By Kristina Schneider & Megan DeLaGarza, Executive Assistants
Working for our boss, estate planning attorney Philip Kavesh, we combined have over 13 years of executive assistant experience. Throughout this time, we have been able to gain numerous best practices and good habits for providing administrative support to a busy professional. Also in that time, we have interacted and even worked side-by-side with our fair share of assistants that either lacked the skills, experience, knowledge, training, or personality to be able to properly support their boss. So we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t.
That all being said, in this article, we thought it’d be neat to assemble a list of what we consider to be the top 35 overlooked best practices that we see assistants failing to do. If you’re an assistant, you might use this as a self-evaluation checklist!
Here they are, in no particular order:
- Put together a To Do List each day, ideally in order of priority. (HINT: Include meetings, scheduled phone calls, etc.)
- Take thorough notes when holding meetings or on telephone calls and note certain To Do items.
- Clean out your e-mail inbox completely and only keep urgent or “works in progress” e-mails in your inbox.
- Along with the above, organize your e-mail box with folders to quickly and easily find things.
- Set up and manage your own work calendar of when you’ll do certain tasks.
- Return all voicemails within 1 business day, even if you don’t have the answer that they’re looking for. People just want acknowledgement that you got their voicemail and you are working on it.
- Request “read receipts” on your e-mail so that you can track whether people received your e-mails or not.
- Respond to e-mails you receive, similarly to voicemails, even just to acknowledge that you received it and are working on it.
- Utilize an “Urgent AND Important” Rule for interruptions—not just with your coworkers, but also for you and your boss!
- Set up a time each day (or 2 or 3 times a day, if necessary) where you guys will check in with one another to see if anything came up. (HINT: This helps you hold true to the “Urgent AND Important” Rule.)
- Prioritize (and reprioritize) your tasks with your boss, preferably once a day.
- Ask for help (either from your boss or from others) when needed.
- Utilize pop-up reminders to keep you on task and to help avoid missing any deadlines.
- When scheduling appointments, try and put as much detail as possible on the calendar (including the notes section). Such details may include: who is initiating a call, where a meeting is being placed, who booked the appointment (if multiple people book things on the calendar), who to call if you have to reschedule and/or confirm the appointment, what the call or meeting is about, etc.
- Use a vertical file organizer to keep track of your boss’ upcoming appointments and working folders (click hereto view one along the lines of what we use).
- Create a “Follow-Up” bin or box that contains files and other correspondence that you need to follow-up on and calendar yourself to go through this daily to make sure you don’t miss any deadlines.
- Confirm all appointments and meetings (even business meetings with non-clients) the day before. (HINT: This is why #14 is so helpful!)
- Bunch your boss’ appointments together so his or her day is more efficient and less broken up, and allow enough buffer time in between appointments to avoid a calendar nightmare! If your boss is known for going over in meetings and phone calls, you might want to buffer 15 to 30 minutes in between appointments.
- Create an “Inbox” for your boss that you use to put all of his or her files and items necessary for the next day’s tasks.
- During your daily check-in with your boss, go over the calendar for the next day and make sure that you have pulled everything necessary for him or her. This is a great time to identify what is necessary and give yourself enough time to get what’s needed.
- Maintain a strict level of confidentiality about your boss. Some bosses require assistance with personal matters. As his or her assistant, it’s important that you do not disclose the information you may gain about your boss to others in the firm.
- When taking phone calls, be sure to gather all of the necessary contact information about the caller. Don’t assume that your boss has this information or that the information you may have stored in your database is correct. Be sure to collect their first and last name, telephone number, and e-mail address. And make sure to repeat back numbers and e-mail addresses!
- Details, details, details. As an assistant, it’s important that you pay attention to details. When you start to consistently miss details, the level of trust and confidence that your boss has in you will be jeopardized!
- Send an e-mail following a telephone conversation as a form to memorialize the conversation, but also have a record of what was discussed. It’s a great idea to avoid miscommunication and also CYA!
