Archives for Revolutionary Assistant

What NOT To Do in Meetings

I’ve read a lot of long lists of things you should do in meetings, but I rarely see a list of what not to do.  And I figure I should see more of the “what not to do” lists considering that every time I go to a meeting, I see about ten different thing that irritate the living daylights out of me.  So maybe if I write an article about what not to do in a meeting, people will stop doing those things.

Please.

At any rate, here are some of my biggest pet peeves:

Waltzing in late – Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?  I hate it when people come strolling in ten minutes.  I got to the meeting on time, my co-workers got to the meeting on time, and clearly this tardy person doesn’t respect the fact that I have other things to do!  Not only that, but if we started our discussion, we need to catch that person up!

Working on other stuff while you’re in the meeting – Hey, person who is shopping on line during the meeting, or checking the weather (seriously, that happened in one of my meetings just today), I’m talking to you.  If you’re paying attention to your email or surfing the web during the meeting, you’re not paying attention to what we’re talking about.  You ask questions about things we already covered, take up our time…I don’t like it when you’re not paying attention.  When you’re in the meeting, work on paying attention in the meeting.

Heading down a rabbit hole – If we’re in a meeting about the production of widgets, another attendee shouldn’t jump in the minute he sees an opportunity to talk about the production of thingamajigs.  We don’t want to talk about thingamajigs.  Really.  So be quiet!

Having an opinion you’re sharing but not respectfully – If you don’t agree with something I say, don’t roll your eyes or heave a sigh and fold your arms in protest.  Say, “Revolutionary Assistant, I’m not sure I agree with you, can we discuss this further?”  I like that better than when you act like a second grader.

Act like you’re superior to me in a way that makes me want to punch you – I read this article on LinkedIn by Gretchen Rubin that talked about all the ways people make themselves look bad in meetings.  Most of it was what they said and how they said it.  The one I enjoyed the most was, “I can see why you might think that.”  That sentence is usually followed by a reason or two why you’re ignorant and short-sighted.  Check out Gretchen’s list for more phrases to avoid, she hit the nail on the head!

Meetings are a pain in the butt as it is, but when you have all these shenanigans going on, they become unnecessarily aggravating.  When you’re off to your next meeting, remember to behave yourself, and as a Revolutionary Assistant you can keep people in check so they behave themselves, too!

Next post:  Wednesday, November 5

Are You Too Smart to Be “Just an Assistant”?

I just read a really fun article on LinkedIn by Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace.  Called “Seven Signs You’re Too Smart for Your Job,” the article talks about all the signs you should look for that tell you that you’re operating at a lower level than you should be.

I’ve never felt I’m too smart for my job.  Others apparently think I am, though.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You’re too good for this job,” or “You can do much better than this position.”  Why is it, because the word “assistant” is part of my title that people think I’m at the bottom of the business food chain?  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Being an assistant is one of those jobs that grows with you.  When you’re young and fresh out of school, an administrative position helping a whole department with a specific kind of task is a good place to start.  As you advance, you learn to become an invaluable part of an executive/assistant team, taking on work that requires brains and integrity.  An assistant doesn’t have to rethink her career – there’s always a new position into which she can grow, a more challenging assignment to be had.

This isn’t to say that I disagree with Liz Ryan about being too smart for a job.  But what she’s really saying throughout most of her article is that you can be too ambitious, too energized, and…well, too smart…for your company.  And that’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

When your values and your philosophy don’t match the people you’re supporting, your motivation and happiness can deteriorate quickly.  This is particularly true of an assistant, who is heavily steeped in the drive and attitude of her manager, the scope of his position and the culture he’s created.  So when you…

  • Work with a bunch of slugs who just punch the time clock,
  • Can’t find a single person in your office that inspires you to reach for the next level, the next success story,
  • Have a boss that doesn’t care what you do as long as his travel reservations are made,
  • Can’t sell a new idea because your co-workers are uncomfortable with anything that’s not the status quo

…then it’s likely you’re too “smart” for your company.  Their values aren’t the same as yours.   Go look for some inspiration.

