Updated: Jun 1, 2020
We were recently asked by one of our clients how to get the most out of your Personal Assistant. I promised to come back with some articles on the topic, however, after a long we failed to come up with much! Clearly this is a gap, and a common challenge many senior executives are challenged by, so what better reason than to write a blog on the topic!
Based on our experience helping Executives Productivity Hack and our own use of high performing personal assistants, here are our 7 ways which will help you get the most out of your personal assistant.
1. Understand your assistant's goals and purpose
When you begin, understand what your assistant's aspirations are and what their purpose is. Understand how you can shape their work to clearly engage them while taking the opportunity to set expectations on what the nature of the work will be.
2. Share how you like to work and agree with working behaviours
Early on, it's critical to collaboratively agree how you want to work together and what are the communication styles and mediums which work best for you.
If you haven't done this already, take the opportunity to reflect on your energy levels throughout the day and consider where are you most productive. You'll want to keep that time sacred to focus on what's most important or explore strategic topics. If you have influence over board meeting times, aim to have them set during your peak energy times on a recurring cadence. Foggy times can be reserved for operational and execution meetings.
You'll find a lot of inspiration on how to build clarity on how you like to work by creating a Leader's User Manual as outlined in a FirstRound blog called The Indispensable Document for the Modern Manager .
3. Keep focus with a check-in at the start of every day
Your assistant and you need to be in lockstep. Keep this an informal check-in via any medium you prefer (phone, in person, via Slack), but make sure it happens! During this time, align on key priorities, movements and call out anything which may derail the week.
If you can manage it every day, consider a slightly deeper dive with your assistant to map out the week, reflecting on what does success look like for the week and what will need to happen to get there. "Most impactful - alignment"
4. Enable autonomy with clear boundaries & working principles
You might be a senior leader passionate about enabling your people and driving autonomy, but do you do the same with your assistant?
To get the most out of your assistant ensure they know what authority they have, and where they need your support or approval. Success is when your assistant thinks like you, so share principles which are important to you that will enable them to make effective decisions in your absence. The less you need to be involved in traffic lighting and reviewing their work the most time you have to focus on critical priorities.
5. Let them make your calendar smooth like butter
Limiting your calendar to critical strategic priorities and important staff meetings will ensure you get the most out of your day. Work with your assistant on the following strategies
Prioritise your time to focus on items which have a high impact on the business and low likelihood of success without your support using the Executive Prioritisation Matrix.
Track your energy levels and work with your assistant to schedule your high energy times with deep work. This is work which requires deep focus and attention, which for most executives means strategically significant priorities. Unstructured work and creative activities will give you the most flair during your low energy times. Enable your assistant to book one on ones and group meetings for these times.
Ensure you have efficient session to get updates from relevant teams on work progress, such as a single portfolio delivery update rather than many project steering committees.
Keep your one on ones for coaching your team members on their leadership journey. The more effective they are, the easier your life will be.
Engage the teams who report into you in an effective and time-efficient manner. This might be a regular open but optional invite for people to come to ask questions and give feedback, and a slightly more informal opportunity for them to meet with you over lunch. Keep it regular and do everything within your power to not cancel it.
6. Have them supercharge your inbox
Your assistant can help you manage your inbox to give you maximum focus and be most effective. They can help by killing off bad email habits in your business, taking ownership over tasks you can delegate and sorting your inbox for maximum effect.
First, we'll want to look at the bad email habits in your organisation. Copying senior leaders in an email is fine if it's for the right reasons. If you're observing email being used as a political tool, or as a way to avoid direct conversations between teams, your assistant should be challenging people why they've copied you.
Next, we'll look at your inbox structure. Your assistant can help you move fast and effectively in your inbox through colour coding or folders, based on clear rules you've defined:
Urgent - Emails which need your focus the first chance you have needing your attention
Follow up - Emails which need your attention in order to progress things
FYI - Emails which are important for you to be aware of.
Handled - Emails which your assistant is looking after
Interesting reads & knowledge sharing - Emails for when you get a moment, have a read and don't forget to thank the people sharing the material.
7. Set clear outcomes for complex tasks and projects
To have ultimate success with your assistant when working on complex activities, work with them to set clear outcome-based goals, where they're taking ownership and responsibility of the outcomes! This simple frame has worked wonders to reduce the rework and increase the effectiveness with assistants:
Context/why this is important:
Outcomes (and measures if relevant):
What we don't want:
That's it for now! Have you tried any of these methods? Is there anything you do to get the most out of your assistant? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!