- Keep your meeting notes with your boss for historical records and, as you continue to support him and her, you will decide what kinds of details are good to write notes about and keep for future reference.
- Develop a follow-through and follow-up procedures on the tasks that your boss requests of you. This includes gathering tracking numbers for correspondence/packages sent out, following up with people by e-mail or telephone when they have not responded in a reasonable amount of time, etc.
- Keep a record of personal favorites for your boss. This is helpful for when either you’re out of the office or you need to train someone else to help assist your boss. This can be anything from meal and food choices, calendaring and scheduling preferences, gift ideas, office supplies, and many other things only you pick up on as his or her assistant.
- Keep your office space as organized as possible. An assistant with a disorganized, chaotic, and “disaster zone” working area is scary!
- Become a Post-It fanatic and use Post-Its to indicate action items, phone call details, next follow-up items, etc. on all working files. This helps you immediately look at files and know what they’re needed for. You can also utilize colors to help you know files intended for your boss, coworker, or you!
- When taking notes, use a system for denoting action items (whether you choose to create a separate list using a separate notepad or using your initials with a circle in the margin technique, see our November 2013 article on note-taking tips).
- Follow up on items that you delegate or pass along. Too often assistants think things will get taken care of or that people will respond to a voicemail or e-mail. An exceptional assistant will take the time to follow up and follow through to ensure that it was done.
- Be sure to create an electronic filing folder and file naming system that allows you to quickly and easily find files that you’re looking for. This could be A-Z files, subject-based files, files with dates (to know which revisions have been made), etc.
- When authoring correspondence for your boss, be sure to note your boss’ initials and then yours. For example, if we were authoring correspondence on behalf of our boss, Philip J. Kavesh, we would note: PJK/ks or PJK/md. This is especially helpful if you have multiple people in the office that might be writing correspondence on behalf of your boss.
- Utilize the “Out of Office” feature in your e-mail box when you are not in the office so that people that are e-mailing you can know that you are not in. Provide them instructions as to whom to contact in the case where they may need immediate assistance before you return, and also indicate when you return.
- To prevent interruptions, place your computer so that you are not facing your doorway or towards coworkers. This will help you from getting distracted and will allow you to work more efficiently.
That’s it for now. When putting this list together, we were certain that if we had more time that we could come up with 35 more best practices that are often overlooked by other executive assistants. And, whether you’re an assistant or a professional advisor, we are sure that you could come up with some yourself!
We hope that this article might be helpful in providing you some neat tips or things to try out and see if they help you work more efficiently, better prioritize your tasks and your time, manage interruptions, organize yourself (and your boss), and, overall, provide better support and assistance to your boss!
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Pssssst… are you an advisor reading this article? If so, that’s fine. While this article is written for staff members, many professionals would benefit from it as well. But be sure to pass along this article to your assistant. Click here to forward this article over to your assistant so that he or she can read it and benefit from it, too. Also, you may wish to encourage your assistant to sign up to receive our monthly newsletter directly so that they can get these helpful tips and articles each month, too. To sign up your assistant to receive our e-mails, click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Kristina Schneider is the current Executive Director of The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University in 2004 and was hired right out of college to work for the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, coordinating and facilitating Philip Kavesh’s “Missing Link” Boot Camps while also providing administrative support to Mr. Kavesh as his Executive Assistant for over seven years. Through her direct hands-on experience in Mr. Kavesh’s law firm, Kristina has been able to assist numerous estate planning professionals through The Ultimate Estate Planner and, equally as important, many of their staff members, in the successful implementation of Ultimate Estate Planner’s products and systems. You can reach Kristina at (424) 247-9495 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Megan DeLaGarza is the current Director of Operations of The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc., having joined the company in May 2011. Megan graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice. As Director of Operations, she handles a variety of tasks that include customer service and teleconference facilitation. In addition to her duties as Director of Operations, Megan also wears a second hat, serving as Philip Kavesh’s Executive Assistant, providing him direct administrative support and managing his busy calendar. You can reach Megan at (424) 247-9337 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.