But being too “smart” to be an assistant? Nah.  This job isn’t about making travel reservations and taking dictation.  I’ve worked my way up the ladder, honing my communication skills, gathering up business acumen, until I could contribute more than my fair share to executive teams that run companies.  I participate in important conversations, have an impact on our results.

And yet I can go home and sleep at night, because even though I have a great time when I’m up to my elbows in business strategy, I’m not responsible for it.  My executive bears that weight on his shoulders.

So tell me again, who’s the dumb one?  :-)

Next post:  Wednesday, October 22

How to Start the Work Day Right

Looking at the title, I feel like I’m setting myself up for a breakfast cereal ad:  “Start your workday off right by eating Wheaties!”

I started thinking seriously about this subject when I noticed that some days were much more productive than others.  And I have no real morning routine once I hit the office door.  What did I do that made those good mornings so good?

Turns out, a lot of people have thoughts on how to start your workday right, and I agree with a bunch of their suggestions:

Arrive on time – I hit a lot of traffic in the morning, but I try to be at work by a certain time.  If I’m earlier than usual, I feel like I’m already ahead of the game.  I like that feeling and it tends to affect the outlook I have on my work that day.

Don’t start the morning reading email – Nothing pulls you in quite like that email inbox.  On days when I’ve not let that be my first activity, I can get more done.  Certainly, I don’t keep my inbox right where I can see every email that comes in, either!  I find those little email notifications that show up in the lower right corner of my screen to be annoying and unnecessary.

Leave busy work for later, tackle the big stuff now – On days when I go in and start my morning with something menial, like entering expenses, I do feel like I’ve accomplished something, yes.  But it’s not an accomplishment that motivates me for the rest of the day.  A bigger project leaves me with more satisfaction, and I can usually tackle it with a good attitude, because I’ve had a good night’s sleep and my brain is ready for action!

Check in with colleagues or direct reports – Because our managers are motivated to get work done, we sometimes have more than one person working on a particular task.  A huddle with your colleagues can ensure that you’re not working at cross-purposes, and can even result in some extra help or advice!  Conversely, if you have direct reports, you can also take five minutes to brief them on your goals for the day, just to make sure you’re all rowing in the same direction.

Leave the crankiness at home – Even if I wake up in a bad mood (and I am NOT a morning person!), I force a smile and act happy to see everyone.  Usually, my mood turns good in a matter of minutes.  People enjoy a smile and react positively to a happy, “Good morning!” when they encounter you in the hallway.

Putting a plan in place to have a productive morning lays the foundation for a fantastic day.  Try these hints as a start toward making your day more fruitful.

(Oh, and eat your Wheaties, too!  Experts universally agree that breakfast is important to get your mind and body going!)

Next post:  Wednesday, October 8

Doling Out the Negative Feedback

Everyone loves giving “atta boys” to fellow co-workers and direct reports, but when it comes to giving negative feedback, even your manager would rather run in the other direction.  Studies would suggest that people actually crave corrective suggestions from others, but what good is that if no one wants to jump in and talk about what’s going wrong?

Well, rest assured, there are some suggestions out there for giving negative feedback, and how to do it in such a way that it does more good than harm.

Don’t give a feedback sandwich – It might be your instinct to give negative feedback bookended with positive feedback, but essentially that doesn’t smooth the edges like you might think.  In fact, sandwiching the good with the bad makes the good feedback seem insincere, and that’s the last thing you want!

Ask permission to give the feedback – Sometimes, just giving the other person a heads-up that you’re about to mention something negative gives him enough prep time to brace himself, allowing for a better discussion.

Stick with the facts – If your feedback isn’t regarding a specific observation, a situation which yielded specific results, then perhaps you need to reconsider this particular feedback discussion.  Gathering the facts before the discussion will help you stay focused on the action/reaction aspect of the issue.  And along these same lines…

…Don’t jump to conclusions – If you’re giving feedback to an employee who has seemed distracted or is making mistakes, perhaps it’s because he or she has a family issue at home that you don’t know about.  Assuming the person is lazy or just slacking off is probably not the right way to approach the conversation!

