- Work Advice
7 Habits Of Highly Effective Assistants
What makes someone a highly effective assistant, or even just highly effective at any job they might be doing? Is it getting up at 5am to meditate before work to clear your head? Surviving on only 4 hours sleep to get more done as so many successful business people claim to do? We highly doubt it. In our experience being productive and effective at work comes from the habits that we hone and practice day in day out. It’s the small things that some of our most productive co-workers and fellow assistants seem to do (or don’t do) without realising that make all the difference to how much they get done.
You may have heard that it takes 21 days for a habit to be formed, but according to more recent research this is nonsense and how long it takes a task to become habitual is completely dependent on the task itself, with the time ranging from anywhere between 18 – 254 days. As this suggests, it’s hard, but possible, to change our habits. They are things we do automatically but they can have a huge impact on how effectively we do our jobs.
Small changes make big differences, and this is true across so many of the habitual things you do at work – how you respond to requests from colleagues, how you organise your desk or just how you phrase certain questions to senior colleagues. We work with some exceptional assistants and have placed many in extremely demanding and rewarding Executive Assistant Jobs; having habits that increase their effectiveness at work is undoubtably a reason why they have risen up the career ladder and reached the top EA positions they are in. Therefore, we asked some of our top EAs to share their wisdom, and explain some of the habits that they think make them better at their jobs as assistants.
1. Actively remove distraction
“I only turn my phone on at allotted periods during the day, usually lunchtime, when I’m heading out of the office or if I’m taking a break. By turning my phone off when I’m at my desk I put barriers between my impulsive urge to check Instagram/Whatsapp/Facebook and actually being able to do it. Having my phone in my bag out of my eyesight and switched off means I’m able to focus on tasks for far longer than when I had it on my desk and checked it in an ad hoc manner. I’m not reminded to look at it by seeing it and having to turn it on makes looking at it a task rather than something I do out of habit.”
2. Repeat yourself
“When you are an EA the motto ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is only true if everyone knows exactly what they are responsibly for in order to solve the problem. I have morning catch ups with my boss and I make a habit of repeating back to her what I am responsible for as a consequence of the catch up so she knows what I am working on, and what is left in her responsibility. It felt strange at the beginning but it’s something I now do out of habit and repeating back what I understand my responsibilities to be is a good way to ensure that everyone is on the same page and nothing important gets missed or no two tasks get repeated. This works when managing down as well as up, I ask junior assistants on my team to repeat to me what they see as their responsibilities when I’ve asked them to help me with something so we are both clear exactly on who is doing what. It's a habit that has saved me so much time over the years!”
3. Allow extra time for every task
“I always add at least 5 minutes to every task I schedule. As assistants I think we naturally want to get things done quickly, but this eagerness to complete tasks and get things ticked off the list can lead to being over ambitious about what we can achieve and therefore over promising on what can realistically get done in a certain time period. Now, when I schedule tasks into my dairy each day I always make them at least 5 minutes longer than I think they will take, this slight buffer means I have time to react to emails that pop up or unexpected phone calls that need to be answered. If I get the task done early then great – there’s always something else looming on the list so no time is wasted!”
4. I prioritise taking breaks
“No one expects you to be a ninja Executive Assistant who can sit behind a computer all day powering through tasks like a robot; it’s simply not possible and it’s not healthy. No matter how busy I am I always take a lunchbreak, sometimes this is at 12, sometimes it’s at 3, but I make it a priority to get out from behind my desk and go outside at least once during the day. Usually around the middle of the day as this breaks it up nicely. No boss should begrudge you a break and if they do it might be worth considering the longevity of the job.”
5. Always do the most important tasks first
“As an EA we have to prioritise, it’s part of the job as we are responsible for allowing someone else to do their job in the most optimal way possible. Look at your list of tasks for the day and pinpoint the ones that are the most urgent, then do these first, everything else can wait. The nature of working as an assistant is that this list will probably change countless times throughout the day but if you make sure you keep updating it with the highest priority tasks always at the top you are in a good place to ensure nothing urgent is missed.”
6. Don’t habitually say yes
“EAs are often extremely eager to please, I think this is because we are generally helpful and solutions driven people so it can be easy to habitually say yes when someone asks for your help. Changing your mentality to first ask questions and find out what the task involves and whether it is actually any of your responsibility. Having the confidence to say no if it isn’t can save you a lot of time and stop you committing to work that isn’t yours to do.”
7. Work during your most productive hours
“I’m a lark rather than an owl, this means I am most productive in the morning; come 4pm my brain starts to naturally wind down and I’m much more easily distracted. I identified this a long time ago and I now adapt my schedule where possible to fit in with this. I try and schedule meetings and calls for the morning when I can take in information best as I know I won’t be as alert in the afternoon. As an assistant it’s important that you know how your boss works best but also that they know how you work best too so you can each ensure your time is optimised.”