I don’t know about you, but I kicked ass even more than usual leading up to the long Christmas weekend. Why is it that most of us are so much more productive and efficient leading up to a holiday or vacation? And how can we harness that productivity power throughout the rest of the year? Simple. Take control of your time. That’s why we’re so purposeful before vacations. We prioritize like a boss. We only do what is most important and we schedule our day down to the minute. I bet in the last day before a recent vacation you worked out, meditated, worked on your novel, put in a 9 hour day at the office (3 interviews, finished 2 projects, took the team out to lunch), went shopping for 3 new outfits, met your partner and some friends for dinner, spent another hour checking in with your Exec and answering emails, and read 2 chapters of The Surrender Experiment. Why isn’t every day this purposeful and productive?!
I thought about this concept a lot over the weekend and realized that the most successful people follow a schedule. Everything is time-blocked – from workouts to meetings to date nights to interviews to planning time. If it is not in your calendar and on your schedule it doesn’t exist.
This idea of extreme time management is even more critical and a hell of a lot more complex for Executive Assistants. We not only have to manage and maximize our Execs time, we must still make enough time in the day to work on other key projects to help move the company forward. I live in Adam’s calendar – it dictates the flow of his day, and therefore mine. But in addition to prepping for and attending many of the meetings Adam is at, I also have several meetings of my own that need to happen, as well as projects that need my time and attention. I know we can all create a damn good schedule. The issue often lies in execution. How do you manage your time when your time is not your own?
Let’s take a look at your calendar. Right now, take a minute, open it up and see what you’ve got planned for the week. I bet your Executive’s calendar is flawlessly organized – every hour of his/her personal and professional time accounted for. Can you say the same about your schedule? Are you making time for what’s most important?
Every minute of my day is not scheduled like Adam’s is (you can see his daily schedule here), but I have all company meetings and reoccurring tasks in my calendar, as well as designated time to answer emails. I have also set aside large blocks of time for writing (blog posts, media pitches, etc.), prep time, and projects, and the open blocks in my calendar are where I know I can schedule interviews, do follow-up work from meetings, and be ready for any changes in the week that need to be handled. I also have personal appointments blocked off in my calendar.
Your time is valuable. If you are just moving from one request to the next or just getting lost in your emails all day, you are likely not making any meaningful progress on special projects or spending any time thinking or planning for growth – key components of being a strategic partner. To move from reactive to proactive, you must manage your time.
The first step is committing to time blocking. Put all events, meetings, projects, and priorities in your calendar and stick to it. I know, I know. It’s not always possible. One of the main reasons I love being an Executive Assistant/Chief of Staff is because each day is different. Sure, there are flows to my week – standing meetings, weekly deliverables, but what was important at 8am on Monday, may not be by noon. Flexibility is critical for an Executive Assistant to survive and thrive. If you do have to miss a meeting with yourself (say, working on a new HR manual), then make sure you replace that block of time in your calendar later in the week.
The external demands and frequent fires are never going to stop. I get requests and questions all day – either via email or by people stopping by the office or stopping me in the hall. There is far too much to remember. If it is a question I can handle in 60 seconds or less, I answer right away. If it is going to require research, sending documents, or bringing other people into the discussion, I request that person send me an email with what they need and I will take care of it by the end of the day/within 24 hours/by the end of the week (time frame dependent on request). And, you guessed it, I answer during my email time block. The more you work on streamlining your time and controlling what you can, the less time you’ll spend worrying about a deadline when a VP stops you in the hall and wants to talk about the status of another project. You will know what you can move and how to reorganize your schedule quickly to continue moving forward that week.
Another critical aspect of time management is saying no. I was very much guilty of saying yes and handling any request that came my way for many years; but I have learned that this is actually a disservice to myself, to Adam, and to the growth of the company. There is probably someone else on your team or on staff that can handle the request or project better than you can (I know, it’s hard to believe, right!?). Your job is simply to communicate the request to the appropriate person and follow-up (or better yet ask that they follow-up with you) so you know it was handled. Done. Move on to the priorities and projects that only YOU can handle.
And finally, lead by example. Respect your time. If someone is stopping by your office asking lengthy questions or wants to discuss something specific, but you are currently in the middle of your time block for weekly prep, ask them if you can schedule a 30 minute meeting later in the week so you can give the conversation your full attention. The more you value and respect your time, the more others will too.
We all have 24 hours in a day (and we don’t want to spend it all at the office, no matter how much we love our job). Why can some people accomplish more in one day than most accomplish in a week? Because they are committed to living a structured life and managing their time. And the paradox is, that by doing so, you ultimately have more time and freedom.