Be more effective: Utilize an assistant better

Kevin East

Being ineffective is one of the worst places to find yourself. It seems that every few months, I notice the way I am operating needs some tweaking.  When that happens, I must step back and evaluate how I am spending my time.  This is the first of a few posts this week about what has helped increase my effectiveness over the years.

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to the "Manager Tools" podcast.  I listened to it off an on for quite some time, and found some of the podcasts very interesting and helpful.  We eventually had one of the founders of the podcast, Mark Horstman, out to speak to our entire staff.   Although the presentation was much different than I expected, I still apply a few of the principles he shared with us that day.

The most valuable podcast, by far, that I heard from Manager Tools was a 3 part series entitled, "Effective Executives/Efficient Assistants." It drastically changed the way I utilize my assistant.  I recognize we don't all have assistants, but much of what is talked about can also be applied to working with volunteers, coworkers, or even a husband/wife relationship.  It is about 2 different people playing 2 distinct roles that help propel the mission forward.

Below are some rough notes that I took years ago as I listened to the podcast for the first time.  Recently, I got them out to review as I consider different areas within my reach that I can do a better job with, to help increase my effectiveness.


  • The Role of the Executive never changes.
    • To be effective! (to do the right things)
    • Must start by knowing what you are supposed to do in order to have a great relationship with admin!
    • Ask yourself, what does this organization require of me?
    • 3 sample primary tasks: thinking, deciding, communicating
    • Manager part of job is more important than the working part of job
    • Role of Admin – to be efficient (making the boss effective)
      • By being efficient, it helps the executive to focus on the things that are important
      • The biggest roadblock is that the Executive fails to delegate

4 Key Areas of Responsibility of Administrative Assistant:

1.      Managing Executive’s Schedule – single most important task of Admin!

  • Biggest drawback to getting things done in order to be effective- administrative tasks
  • Must set priorities.  Almost have to ask yourself, “What work am I willing to be in trouble for not doing?”
  • An Executive’s top 3 priorities determine how everything else flows.  They are the filter!
  • Example, direct report relationships.  Executive should conduct weekly briefings with direct reports and find out what they are working on.
  • To help figure out priorities, the Executive should, for two weeks, ask people what they need from you, what are their expectations of you? (boss, constituents, employees, peers)
  • Give your admin a list of people who’s relationships are top priority to you as well as a list of your priorities (what/who is important and why)
  • Avoid holding back information with your admin (If you do, you leave the administrator in a place of asking a lot of questions because they don’t have full information.)  This doesn’t help you to be effective.
  • Executives way under-appreciate the lengths an administrator is willing to go to help an Executive (personal errands)
  • After the Executive has communicated their priorities, the admin schedules 2-3 days to follow the Executive around and complete a 15 min / 15 min analysis.  (what is the exec working on every 15 min)
  • Present the analysis to Executive to help them see how they are spending their time.
  • What needs to result is the Executive starts asking the admin for time.
  • The admin needs to be in complete control of the Executive’s schedule.
  • Start each day with a 10-15 min meeting.  Admin brings 2 printed copies of calendar.  Go through day together, set priorities of day, admin helps executive accomplish those priorities.
  • Control access to exec’s office whenever possible! Ok for admin to follow someone in office and remind exec of what time is scheduled to be.
  • Ok for admin to interrupt meetings of the exec.

2.  Managing Executive’s Office

  • Clean out entire office! Everything!  Empty office and start over.
  • Exec & Admin decide what goes back in.  Avoid putting back clutter – especially papers.
  • Agree on an inbox and outbox
  • Admin keeps boxes clear and desk clear
  • 4 folders:  Read, Hot (look at right away), Sign, Suspense (up and coming things)
  • It is important that the admin provides vision to things that are important to the exec.

3.  Managing the Executive’s Relationships

  • Monitor and support the frequency and quality of the executives network of relationships (daily or weekly call sheets).

4.  Managing the Administrative Deliverables

  • Tasks
  • Must delegate!

How effective are you right now?  Is there anything you would suggest changing after reading these notes or listening to the podcasts?


If you liked this post, check out Kevin's personal blog, Following to Lead, where he regularly writes on following, leading, fostering and family.