How To Be More Productive With Your Executive Assistant
If you were to poll of a room full of executives on their thoughts on meetings, I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to hear the same three responses over and over again:
In the life of an executive, meetings are a somewhat necessary evil. But our distaste for meetings can sometimes unintentionally cause us to overlook one of the most vital resources in your productivity toolbox – working sessions with your Executive Assistant (EA).
How can these sessions with your EA be the secret to unlocking better productivity?
For starters, effectively working together can make or break a professional working relationship with your EA. I believe quality time together is the quickest way to build trust with your EA, empower your EA through professional development, and get work done.
For the two of us, my EA and I have three very distinct types of Executive-EA working sessions: Quick TouchBase, Working Meetings, and Ad-Hoc.
TouchBase meetings are just like the name sounds. They are quick meetings that usually center on a specific topic or theme. Depending on our needs, either one of us can set one of these up.
A Quick TouchBase can last anywhere between 10-30 minutes. We usually have two or three pre-scheduled throughout the week. TouchBases can be about an upcoming meeting, an overdue project, or the fact that emails are getting a bit out of control.
The last thing I want is for Kristie, my EA, to be stuck on an important project that fifteen minutes of my time could have freed up. This is just one way a quick TouchBase can save us time. However, TouchBases aren’t times that we get work completed – there’s really for updates, answerings questions, and providing necessary context. When you need to get some work done, we have a working session.
Our working sessions are designed to get work done.
I open up our working sessions with about one to three minutes of socializing and catching up. Not only is this a nice buffer before jumping directly into work-related matters, but it also lets both of you know what’s going on in each other’s lives outside of work which often becomes relevant when making working decisions.
After a few minutes of socializing, we get to work. We update each other on ongoing projects, set goals and priorities for the week/month, and, then we focus on completing or moving tasks/projects forward, taking care of emails, and following up on open items.
A recent tweak we made to our meetings is to spend the back half of our TouchBase honing in, collaborating, and working through my to-do lists and emails together. We started doing this when we realized we were spending a lot of time in our working sessions talking about the tasks but not advancing the status of those tasks. We’ve found this new approach to be extraordinarily productive and efficient.
It’s amazing how fast you can burn through twenty emails when you and your EA tag team them. Whenever I am going through emails during these sessions, I always think of things that my EA can help me with and I can ask her right on the spot. Oftentimes, she’ll complete a task before the end of our session that I probably wouldn’t have been able to make her aware of and give her context if we didn’t have that time together.
Toward the end of the time, I also find it helpful for my EA to update me on any employee life updates – birthdays, work anniversaries, new baby, etc – so that I can send a more personalized congratulations or appreciation email.
Plowing through work together isn’t a comfortable approach to getting work done out of the gate, so you have to get used to it. But I challenge you to give it a real shot because it’s usually the most productive thirty to sixty minutes of my day.
You should probably have a working session with your EA two or three times a week. Personally, my EA and I have one scheduled on Mondays, and then we’ll usually schedule another if we feel like we need it.
The Monday meeting can be a little longer (to plan out the week), but I think it’s more important for it to occupy a consistent slot on your schedule. And, while I hesitate to recommend any specific time constraints, I think a good working session could be anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour (and it could be longer if you are coming off PTO or a lot happened over the weekend).
For some of you, that may seem too long, and I understand the concern. But if you structure your time together, these working sessions can easily become one of the most helpful items on your schedule.
Ad-Hoc (or impromptu) conversations are not – as the name implies – going to find a place on your daily itinerary. However, they may be the most critical interactions of the Executive-EA work partnership.
Ad-Hoc conversations are the quick and necessary interactions that may occur multiple times throughout the day. Typically lasting less than five minutes, Ad-Hoc conversations are focused exclusively on specific tasks that need to get done within a strict amount of time – there’s no time for chitchat or socializing. These Ad-Hoc exchanges typically take place after a meeting or conversation while something is fresh on my mind and I want to make sure it isn’t lost. And because they are ad-hoc, they are usually rushed and squeezed in between other tasks or meetings.
Personally, it took me a little while to become comfortable with Ad-Hoc conversations because I always felt as if I was being rude and insensitive, but a highly competent and task-oriented EA will know when stuff just needs to get done.
Ad-Hoc conversations can save you hours and hours on your schedule. For example, if I’m about to go into a four-hour meeting and I can throw together a quick three-minute Ad-Hoc conversation with my EA and tell her five things that need to be done while I’m busy, then we just figured out how to complete those items half a day faster and maybe more.
Your Meetings, Your Way
I want to stress that I’m not offering hard-and-fast rules for how you should structure time with your EA. After several years of working with an EA, this is just the system that I believe works best for our working relationship.
However, the lesson I want you to take away is the importance of prioritizing a clear and consistent meeting schedule with your EA. I’ve talked with some executives who tell me that they have no idea what their EA does all day, and when I ask how often they meet with their EA, they tell me about thirty minutes a week or less.
Not only does that sound crazy to me, but it also lets me know they don’t see their EA as someone who can help them do their job better, and, because of that, they’re wasting so much potential their EA can offer.
I don’t know a single executive who wants to add more meetings to their plate, but I know every executive wants to get more done and be more productive. Prioritizing quality meetings with your EA helps you do just that!