I'm working with the director of a major engineering research center next week (one of my services is one-on-one desk-side workflow coaching), and I wanted to share some of the best practices that I've collected that executives might consider in working with their assistants (AKA support staff, administrative assistants, secretaries, etc.) Note: Today I won't be covering delegation best practices - more on that at a later date.
Following are those best practices I've come across, grouped by workflow phase (see Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity for details). It's a bit rough, but see what you think!
- AA answers phone, takes messages. exec gives personal # out to those requiring direct access. NB: 'phone logs' not recommended
- similarly, AA might process email. controversy: possibly better for exec to see all emails herself (only she knows importance)
- exec has an OUT box on desk that is AA's IN box (AA checks regularly during day)
- AA and exec communicate using inboxes (helps reduce interruptions - for non-urgent items)
- exec dictates notes, AA transcribes
- use secretary to filter reading material (should know preferences)
- when exec's away: AA sorts mail into three priorities. look at in first hour after getting back
- some or all by AA. can range from sorting (trash, routine replies) up to higher responsibilities
- controversy: some argue the exec should do own processing
- process your collecting points jointly with your AA - will teach him how you work, opportunity to delegate efficiently. exec talks out loud, and *do* each item (don't just sort)
- can range from AA schedules exec's time to exec does own
- AA can manage exec by blocking out time for workflow phases, keep exec "on task"
- controversy: mixing can lead to confusion; better to have all scheduling done by one or the other
- meetings: ranges from AA booking and confirming attendees, to pulling files, creating agenda, attending for boss
- actions: use @agenda context for non-urgent work (helps maintain focus by reducing interruptions)
- exec has own A-Z. ensure AA knows filing scheme.
- controversy: all filing done through AA, but can slow down exec access to files and waste AA time
- for CYA filing: cc to AA, who batches and does weekly (say)
- contacts: AA enters, updates, culls. use mutually-agreed upon keywords for later searches
- joint daily review: at day's start: clarify the priorities, minimize interruptions/switches later. at the day's end, have another 5-10 minute wrap-up session to cover any questions that came up, and to plan tomorrow
- joint weekly review
- use @agenda and @waiting for
- make sure to go over calendars
- can directly assign AA actions or projects, depending on relationship
- use email to delegate as much as possible (use EOM - see Write a great Subject line)
- contacts: AA manages them, ranging from sending birthday/anniversary cards to sending articles of interest
- AA anticipates and prepares material for trips, meetings, and projects
- travel: AA creates checklists for each location, sets up travel support files
- Grab-and-Go Strategy #25 (from Morgenstern): "Create a clear division of labor - specify who is responsible for what."
- get AA up-to-speed on own process, e.g., GTD. Might use a simplified system, since the AA's project *is* the exec. for example, create file folders for mail passing: urgent, to do, to approve, to sign, to read, to file, to toss.
- give the AA some interrupt-free, private time blocks - have someone else cover the phones
- let others know your AA is your surrogate
- keep each other informed - where you're going, when you'll be back, etc.
- don't interrupt AAs unless urgent
- if giving too much to AA, prioritize it
Overall: Every relationship is unique, so get together, ask each other what works, e.g., (from Allen):
- What are we doing that really works?
- What are we doing that doesnt work as well as it could?
- How could we improve that?
- What are we doing that we dont need to be doing at all?
As always, comments and contributions are welcome!
- Best practices for working with an administrative assistant? (davidco forums)
- Effectively utilizing an administrative assistant (davidco forums)
- Sharing GTD with Team (davidco forums)
- Assistant - Making the best use of them by David Allen
- Never Check E-Mail In the Morning, And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work by Julie Morgenstern
- Training an executive team by Marian Bateman
- 6 Ways to Better Use Your Administrative Assistant by Bert Webb
- Organize Your Office! Simple Routines for Managing Your Workspace by Ronni Eisenberg with Kate Kelly
- The Organized Executive: A Program for Productivity: New Ways to Manage Time, Paper, People, and the Electronic Office by Stephanie Winston
- The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Get Organized to Do More Work in Less Time by Kerry Gleeson
- Organized for Success : Top Executives and CEOs Reveal the Organizing Principles That Helped Them Reach the Top by Stephanie Winston
- Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, and Technology by Jan Jasper