Go easy on the novices – A study featured in The Journal of Consumer Research indicates that people who are experts in their fields want to hear that negative feedback because it pushes them to do better.  Novices in their fields, however, are looking for positive reinforcement.  So go easy on those novices!  You don’t want to be the reason they changed from nuclear engineering to accounting.

Feedback is feedback, and the best way you can issue some is to separate as much emotion as possible from it.  The end the purpose of it is not to make the recipient feel better; it’s to help that person do better.  And who doesn’t want to do better?

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 24

Finding Your Motivation

I learned a long time ago that my biggest motivation for being good at my job – heck, my motivation for working at all! – is because I want to do good things for good people.

Of course, this makes it difficult when I’m doing good things for less-than-good people.  And, Revolutionary though an assistant may be, when she is told that she’s just the gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, not “really” a member of her team, or otherwise, that motivation tends to go away, and a stronger “screw you” attitude moves in and takes motivation’s place.

So, how does one keep motivation at a high when one’s attitude is rock bottom?

Remember some of the good reasons why you’re doing what you do – And some of those good reasons may not even be work related!  Whether it’s a cute little mouth to feed at home or putting up with the bad because you get to work on a team that makes charitable contributions to children’s education, there are a couple of good things about your job.  Connect your tasks back to your values.

Find a cheerleader – Even in the darkest situations, you can probably find someone who will cheer you on.  Perhaps it’s a spouse, a fellow co-worker…just someone who doesn’t ignore you and recognizes the value of your contribution.  Talk to that person when you’re convinced your contribution has no value.

Ask yourself how you can make a task more enjoyable – Sometimes, even the most menial of tasks can be something to look forward to.  Perhaps alphabetizing files is absolutely mind-numbing, but doesn’t it also give you a chance to think?  Can you practice your singing while you’re locked in the file room?  If you start thinking about the tasks you hate, I bet you can think of a way to make them fun.  Give it a try!

Reward yourself – If you wreck your whole to-do list today, treat yourself to some Famous Amos cookies out of the machine, or sneak out of the office ten minutes early to get a jump on traffic.  Rewards don’t need to come from someone else – you can step in and reward yourself for a job well done.

Split big goals into smaller ones – This makes so much sense!  If you’re on a diet and you need to lose twenty pounds, are you only accomplishing your task when you’re twenty pounds lighter?  No, you’re doing all kinds of good work along the way!  Setting goals of five pounds at a time will help the end of the road seem closer.  The same holds true for big projects.  Try to see it in bite-sized chunks, and tackle those chunks one at a time, celebrating each time you get to the end of that smaller path.

Be positive with other people – Even if you’re being treated poorly, putting good stuff out there means that good stuff will come back to you.  If your manager is treating you like a slave, or a group of co-workers are being particularly unkind in their words or expectations, you’ll still be able to find some happiness by smiling at others, complimenting good work and cheering people on.

Motivation comes in all shapes and sizes, and there’s some out there that you can tap into!  The day goes so much better when you’re wired to accomplish great things!

Next post:  Wednesday, September 10

Tuesdays at 3PM

I just read an article in Entrepreneur magazine telling me that a company called WhenIsGood.net conducted research in 2009 and determined that Tuesdays at 3PM are the best time to have meetings.

I, of course, laughed when I read this.  I mean, that’s great for one meeting, but I believe at last count my manager had about 6-10 meetings a day, lasting for various lengths of time.  Many other managers here are in the same boat.  And the question always comes up – how can we do with a little less when it comes to meetings?

Meetings are supposed to be productive, but so many aren’t.  The article I referenced above does a great job of pointing out what should be done, and it’s the same story every time I read one of these:

  • Concise agendas that are followed to the “T” – Make a list of what you’re going to talk about and talk about it.  Doesn’t sound hard, does it?
  • Hold people responsible – If you have Jane in charge of reporting on last week’s sales, it follows logically that Jane should have that information when she comes to the meeting.  Jane is good like that, isn’t she?
  • Keep to a start and end time for your meeting – If you stick to the amount of time given to each subject on your agenda, you should just be able to walk out the door happy at the strike of the hour.  Sure!  Happens all the time!

