Treat Every Week Like You’re Going on Vacation

 

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.

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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.

calendarAnd 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.

 

 

 

 

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Are You Working With the Right Leader?

I get a lot of questions from Executive Assistants all over the world about how to form a better relationship and strategic partnership with their Executive (a topic we’ll continue to explore). It really starts with a fundamental question: Are you working with the right leader?

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If you are feeling unfulfilled at work, are struggling to get excited about supporting and working with your Exec, or if you are dreading going to the office in the morning, no matter how much you love being an Executive Assistant and no matter how great your company is; your Exec may not be the right fit for you. I’ve seen amazing EAs struggle and eventually leave because they want more growth and opportunity, while their Executive is content with the status quo. Conversely, I’ve seen great EAs falter because their Exec is a hard driver and is constantly changing priorities and the EA would be better served in a more methodical and structured environment. Neither is right or wrong, better or worse – it’s just not the right fit for either party.

If any of the above scenarios sound like you, it’s time to take a good hard look at yourself and your Exec. First, get clear on your own personality, behavior, working style, and career goals. I recommend the following (free or inexpensive) personality and behavior assessments to learn more about your strengths, areas for improvement, ideal work environment, etc.

Some Executive Assistants want a strong, direct, fast-paced Executive. Others, thrive in a a more structured and copacetic environment. While still others will prefer working for a creative, spontaneous Executive. Do you like to keep it strictly business or do you want to attend weekly dinners with your Exec and her family? Do you like a controlled and organized environment or do you thrive on bringing order to chaos? Do you like to take the lead on all projects or do you prefer to wait for detailed instructions before tackling a task? Take all of that into consideration as you are evaluating who you are and whether or not your Exec is the right fit for you.

If you have access to your Executive’s behavior or personality profiles, compare your results with his. (In fact, I would encourage you to have your Executive take one of these assessments. It is a great way to start a conversation about how to work better together.) Where are the assessments in alignment? And where is there a mismatch? You definitely don’t want to have the same strengths as your Exec – or else you wouldn’t need each other! But there are some key places you will want to align. For example, Adam is a DI personality, which means he is direct, fast-paced, gregarious, a driver and an influencer. I am a DC, which means I also work very quickly, am direct (and can handle his direct style), but also have the organizational, detail-oriented, perfectionistic qualities he lacks. And, in fact, if Adam was not a High D personality, I would not have lasted six plus years working with him (I would simply have been too bored!).

If you don’t have a behavior assessment to review, then take a few minutes to complete a quick comparison sheet. Your sheet will be different than mine based on your behavior profile. Really dive deep into what you need in a leader. You may need an analytical and methodical leader and someone else may need a creative and visionary leader to feel fulfilled. Take a look at mine below and then create your own (email me for a template).

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Is your leader the right fit or the wrong fit for YOU? Ideally, you would determine this before accepting a position, but that doesn’t always happen. You could have been assigned to an Exec or be supporting your Execs replacement. Even more common, you or your Executive have grown (or not) or have had some big life events that change the working dynamic. Time to reassess whether or not you are working for the right leader.

I know I am working for the right leader because I am constantly growing, I am challenged daily, I take steps (okay, sometimes I’m pushed) outside of my comfort zone so that I can grow (hello! this blog!), I get up every day excited to go to work and help Adam grow our companies, I have freedom and flexibility with my work, and I am supported personally and professionally. Most importantly, I know I am working with the right leader because I don’t have a “boss”, but a business partner.

The EA/Executive relationship is arguably the most important one in the organization and if it doesn’t work, the rest of the organization feels it. It behooves you to ensure that you are working for the right leader for the sake of your sanity and for the success of the organization. The first step to a successful EA/Exec partnership is making sure the time you will invest in your Exec will be time well spent. If you are not the right match, regardless of the strategies you implement, you will fail to build a fulfilling strategic partnership.

 

 

 

One Habit to Implement NOW to Make You an Invaluable Assistant

Do you want to be an invaluable resource to your Executive? Do you want to form a strategic partnership with your CEO? Do you want to seriously impress your boss? Then work on developing this one habit that will make you an invaluable asset to your CEO:

Know what your Executive knows.

