There is no doubt that the working day of a successful EXecutive Assistant consists of various tasks. Some of them are more extensive projects, some – new ideas, some others – some sudden fires that have to be taken care of immediately.
However, a significant part of the tasks are recurrent, and you can plan and schedule them in advance.
I confess that learning how to recognise and adequately routinise recurrent tasks is one of the most important skills I bring to the table as an EA.
Why? Because the routine is the backbone of everything that I do and it leaves my mind free to handle any task that pops in during the day in the most efficient manner.
Here is a peek into my daily routines and how they came into being.
Morning and evening routines
I pray by my morning and evening routines both at home and at work. I firmly believe they are one of the main reasons behind my productivity.
There is something empowering about ticking off few tasks already before my executive has arrived in the office. Additionally, there is this magic of habitual activities that turn my mind into professional flow mode.
Opening the windows, checking if any last-minute changes have been done to the agenda, viewing mailboxes to understand if there is something urgent, controlling the list of priorities for today, changing the water in the executive’s office and making sure his favourite mug is in place, checking coffee-machine and dimming the shutters where I know the sun will hit me right into the eyes in an hour…
Having one last check of the mailbox to ensure nothing important got lost in the rush of the day, planning priorities for tomorrow, updating task status and filing all paperwork (as well as shredding all sensitive documentation that is not needed anymore) in the evening gives me a feeling of control before I leave the office and is a signal for my brain to turn the working mode off.
These tasks vary from job to job, from executive to executive, but I always schedule time (and sometimes a to-do list) for my morning and evening routines.
Classical recurrent tasks of an Executive Assistant
There are always tasks that build the job’s core of an EA, disregarding the industry. To name a few – preparing, minuting and following up and through various meetings (Shareholders, Board, Committees, Management, Team etc.); taking care of executive’s schedule and travel itineraries; filing and updating certain business documents and reports.
In many countries, Board and Shareholders meetings are regulated, stating the frequency, when should the meeting notice be presented, how in advance The Secretary of the Meeting should communicate an agenda. Some companies have established procedures to keep in line with the legislative deadlines; some have internal regulations where the legislator does not provide any specific guidance.
Setting recurrent advance reminders for these tasks is relatively straightforward then. I prefer Outlook Tasks to Calendar reminders for my routine because I can include a detailed description of everything related to the task right in its body. I can modify and postpone them whenever necessary.
Once I am done setting up these tasks with reminders, I never deal with the question “should I have prepared anything for the upcoming Board meeting” ever again. The reminders make me aware of the forthcoming issue well in advance, and I plan my time to ensure everything is prepared timely.
Short process description covering all “must-dos” and a reminder making sure I pay attention within a reasonable timeframe – all I need to be always on top of the matter.
Task-specific routines as growth tool
Based on my successful experience with the routines, I have learned to apply the same approach to any recurrent task that comes my way.
This approach has helped me deal with the job with less stress and mistakes. Surprisingly, it has also made me look professional in the fields where I have had minimal experience or exposure before.
For example, I have often been asked to take care of some financial and sales reports. To ensure I do the reporting correctly, I sat down with the person responsible for the report before me. I discussed the task in-depth – not only did I ask how to draw the report practically, but I also posed questions about the purpose and the sources of the information. I documented this in my “Report XY routine”, which I used next time I needed to draw the report myself.
With time, I learned to understand the specific interconnections of this report and a general idea of the field it was measuring. From there, with a bit of curiosity and time investment, I learned a lot about the specific fields or even industries and sometimes even assumed responsibilities over departments. All based on a simple documented “how-to” routine of preparing yet another report.
My previous executive used to praise reasonability. “Let’s be reasonable”, she would say each time one of us got caught in the process and wanted to document or improve things for the sake of documenting or improving.
Same with the routines. Documenting and scheduling makes sense if the input and output are reasonable. Routinising for the sake of doing it will not make anyone more productive, entirely on the contrary. Routines are also not a replacement of proper planning. However, reasonable and actable routines are, no doubts, empowering.