All these things work out well for you, unless there are humans on your meeting invite list.  Humans will muck up the whole plan, because on one end, there’s the human meeting attendee who goes off on a passionate tangent and takes the agenda down a rabbit hole with her.  And on the other end, your manager, who’s a nice guy and…well, he lets her.  I can sit there and be the timekeeping Gestapo, but usually I’m ignored or regarded for the remainder of the day as the Queen B&%$! with the Watch.

The key to a productive meeting are those three things above, but the key to successful execution of those things is fun. Humans don’t mind adhering to the rules as much when everyone is having a good time.  Here are some suggestions to get control of your meetings, tongue-in-cheek style:

Do your meeting stand-up style – Google is famous for this kind of thing.  You can meet as long as you want, but in an area where no one can sit down.  You’d be amazed at how quickly a person can cover his points when he can’t kick back and relax.

The walking meeting – Have a one-on-one status with someone that always goes long?  If it’s nice outside, conduct your meeting walking around.  When you get back to the starting point, the meeting is over!

Create games around staying on point/keeping on time – Create fun consequences for those who break the time and subject rules, and perhaps even reward the others in attendance at the meetings when the rules are broken by a fellow attendee.

Ask the attendees to get involved in the process – Usually, attendees are upset when someone goes off on a tangent as well.  With the group, define what they consider to be unwanted meeting behaviors, and then allow them to call out others on those behaviors.  Every group that meets regularly should have a set of rules that they all agree are good ones to follow, but there’s no reason why they can’t have a good time following them.

Fun can help you move a meeting to the next level of productivity.  Of course, if your manager runs a tight ship, you may not need to invoke fun.  But if you struggle with a bunch of chatty-Cathies who are so nice to one another that they let conversations go on and on, this may be the way to keep the meeting on track, whether it’s on Tuesdays at 3PM or not.

Next Post:  Wednesday, August 27

Be Visual When Creating Presentations

I just finished putting together a presentation for one of our managers.  Frankly, it never fails to frustrate me when I do a PowerPoint for one of my gang.  They use a gazillion words on their slides and then stand in front of the crowd and read from them verbatim.

Is there an issue with that?  Well, yes, because if you know anything about how the mind works, you know that people can either read or they can listen, but they can’t do both.  And if my manager has a bunch of words on his slide, his audience is ignoring him and just reading the slides.  Probably not the effect he was looking for.

Problem is, none of my managers are very comfortable in front of crowds.  They need those words up on the screen as a crutch.  I know that if I start hacking words off their slides in an effort to make them more visual, they’re going to go from “being ignored by their audience” to “looking really, really dumb.”

We can’t have that, but we can make the slides a little better by making a couple of adjustments and meet him half way.  Here are a couple of helpful hints:

Adjust imported spreadsheets – See that spreadsheet I’ve pictured here?  More than once, my manager has insisted that we import a spreadsheet that looks just like this one, without any lines eliminated, so that he can “talk to it.”  What point is being made when you have the image of a spreadsheet in front of you and a million numbers so miniscule you cannot see them?  I work with my manager to hone in on what portion he’ll be addressing, and then crop the spreadsheet so that the audience sees a smaller set of meaningful numbers.

Edit sentences down to words – If you have a bullet point that says “please go to the basement in the event of a tornado warning,” you might be able to shorten it down to “tornado warning” or “basement.”  Look for opportunities to cut as many words as you can.

Make sure each slide only touches on one subject – Your manager may be one of those that thinks he wins if he has only two slides, and he’ll jam six different subjects onto them to prove that he’ll be quick.  Putting each subject onto one slide will help him drive home ideas to his audience, because they’ll see less on each slide.

Use pictures for everything – Even if you can’t convince your manager to cut down on his words, you can probably add a picture for the subject matter of each slide.  If you’re talking about dog food, you can use a cute picture of a bulldog puppy asleep in his food bowl.  When your manager is going through a laundry list of points about dog food, at least you’ll have one image you can leave in the audience’s minds that pulls all the ideas together.  Visual recall is superior to verbal recall.  It’s why we had hieroglyphs before we had words.