Simple, right? But not always easy. This goes far beyond knowing how your boss takes his coffee (Note: Adam takes his strong and black, but prefers green tea in the afternoon). This habit requires some serious dedication (usually reading or listening to books and podcasts in your “off hours”). But I think it is the most critical habit to develop as an Executive Assistant and something you can implement right away, no matter how new you are to the EA role.

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This habit has helped me gain trust and become an invaluable resource to my employer. If he mentions a book he’s reading, I read it. If he is following a blog or podcast, so do I. I watch the movies, read the books, and listen to the radio stations he does. Why? Because the more I am able to align myself with his interests, and more importantly, his knowledge, the more I am able to not just listen, but to participate in conversations with him or that he is having with other leadership members or key business partners. He never asked me to do this, but my natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge led me to create this habit from the beginning and it has truly been invaluable. When he is in a meeting and says, “Who was that quote by?” or “What year did that company go public?” I know. He doesn’t have to repeat himself or fill me in on a critical article he read or a book that he would like to discuss at a company meeting – I’m already familiar with it.

As a self-proclaimed force multiplier, the more I can align my knowledge and thinking with Adam, the more valuable I become to him and the company. As Executive Assistants we are tasked with furthering the reach of our Executive. Often that is by completing tasks and projects that, while important, are not the best use of our Executive’s time. More often it means making decisions and speaking on behalf of our boss. The most effective way to do that is by having the same information as them and thoroughly understand the way they think. Yes, some of this will come with time. But start right away! Gain as much knowledge as possible. Study his/her emails and responses to questions. Listen in on phone calls (get permission first!). Attend as many meetings as possible. Be able to speak your boss’s language. This will allow you to be a part of the conversation and eventually be able to speak on behalf of them with accuracy and authority.

Does your Executive read the Wall Street Journal or Inc. Magazine? Get a subscription. Is he/she watching House of Cards or Blacklist on Netflix? Watch it. If nothing else, instead of being on the periphery, it will bring you closer to the inner circle. Your Executive will want to be able to discus the latest episode of Sons of Anarchy with you, just as much as the most recent article on Elon Musk. Be ready and ABLE to participate and add value to the conversation. This is such a simple habit to implement, but one that will set you apart and help you grow that much faster.

Knowledge is power. Start by gaining as much of the same knowledge as your Executive as possible. Couple that with a clear understanding of their thought process and communication style and you will be unstoppable.

 

 

What Does an Executive Assistant Do? Whatever It Takes.

The Executive Assistant role is one of the least understood positions, in part because it encompasses so many different responsibilities and can differ greatly depending on the industry or Executive. My husband doesn’t even fully understand what I do (and I talk about my work a lot).

In the past five years or so, I have seen significant improvements in both the perception of the position and the training resources available for this career. Yes, executive support and administration is a career. One, I was happy to discover, which was actually very fulfilling and lucrative, because it was made for me (a Type-A, overachieving, organized, detail-oriented, intrapreneurial leader). I have made it my mission to dispel the myths surrounding this career and find as many resources as possible (or create my own) to support Executive Assistants in their career development.

So, what do I do? What do Executive Assistants do? Whatever it takes.

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Executive Assistants are the ultimate force multipliers and project managers. Our project just happens to be our Executive. From purchasing unique gifts for a business associate, to managing internal and external communication, to preparing speeches, to reorganizing staff roles, to creating business plans, and everything in between, we’ve got it covered. Executive Assistants are problem solvers and fixers. They are some of the most resourceful and connected individuals in your organization. If you have a challenge, bring it to your nearest EA, and I guarantee they will have a solution for you by the end of the day. Executive Assistants are leaders and seeing them as anything else is a complete underestimation of their ability and a disservice to you.

I am fascinated by the Executive Assistant position because I find it varies so significantly depending on what industry you work in, how established the organization is, and the personality and behavior of your Executive.

