“The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
– Stephen R. Covey
I’m hoping today’s post will give you practical time-saving measures for your mail system which will help you to streamline your daily tasks in the most effective way.
The calendar view above is a typical week for me, and it’s usually looking this bare when it is a fortnight in advance. By the time it’s one week prior and more tasks come to hand it’s looking full, but I wanted to make sure the example wasn’t too detailed.
My Manager introduced this method to me, based on a presentation he saw from an expert on Outlook. We have refined the technique so much to get it to the point where it works extremely well for us, and as every Manager / PA relationship is different, I would suggest you try this technique and change it up until it works perfectly for you. The basic principles should still work to get you started.
This process ensures you are working from your calendar as opposed to your inbox. My inbox is empty. Yes empty! This is on the basis that if I receive an email and it cannot be completed and deleted within two minutes, it goes into my calendar as allocated time, to get done when is best for me or by the deadline provided.
Anything that is going to take half an hour or longer, goes into my calendar as an item I am dedicating time to complete. If it’s something that I need to follow-up or remember, whether it be a quick follow-up email or phone call, if can sit as an all day event as this only takes a few moments.
Preparation and action time can be put into your diary in advance to ensure you have time blocked prior to a meeting to prepare, and the time required after the meeting to complete or progress on actions. Regular actions can be put in for whatever frequency they require (e.g weekly staff emails, fortnightly meeting papers, monthly credit card reconciliations), and this is particularly helpful as it gives you the ability to have a snapshot of the weeks or days of the month that you are most busy. This can be used in the sense of going back to staff on when you will be able to complete any requests. If a staff member approaches you on a Monday with a request that could take an hour for you to do, a quick glance at your calendar will show the next available time you have to complete it – and if that isn’t until Thursday then they are given ample warning at the time of the request. If that isn’t suitable, they can either find someone else to do it earlier, or advise that they want it pushed up your priority list. It gives an opportunity for you to discuss what can slide on your priority list to make sure it is completed. (Always check this with your manager also)
Promise more than you deliver, then deliver more than you promise.
The way I see it, if the staff member knows you can’t do it today, they will regularly go to another person so they can complete it earlier. If they are happy to wait and you’ve been a bit generous with the time you’ve given yourself to complete tasks, generally you can complete the request earlier than you promised, which is win win!
I find that if your inbox is too full, emails go out of sight and are forgotten. Does this happen to you? I hated that embarrassing and unprofessional moment when I had to admit that the email had completely fallen off my radar and then the task moves into Quadrant One for me to do urgently – a firefighting task to complete along with the flood of emails you are already valiantly fighting against.
Women (and Men of course!) who love a good chick flick may have seen the movie “I don’t know how she does it” starring Sarah Jessica Parker. You can view the trailer which will show you exactly what I’m referring to! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bn_OrhwIidA
SJP’s character makes “The List” at 3am in the morning, of everything that’s on her mind that she has to complete the next day, week, month… You get the point. This is so common for working women who are also running a house and raising a family – I don’t know if it’s a trait that men have as well – but I would prefer to replace my list making with sleep! By using the calendar as an action and reminder system nothing is forgotten. I can leave my desk at 5pm everyday, and I know I have allocated time to complete everything that I have to do and it’s allocated within the deadlines I have to meet over the next few weeks. When I leave work, I leave work behind.
Most EA’s have a colourful system – and you’ll notice if you have a different colour for meetings (e.g. mine is green) and actions (e.g. mine is orange) your Manager’s calendar will be full of the meeting colour and yours of the action colour. My calendar is usually a haze of orange, and if my Manager observes a haze of orange he knows he going to feel a lot more productive by the end of the day as opposed to when he has a sea of green. That being said he is usually much happier with me if he see’s mostly orange!
I hope you can see from these examples how this technique ensures your day is spent anticipating needs and acting on them instead of reacting to the demands and firefighting tasks that appear. This makes your entire day a Quadrant two. This completely reduces errors, gets rid of the frantic rush and deadlines are always met.
The good EA’s I know take pride in anticipating the need of their manager; doing things before their manager even knows they need it done, and this example of how to get the most from your calendar, allows it to become the tool to do just that.
What an amazing work ethic most EA’s have, as the moment we are anticipating and meeting the needs of our manager, it can become a pretty thankless job.
Further hints and tips:
– Dedicate an hour each month, and half an hour at the end of each week, to make sure you have everything covered in your calendar for the next week and month, and all of your reminders are ready to go with no surprises. This is a Quadrant two task that will set you up to remove fighting fires from your upcoming working week.
– When you send an important email, it’s very quick and easy to put a reminder in your calendar to follow-up the email on or before it’s due date. So don’t just try to monitor your inbox but your sent items also.
– Provide yourself with more time than you’ll need when you first set up this system, so as you don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Set realistic expectations about what you are going to get done in the day and gradually you will increase your efficiency level to superwoman status!
– Allocate time before meetings to prepare, and allocate time after meetings to complete actions, or time to block out your diary over the coming weeks to complete the subsequent actions.
– For your manager’s diary, block out time after meetings in case these run over. Don’t forget to book that meeting room out as well.
– Don’t forget to keep your Manager involved in the things you are doing in your role. This calendar system is a great tool to flag when you just don’t have enough hours in the day to get your job done. It’s also an insight to them as to how productive you are, and they can see at a day’s glance what’s on your plate and what you are juggling.
– Are you the type of person that writes something on your task list just to tick it off as completed? Change your ACTION wording to COMPLETED and hit dismiss on that reminder flashing up on your screen, and this should give you the same satisfaction as a check off your to do list!
I’d like to go further into allocating ahead your Quadrant two time, importantly to set aside time to progress your role and career. But what time of the week is best for you to do that? Next blog post will talk about understanding your most effective working habits.
I’d love to hear if you think this won’t work for you and your Manager and why. Please let me know if you have any feedback on this approach.