Convince your manager to draw as he presents – I’m not talking about sketches the likes of Da Vinci’s and Van Gogh’s.  Anything that your manager can do on screen, whether it’s adding a stick figure or circling an important number, will further drive home the message to his audience.  Remember, visual learning is more powerful than verbal learning, so audience members will remember that red circle around the number twelve and take something more away from the talk than they might have otherwise.

Almost all managers are required to speak in front of groups at one time or another, and there are more people uncomfortable with that idea than not.  Maybe your manager will never be Steve Jobs on stage, but these helpful hints can make your manager more “visual” with his presentation and help him connect meaningfully with his audience, which will hopefully motivate and direct employees to a bigger bottom line!

Next post:  Wednesday, August 13

Become a Better Writer

I’m starting to notice that good writing skills are quickly becoming a thing of the past.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in school, but I can only assume that, while writing plays a big part in earning a business degree, writing is not graded or critiqued in and of itself.  And that’s a crying shame, because with great communication comes great power!

People who write well are more promotable, more hireable, and more successful than those who cannot.  So it behooves you (yes, that’s really a word) to up the ante when it comes to your writing.  Here are some great tips to help you get a leg up on written communication:

Keep your language simple – Beefing up your words and sounding scholarly may be your instinct when you put together a memo, but in reality that will only trip you up while you’re writing it, and trip your readers up while they’re reading it.  Write your memo the way you would say it, in simple language.

Brevity is power – And I’m talking Hemmingway brevity.  If you’ve written “this is an event our company has done over and over again for the last twenty years,” consider calling it a “traditional event” instead.  Rambling is something done by the nervous and the weak, even if it’s on paper.  If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you know that Jean Luc Picard doesn’t say, “If you could point the Enterprise in that direction and use our blasters to eliminate those aliens.”  He says things like, “Engage!” and “Make it so.”  He’s a powerful guy and an exemplary leader.  Say less with stronger words.

Stay away from useless words – Words like “just” or “really” don’t add much to a communication.  They’re fillers.  Stay away from them, and words like them!  For a great list, check out this article from Entrepreneur.

Avoid jargon – Jargon and acronyms are for people who want to look like they’re communicating but really aren’t saying anything substantial.  The same way you block out a politician who’s using words like “politics of change,” people are mentally shutting down when you use “strategic healthcare solution.”  What is a strategic healthcare solution, anyway?  If you want to say something, give it some meat and leave the jargon for another time.

Remember the call to action – Don’t write something to your co-workers if you’re not going to convey to them how they should use the information you’re giving them.  If you’re telling them the cafeteria is closed at 12:00 for a private event, include a line that tells the group to go down and get their lunches by 11:30.  Underline it and make it red.

These are just a few hints that will help you write a better communication.  Remember, some people are born to write and others struggle with it their whole lives, but everyone has the ability to improve on these simple communication points!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 30

Planning Out an Efficient Home Office

Revolutionary Assistants aren’t just outside their managers’ doors anymore.  Sometimes they’re working out of their home, a “virtual” assistant to their manager or managers.

We who are in offices are jealous of this, because we’re all imagining how great it would be to work on a PowerPoint presentation and throw in a load of laundry at the same time.  Or run the dishwasher.  Or even just be at home so that the cable guy can show up whenever it suits him and not get ticked off about it.

The fact of the matter is that people who work out of their homes have similar disruptions, can feel a lack of camaraderie, and just feel plain uncomfortable when they’ve only got a couch and a laptop to get them through eight hours of work.  So what’s the perfect combination of environment and attitude that will give you the most productive day?  Well, I did a little revolutionary research, and these are some of my favorite hints:

Get a good office chair – This was the number one thing everyone seems to recommend, and it makes a lot of sense.  Get an office chair you feel comfortable in.  If you don’t feel comfortable in it, you’re not going to sit in it.  Simple as that!

Keep everything you need on hand – If you have to run out every hour for staples or reams of copy paper, you’re not going to get much done during your workday.  Keep an additional supply of all your go-to items on hand, and replenish them the way you would if you were managing your office’s supply cabinet:  before they run out!

Create a space you want to be in – Consider not just your need for natural light, but also for task lighting.  Make sure you have adequate storage space, and if you need to, get creative with your home office’s nooks and crannies.  There are plenty of hints on the internet to help you.  Think about plants and family pictures, and all the things that make you happy.