I have been an Executive Assistant/Chief of Staff for over six years with the same Executive, yet my responsibilities have significantly evolved over the years. Here’s a little bit about what I do as a Chief of Staff at Hergenrother Enterprises (which encompasses six companies):

  • Manage and plan Executive’s time and priorities (including all meeting prep, briefing, taking meetings on Exec’s behalf that aren’t the best use of his time)
  • Act as an extension of Executive and help lead the organization
  • Review current operations and make recommendations to support overall company objectives (then lead implementation of changes)
  • Lead all special projects and track initiatives to ensure successful completion
  • Handle all communication on behalf of Executive (calls, email, social media, media requests, staff questions, meeting follow-up, etc.)
  • Recruit and hire for key positions
  • Key relationship management
  • Schedule, calendar, travel, event management
  • Whatever it takes so Executive is only focused on leading, training, coaching, and spreading the vision of the organization

As the Chief of Staff to a serial entrepreneur I have done everything from setting up new entities, to refining systems that allowed us to launch teams in new states, to planning, organizing, and selling tickets for a non-profit speaker event, to reviewing budgets and strategic plans, to training other Executive Assistants, to recruiting and hiring staff, to helping write course content, to scheduling meetings and travel, to holding other staff members accountable, to preparing presentations, to conducting meetings on behalf of my Exec.

Regardless of the exact responsibilities Executive Assistants have, I haven’t met individuals who work harder to accomplish a mission. When Adam travels without me, I don’t go to bed unless I know he has arrived. I’ve emailed with him at 2am before he went off the grid to hike Kilimanjaro. I’ve come into the office on more than one weekend to work on a project, prepare for an event, or move offices. I’ve gotten out of bed more than once to rearrange travel and get him booked on a new flight after delays or cancellations. It needed to be handled. I handled it. I’m sure this is sounding pretty familiar to my fellow EAs.

For people who don’t quite understand our unique roles, they think our Exec is expecting too much or that these requests are unacceptable or intrusive. But what they don’t know is that very rarely does the Exec actually have to request that these things happen – they just get done of our own volition. I knew what I was signing up for, in fact, I thrive on this. I work for an incredibly interesting and dynamic entrepreneur and I am helping him build multiple organizations; occasionally work doesn’t happen between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday. The trade-off? I get to work for an incredibly interesting and dynamic entrepreneur and help him build multiple organizations – the work is challenging, rewarding, and it doesn’t hurt that I have complete flexibility with my schedule and unlimited vacation and time off.

What about you? What does your day look like? I want to hear from you! What is your title and what are your top five responsibilities? Share in the comments below and let’s keep the conversation going!

 

 

 

 

5 Things to Prepare for Your Next Performance Review

I may be the minority, but I love my yearly performance reviews! It is such a great time to reflect on what you have accomplished, where you can improve, and set new goals. And of course, it is the (sometimes only) opportunity to discuss compensation, increased responsibilities, flexible schedule, or other requests that benefit YOU, not the company.

career_is_your_businessHere are 5 things to prepare for your next performance review:

  1. Do a thorough review of what you have accomplished this year, and what you did not. (TIP: Keep a running list of all of your accomplishments throughout the year in Evernote, a spreadsheet, or Word doc so you don’t miss anything). Discuss why certain objectives were not hit and how you will work to close the gap (and by when) or if you need additional resources to accomplish said goals.
  2. Review your objectives/goals for the rest of the year or the following year. Do not simply review the company goals, but what you want to accomplish in your career (do you want to take on a new project, lead the culture committee, write a blog, etc.?). Then outline the 3-5 strategies you have developed to achieve those goals. Include deadlines and any resources you need to accomplish them.
  3. Request specific training opportunities (I highly recommend Behind Every Leader!). Outline the cost and the benefit the training will bring to you and your organization.
  4. If this conversation will include a discussion about compensation – be prepared. I recommend outlining everything you have accomplished in your role (tie specific dollar amounts or clear company wins to each one). Also, do some extensive research on compensation for your role in your city/state. Because EA positions are so varied, I often include the compensation info for several different roles and then find an average based on the percentage each plays in my role.
  5. Prepare an agenda including the four points above (review previous year, next year’s goals, specific training requests, compensation analysis) and any other special requests or key points you would like to discuss. Email/print for your Exec the week of your performance review (usually the night before will do as that is likely when they will review and we don’t want it to get lost in the inbox!).

