Lead & Assist Survey Results: Long Hours, Longer Lists, and Loving What They Do

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Almost 100 people responded to my Lead & Assist Giveaway Survey and as I reviewed all of the data over the past week, a few things became very clear: Executive Assistants (and any of the other 28 titles they go by) work very long hours, struggle to find work/life balance, are constantly managing multiple competing priorities, and yet, still love what they do.

First, let’s look at the hard data. I asked this group of pro EAs the following questions:

  1. What is your title?
  2. What are the top three responsibilities in your role?
  3. What is your work schedule? Do you work 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday? Do you have a flexible schedule? Do you work weekends? Or something in between?
  4. What is the biggest challenge you are experiencing at home or at the office due to your role as an Executive Assistant?

Here’s what they said:

  1. What is your title? // The overwhelming title that EAs go by, is (surprise!), Executive Assistant. Just over half of the respondents went by Executive Assistant. The rest of the survey participants who identified as an Executive Assistant, went by the following titles:
  • Senior Executive Assistant
  • Office Manager
  • Executive Administrative Assistant
  • Chief of Staff
  • Operations Manager
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Executive Administrative Assistant
  • Senior Assistant
  • Executive Personal Assistant
  • Senior Administrative Assistant
  • Senior Executive Administrative Assistant
  • Personal Assistant
  • Executive Business Admin
  • Executive Administrative Specialist
  • Lead Executive Assistant
  • Administrative Coordinator
  • Office Manager & Executive Assistant
  • Administrative Business Partner
  • Team Administrator
  • Executive Assistant II
  • Executive Secretary
  • Lead Executive Administrator
  • Business Support Supervisor
  • Director of Operations
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Closing Coordinator
  • Transaction Coordinator

My personal favorite was Director of Getting Shit Done. So, what’s in a name? Some say it’s simply semantics, others believe a proper title clarifies the role and dispels confusion, especially in a large organization, and still others want clear titles because many have worked very hard to get promotions and yes, the title that comes along with those increased responsibilities and seniority.

I used to fall into the semantics camp – does it really matter what your title is? In the grand scheme of things, no. If you are providing value at a high level and leading up, down, and sideways, then a title is irrelevant to the internal team. However, as I have grown in my career and worked very hard to get where I am, I understand this whole title thing a bit more.

Earlier this year, when I was speaking at the Behind Every Leader conference one Senior EA brought up this topic. She was proud of her accomplishments and had earned the right to the Senior Executive Assistant position; she was no longer an Executive Assistant and she was adamant that the roles and titles be clearly defined. I tend to agree. It doesn’t mean that the Senior EA is better than the EA, simply that their roles and responsibilities are different. They are both providing high value to their Execs (one may simply be supporting the Chairman and overseeing a team of other Admins, while the other is supporting two VPs). But I guarantee both have worked their asses off to get where they are. I believe in clearly defined roles, coupled with clear titles. I think it is particularly important because the EA role is still largely misunderstood and the more clarity we can provide to the public, the better, especially when interviewing for a new position.

2. What are the top three responsibilities in your role? // The three most prevalent job responsibilities for EAs are scheduling/calendar management, travel planning and management, and event/meeting planning, preparation, and execution.

In other words, managing the Execs life (personally and professional as there is usually a lot of overlap, especially as you start working with more senior level Execs or company owners). Being an incredible planner and project manager with the ability to anticipate needs, create contingency plans, and above all, be incredibly resourceful, while maintaining the utmost confidentiality are all critical to being a top EA. Sounds easy, right?

3.  What is your work schedule? Do you work 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday? Do you have a flexible schedule? Do you work weekends? Or something in between? // As for work schedules, the majority of respondents worked 8-9 hours a day (usually from 8am/9am to 5pm), but that was just in-office. Most Executive Assistants said they check emails and work from home at night and on the weekends, and several EAs are on-call 24/7.

4.  What is the biggest challenge you are experiencing at home or at the office due to your role as an Executive Assistant? // The overwhelming response was work/life balance and boundaries, followed closely by not having enough hours in the day to handle all of the shifting priorities.

Let’s dive into questions 3 and 4 here. Long, often undefined hours, coupled with multiple competing priorities is tough. I’ve been there and I get it. But here is my (probably) very unpopular opinion: That’s the job. That is what an EA does. And it’s not for everyone. But that’s why we need an Executive Assistant community – so we can talk through the challenges, vent on those tough days, and strategize about ways to control the chaos and increase efficiency and effectiveness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people should work all of the time. You need other hobbies, you need to spend time with friends and family, to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. It’s not easy for anyone to manage all of life’s obligations, and particularly difficult for EAs, but it is not impossible.

Ultimately, I think that EAs should make sure they are very clear about what they are getting into (with the caveat that no two EA roles are the same). Some positions may require being available at all times, some may ask that you simply stay connected via email, some require extensive travel, and others are simply 9 to 5, with no requirements outside of those hours. However, I would be skeptical about any position that is simply 9 to 5 (particularly at an Executive level). EAs make the life of an Exec flawless and what Exec do you know who only works between the hours of 9am and 5pm? Be aware of what the position entails before signing on.

Now, many of the survey participants also mentioned that they have flexible schedules. Again, they might be in the office from 9am to 5pm, but can run out to their kid’s soccer game, a dentist appointment, or meet a friend for lunch at their discretion. It works both ways. EAs may be up at 2am waiting for their Exec to land in Europe, but they may also leave early on a Friday for a pedicure.

So, why are so many EAs searching for that work/life balance if, in fact, most of the respondents said they love their careers in spite of the hours? I think it has a lot less to do with balance, and much more to do with not feeling in control of their schedules and their time. Very few positions are as demanding and dependent on the direction of someone else – someone else’s priorities, projects, needs, and deadlines. I believe that with the help of some clear expectations and extreme time management, inner balance can be restored, even if it still looks out of balance on the outside.

Reading all of the survey responses really bolstered my belief that being an Executive Assistant is an incredibly rewarding career choice. Despite some of the frustrations I read, I didn’t see anything that couldn’t be overcome with some personal development, fierce conversations, and time management. In fact, I think the frustrations only spoke to the passion and desire that all of these assistants have to be the best versions of themselves. They all wanted to learn, to improve, and take their careers and leadership to another level. No one was willing to settle for mediocrity, and that is both admirable and rare.

It is certainly an exiting time to be an Executive Assistant and I can’t wait to explore many of the above topics more in depth on my blog, during my Lead & Assist webinar series, and with my EA community.


 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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!