By Kristina Schneider, Practice Success Coach and Kirsten Allen, Executive Assistant
Working for our boss, estate planning attorney Philip Kavesh, we combined have over 28 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 executive. Also through our time in interfacing with many busy attorneys, 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 bosses. So we have seen what works and what doesn’t.
That all being said, in this article, we have assembled what we consider to be the Top 35 Overlooked Best Practices for Executive Assistants.
(If you’re an assistant, you might use this as a self-evaluation checklist!)
Top 35 Overlooked Best Practices for Executive Assistants
Here they are, in no particular order:
- Take thorough notes when holding meetings or on telephone calls. You should be walking around with a notepad in hand or at the ready!
- Clean out your e-mail inbox completely and only keep urgent or e-mails that require your follow-up or action in your inbox.
- Organize your e-mail box with folders to quickly and easily find things.
- Utilize your calendar as an integrated calendar and To Do List, scheduling reminders and time to work on items to ensure you meet deadlines.
- Set up and manage your own work calendar of when you’ll do certain tasks.
- Return all phone calls and voicemails within one business day (or less), even if you don’t have the answer that they’re looking for. People just want acknowledgment 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) when you and your boss 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 calendar and 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, Zoom links, 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.
- Hold all files for your boss until he or she needs them. Use a vertical file organizer or file drawers to keep track of your boss’ upcoming appointments and working folders.
- 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 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 is 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. Do not 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 nice “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 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 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!
- 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 article entitled, “7 Tips for Taking Better Notes”).
- 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 the 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/ka This is especially helpful if you have multiple people in the office that might be writing correspondence on behalf of your boss. (Check out our white paper, “How to Write a Proper Business Letter”)
- Utilize an “Out of Office” autoresponder 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 case they may need immediate assistance before you return (and also indicate when you return).
- To help avoid distractions and 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.
- Begin to anticipate the needs of your boss and learn his or her preferences and workstyle. This requires you to be observant and aware of what your boss needs for certain tasks, how long tasks take them, what tasks bring them joy or deplete their energy, etc. The more that you can begin to “mind meld” with your boss, the more you will begin to better support him or her as an assistant.
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 things to try out and see if they help you work more efficiently, better prioritize your tasks and your time, manage your interruptions, organize yourself (and your boss), and, overall, provide better support and assistance to your boss!
If you found this article helpful, then you will get a lot more help through some other articles and programs we have available.
- Effectively Managing Your Boss’ Busy Calendar
- The Art of Confirming an Appointment
- What to Do When Everything is Urgent & Important?
- How to Hire and Effectively Use an Executive Assistant
- How to Effectively Manage Your E-mails (Best Practices for Professionals and Staff)
- How to Improve Efficiency & Productivity
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Kristina Schneider is a Practice Success Coach here at 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. She is currently pursuing her MBA degree from Pepperdine University Grazadio Business School. You can reach Kristina at (424) 247-9495 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kirsten Allen has been with The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc. since March 2015. She originally joined the company as an Administrative Assistant and quickly moved her way up as both the Director of Operations and attorney Phil Kavesh’s Executive Assistant. She not only ensures that things are running smoothly at The Ultimate Estate Planner, but she plans our 2-day events, hires support staff for other law firms, and assists our Practice Success Coach, Kristina Schneider, with coaching. She can also be found traveling with Kristina to various conferences and speaking engagements.