While I hope you are having these conversations more frequently than once a year (at least quarterly), often annual reviews are your one chance to discuss, well, your performance. I know these are not always easy. The first few performance reviews I did with my Executive, Adam, I was a nervous wreck. The compensation conversation was the most difficult part. But I found that having the facts prepared always bolstered my confidence. And they were never as difficult as I had built up in my mind. If you are being honest with yourself and have done a thorough reflection of your past performance, you know if what you are asking for is legitimate.

Bottom line: Move beyond the basics of what went well and what didn’t. Do your research, be prepared, bring evidence, and advocate for yourself. No one else will do it for you.

Quick Tip: Make sure you stay on topic! These conversations can sometimes get off track and before you know it you’re discussing who your Exec needs meetings with that week. Prepare the agenda and talking points and keep going back to them until you have satisfactorily discussed all points. This is your meeting. Own it!

Have a performance review story to share? Tell us about it in the comments! What else would you add to this list?

Working WITH, Not FOR, Your CEO

keep calm eaMy Executive posted this article on his blog several months ago in honor of Administrative Professionals Week. I am privileged to work with him and I’m excited to share his thoughts on the Executive Assistant role. I would not be where I am today without his leadership. Adam is constantly raising the bar by raising his own leadership lid and providing the challenges, the fierce conversations, and the opportunities for me to constantly grow.

I encourage you to share this with your Executive and get the conversation started about how you can create a strategic partnership with your boss.

5 Ways to Create a Strategic Partnership with Your Executive Assistant by Adam Hergenrother

The Girl Next to the Corner Office

Did I have dreams of being in the corner office? Not really. Did I have aspirations of being in the Oval office? Yes – I dreamed of being either an FBI profiler, a fashion magazine editor, or President. In high school I did my senior capstone project on serial killers, but wasn’t ready to commit to a life of crime. After I started college as a Journalism major and realized that a core part of the position would be talking to strangers on the daily, I quickly switched to a more appropriate course of study – English with a Writing Concentration. The only strangers I met were in the pages of Chaucer, Marquez, and Camus. As for being President? It hasn’t completely lost it’s allure (despite the current state of politics). But let’s be honest, I’m much more of an Olivia Pope, than a Fitzgerald Grant.

So, here I am now, almost 10 years out of college, next to the corner office. And it feels like home.

Being an Executive Assistant (Chief of Staff, Executive Secretary, Coordinator of Chaos, Executive Administrative Assistant, etc.) is not just a stepping stone to another career (as it may have been in the past) it is a dynamic and fulfilling career all on its own. I hope to empower Executive Assistants to own (but never abuse) their power, develop their leadership skills, and continue to learn and grow and make themselves an invaluable strategic asset to their CEO and their organization. I also hope to help Executives understand what a valuable asset they have or can have if they hire, train, and invest into their EA the way their EA invests into them. The best EA/CEO relationships are not hierarchies, but partnerships.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s 2014 data, there are approximately 2.5 Million top executives (CEOs, COOs, government officials, education leaders) and 3.9 Million assistants (executive assistants, medical assistants, paralegals, administrative assistants). That is about 1.5 assistants for every executive. My point is, we need each other to survive. And in order to thrive, Executive Assistants can and should both lead and assist.

Let’s get started.


 

next to the oval office

Fun Fact: Next to the Oval Office is the President’s second dining room; throughout the years it has been used as a private dining room, private study, or secretary’s office. The photo above was taken in 1946 during Harry S. Truman’s presidency when the dining room was used as the office of the “President’s secretary” (a position now know as the White House Chief of Staff). Below, the dining room in 1974, as the office of Richard Nixon’s personal secretary, Rosemary Woods.

nixon's secretary