself, I tend to think having an E.A. is an essential component of running a successful company. Of course, many people who are self employed feel they simply can’t justify the expense of hiring a full time assistant. Sadly, these are probably the people who could benefit the most from an E.A.’s professional assistance!
Still, there’s nothing that stops you from being your own Executive Assistant and, in fact, most self employed people (or those looking to become self employed) already are and they just don’t know it yet. Below are a few pointers to help you do it yourself in an efficient and effective way.
What does an E.A. actually do?
Consider them professional organizers, time managers or simply “professional keepers”. An Executive Assistant manages day-to-day workflow, organizes and prepares paperwork, establishes priorities, manages incoming correspondence (phone, mail and e-mail), performs general customer care, and that’s just the beginning.
In general, an E.A. maintains the sanity of your day. A good one can truly act as an “alter ego”, taking your place in meetings and filling in on tasks when you’re unavailable. Being your own E.A. does limit that capability (unless you’ve already mastered the art of being in two places at once).
How to be your own E.A. in 3 easy steps
1. Schedule a specific period of time every day for performing the these tasks.
These are the kinds of tasks that are easy to put off, however, once they pile up become a daunting and overwhelming project. Schedule time (generally about an hour) each day (preferably in the morning) to complete the basic office maintenance that your business requires. This may involve filing paperwork, scheduling meetings, sorting through mail, or reviewing and prioritizing task lists. Simply sit down and take care of these things one by one, before you get busy “doing business”.
2. Utilize tools of the trade.
As your own assistant, it’s critical to develop routines and standard procedures that are rigorously and consistently followed. This will help streamline your daily activities. As an Executive Assistant, I use a variety of detailed checklist to make most activities “standardized”. For example, when gathering materials for a meeting for my boss, I run through a checklist to make sure he always has the same things with him. Of course, there is some minor tweaking for each meeting, but the basics always remain the same. Taking the time now to standardize your processes will save you time in long run.
I also recommend organizing your processes for incoming correspondence, especially e-mail. Below are a few tips for how to do this. Personally, I use Outlook, however, most of these ideas can be set up on any email program.
- Establish files for ALL incoming email. There are a number of ways to do this. Some people sort everything into 2 folders: FYI only – no reply and Reply needed. Once everything is put into the appropriate folder, you can then go through them and reply as needed, then re-file into another group of folders. You may want to label these folders by project or client. Here’s an example of some I use: Travel Arrangements, Client Projects, Board Activities. Each folder also has sub-folders, further breaking down each category. This also makes searching for past e-mails much easier.
- Flag emails that require follow up actions – set a date and time for a reminder to pop up.
- You can set up most programs to automatically file correspondence from specific people into a particular folder. For example, if you are working on the Blue Project with Joe Smith, you can ask the program to file all incoming correspondence from Joe Smith automatically into the Blue Project folder. The number of unread messages in each file shows up beside the folder icon.
- You can set up the program to automatically add color coded flags for correspondence from specific people. For example, any email that comes in from my boss automatically has a red flag by it. That way, I can scan through my inbox and it catches my eye right away if he’s sent something. You can set up different colors for different people.
These are just a few ways to really customize your program in order to maintain control over your email.
The basic philosophy behind being your own E.A. is to organize and standardize. Again, don’t let it pile up and the process will be much smoother.
3. Establish a proactive tracking system
Executive Assistants are great at making sure things don’t fall through the cracks. There’s nothing worse than having a client call you to ask the status of a request that you’ve let go by the wayside. As your own E.A, you will need to create a system for following up on client requests and other time sensitive tasks. These days, the best practice is to use some kind of electronic calendar system (such as Outlook). During your dedicated daily E.A. time slot (see number 1), do the following:
- Review your pending task list.
- Rank each by priority level.
- Make note of the next action for each and create a firm deadline.
- Review progress of established next actions and make note of what has been completed.
- Gather your next action tasks for the day and rank them by priority.
Daily review will ensure you are keeping on top of the various projects you work on at any given time. It will also make sure your day is spent working on the tasks you should be working on, not just the tasks that caught your eye first.
For more helpful tips and tricks on being your own Executive Assistant, visit The Executive Assistant’s Tool Box.