Use Dropbox or Google Drive to help you keep documents close at  hand – Nowadays, you can throw your work right on the cloud, and leave it there to access from another computer, another place.  That’s a great way to do business, because you’re not dragging files around with you to the coffee shop or the park when you want a change of scenery.  It also helps you protect your work from being lost on a hard drive that could crash.

Stay connected with co-workers – A person who works at home can feel mighty isolated.  Consider a weekly or monthly trip into the office to connect with co-workers in person, or use FaceTime to have a virtual face-to-face chat.  Don’t let yourself get too lonely!

Decide if you work well with interruptions or if you don’t – Some people embrace the flexibility of a work-at-home position and welcome friends and neighbors who drop by.  Others get derailed easily and would rather avoid those interruptions.  If you’re the type that wants to keep visitors and other distractions at bay, establish working hours and rules that you stick to.  Tell visitors, “I’m working now, but I’ll give you a call later.”  Set the boundaries!

Working at home can be a really great way to get things done.  Even though distractions can be an issue, I’m still looking at this load of laundry and feeling jealous over those of you that get to stay at home.  Well…someday!

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 16

How Much Time Is Your Organization Wasting A Day?

I’ve been back on the Harvard Business Review blog, this time reading a great entry called, “Quantify How Much Time Your Company Wastes.”  Of course, I wanted to know how much time my company wastes and what I, as a Revolutionary Assistant, can do to stop all this shenanigans!

The article narrows in on how hard it is for an employee to get any time to focus.  They cited the example of one IT manager they followed, who interfaced with eight different teams a day, spent 35 hours in meetings, and spent 85% of the time in those meetings checking and responding to emails.  Thinking about just that example, it’s a wonder that anything gets done correctly and well!

Writer Ryan Fuller went on to say that, once interrupted, it takes approximately 15 minutes to return to productivity.  And, furthermore, it takes 30 minutes of uninterrupted time before one can call himself productive.  So, if you do the math, you need about two hours of time to get an hour of uninterrupted work.

So what’s to be done?  If those are two big reasons why work isn’t getting accomplished, perhaps we, as Revolutionary Assistants can do something about it.  Here are some thoughts:

Schedule meetings in blocks, either at the beginning or at the end of a day – It makes sense that larger blocks of time will encourage productivity, so try to create larger blocks of time by pushing all your meetings together at the beginning and the end of the day.  Even if you have six hours of meetings on one day, getting them all done by 3PM means at least two hours of productive time for your team.  Better yet, if you can schedule all your meetings so that you have a day of the week that’s open, that would give them a full eight hours!

Keep meetings on time – Nothing creates stress more than meetings that don’t end when they’re supposed to.  When you’re in attendance, make sure that everyone’s sticking to the agenda and keeping within their time allotment.  This will keep your hour-long meeting from becoming 90 minutes and running over someone else’s meeting.

Have a “computers closed” and “phones off” rule – If that IT manager is spending 85% of his meeting time answering emails, then he can’t possibly be paying much attention in the meeting.  You’ll get more done – and get it done faster – if everyone’s attention is on the subject of the meeting instead of their emails or mobile phones.

Protect your manager’s productivity with “office hours” – I actually learned this while I was at Google, and I don’t know why more companies don’t do it.  Just like your professors in college, block off an hour or so a day for planned interruptions.  Anyone can walk in and get your manager’s advice, get their problem solved…and then he can be left alone for the rest of the day.  Sure, that might not happen, but instead of 17 interruptions during your manager’s free time, maybe you’ll only see three or four.  And that’s not as bad!

Mind the context of your meetings and bunch like topics together – Apparently, some fragmentation occurs with employees when they have to shift gears from project A to project B and back again.  If you have all of project A’s meetings bunched together, this will help your employees be more productive around that topic.

All of this is easier said than done.  There are other, external factors that drive meeting times, like the availability of data and other resources.  But any attempt to take these steps is better than none at all, and the more you accomplish on this list, the more productive your team will be!

Next Post:  Wednsday, July 2