The Assistant’s Guide to Structuring an Executive’s Time

Each day is filled with complex challenges that can wear and tear an executive’s morale. Even supposed stress-free weekends could be ruined by a constant stream of calls and emails. While any executive would like more work-life balance, they are keenly aware of how valuable their time can be to the business. The Harvard Business Review recently published a study on time management for CEOs. Some may be wondering where executive assistants fit into the mix. As the right-hand to the executive, what role does the executive assistant play in structuring an executives time?

The executive assistant role has expanded rather significantly throughout the past several decades. Since administrative assistants are heavily involved in the CEO’s daily activities, they will need a well-executed to strategy to assist the executive in reaching their business goals. This strategy should be centered on the strengths and weaknesses of both the assistant and the executive. EAs that work with the same executive daily can identify areas in which they need maximum assistance. For EAs that are new to an executive, they should take note of how the executive goes about his or her day to properly manage up. Observing the general norms and tendencies of an executive can give the assistant a glimpse into their general routine. While every executive is unique, most follow a rigorous schedule that has been developed by their assistants.

Developing a schedule for a CEO or executive is never a one-and-done process. The schedule will be a running document that is continuously growing and modifying. Advancements in technology have many EAs moving away from traditional calendars and are instead choosing to use calendars linked through their Comcast or Google accounts. These calendars are not only convenient, but they also create links between multiple communication devices. Some software-based calendars allow for the client or employee to request a meeting at a time of their convenience. If the meeting is suitable for the executive, they can accept the invitation, and the meeting is now listed on the running schedule. This eliminates the back and forth between the executive and the potential client, employee, investor, etc. For executive assistants, saving the executive a few extra minutes from constant emails can prove to be an invaluable asset.

CEOs and executives have a variety of departments to oversee. One of the most crucial functions of supervising arises from staying in the loop of current events and challenges. Executives on average spend over half their time in face-to-face meetings with clients and employees. The executive assistant acts as the gatekeeper and often decides the length and location of each meeting. It’s essential for EAs to understand their executive will probably have a preference for meeting times and location. Some executives may like to knock out all their face time at the crack of dawn, and others may wish to spread out meetings to prepare for the issues at hand. Regardless of their executive’s preferences, they certainly want to avoid spending copious amounts of time commuting across the office to meet with lower level employees.

One purpose for executives spending large amounts of time meeting with employees or clients is their devotion to developing people and relationships. Depending on the organizational structure, multiple departments usually interact directly with the CEO. In many cases, the CEO feels a sense of obligation to advise his lower level managers. Developing the vision for the company’s future can inspire employees to work more efficiently and effectively. Interdepartmental meetings can often involve a significant amount of preparation for employees and their executive. Executive assistants can expect these meetings to run longer than expected occasionally.

Like every other employee, executives need some time to kick back and relax. Since their position can often entail solving other people’s problems, executives can easily become overworked. A healthy amount of leisure time has shown to have a positive impact on an executive’s daily performance. For executive assistants, there are plenty of ways to keep an executive informed without cutting into their free time. For instance, EAs can advise clients and employees of certain times the executive will not be available. Executive assistants shouldn’t feel pressured to leak the executive’s location unless specifically instructed by the executive. EAs can also screen emails to understand what’s pressing and what’s not. If there are many pressing messages on a particular weekend, schedule a phone call briefing at a moment of convenience for the executive. While these types of organizational tools might seem obvious, it’s essential to develop an acceptable routine for checking in.

Active communication between the executive and the assistant is necessary for building trust. Executives should feel free to bounce ideas off their assistant in a variety of circumstances. If any executive feels uncomfortable with their assistant, they might withhold crucial strategic decisions that can affect their job. If the executive is concerned a secret might be leaked, he or she may withhold that vital info to the very last day necessary.

Executives wouldn’t be able to function effectively without their assistants. The role of EA has transformed the way business professionals communicate inside and out of an organization. From creating itineraries, facilitating communication, and being the ultimate problem solver, executive assistants are crucial to the success of upper-level management. Understanding the value of an executive’s time will propel executive assistants to make the most influential strategic decisions for any organization.
Read the full Harvard Business Review study, here.