The misconceptions of diary management: Not as easy as it seems…..
Let me set the scene……you wake to your alarm going off and you slowly peel your eyelids open, smashing around the bedside table trying to find your phone. Hitting snooze on the alarm, you open your inbox, as you do every morning, only to see the repeated name of your manager, over and over and over again, with each email detailing a different task for you to action. Another night of ‘clearing their inbox’ has occurred and subsequently whilst their inbox is now empty, yours is now full. But with not much time and too many emails to actually delve into the detail, you just open each one quickly and scan the contents, looking for anything requiring your immediate attention. Every morning this forms part of your routine so that you know what to deal with first when you arrive at work and to ensure you’re not walking in to work blind. But on your arrival to work you’re greeted by your manager, not with a “Hi, how are you today?” but instead, “Did you manage to change my flight yet? ……and did you tell Client X that I won’t make it to the 2pm meeting today? And I also needed you to got the whole team together for a leadership meeting now at 4pm and see if the CEO can pop into it and talk to them all for 5 mins about the company results……so is that all sorted yet cause my diary still looks the same??” The list of things to be changed rolls off their tongue like it’s nothing short of a few simple invite shifts to fix up their day. You stare back at them wishing you could say to them what you’re thinking in your head, but instead politely reply “No, not yet, I’m getting on to all of that now”, not really even knowing what it is that they’re even talking about. Feeling quite begrudged, you sit down and fire up your computer thinking you must have missed something in the plethora of emails you received the night before. But as your inbox downloads you instead find the email with their instructions for the day sitting at the top of your inbox, sent no more than eight minutes ago. Clearly you must have missed the introductory memo when you were first employed that said you’re expected to be some sort of wonder woman EA who can action a morning’s worth of work, all on the walk from your car to your desk. But as you start to shift the diary around, you wonder if they actually understand what’s involved in these so-called ‘simple’ tasks of changing and rescheduling meetings and wonder if they actually think that the CEO’s diary is wide open and waiting people to fill it with random last minute meetings? From managing the expectations of meeting attendees, changing flights, liaising with your fellow EAs to find new times to accommodate the meeting shifts, to finding available meeting rooms for the new meeting times, changing the catering, changing the AV/teleconference…..the knock on effect goes on and on. But the comprehension of what’s involved in what they’ve asked of you, the steps involved and the time it takes, is just not there. Sound familiar?
We all at some stage have probably worked for that one manager who’s idea of the EA/PA is no more than a diary pusher. And for these managers, the simple diary tasks that they ask of us are nothing more than ‘basic’, and so basic that they could do them, but they don’t because that’s what you’re there for. Truth be told though, if they had to sit in our chair for just one day and see what’s involved in moving just one large meeting around, they may very well change their perception of what we do and how complex it can be. And if they understood the back in forth involved in trying to schedule a simple 15 minute meeting with a fellow Exec, they’d probably fall of their chair. Busy Exec’s have EA’s for a reason, and sometimes I think that can be forgotten by some. Diaries that are booked out for months in advance are not ‘easy’ to get in to, even if you’re looking for just 15 minutes.
So how do you deal with these misconceptions that what we do in the diary is basic? We all know that the EA/PA role can be varied with some assistants encompassing events, project management, HR and even marketing in their portfolio of work. But whether you are a traditional EA, or you have a more varied role, either way we all manage diaries, it’s just a permanent fixture of our role. But just because it’s a permanent fixture, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the easiest part of the role. Yes the steps involved can be done with your eyes closed, but for some managers there is little to no appreciation of how timely these steps can be and the effect that can be had when they decide to throw the day’s diary out the window because they want some time back. Meetings that have been locked away for months are literally ‘undone’ leaving you to go back to the drawing board and start all over again in scheduling them and arranging all the planning that goes along with them. So below I’ve listed some advice on how to tackle these incorrect perceptions around the complexities of diary management and what you can do to help alleviate this frustration that so many assistants collectively experience.
Educate, educate, educate
When things that are being asked of you are rather difficult, by a manager or even a fellow colleague, it’s sometimes necessary speak up and say so. I’ve always been a strong believer though in never presenting your manager with problems, but rather giving them solutions. So if you know from the get go that what they’re asking of you is going to present issues then its time to educate them on what those issues will be, but always with an alternative solution of course. Sometimes managers really don’t think about the consequences of their actions, and sometimes it’s necessary to educate them on what the knock on effect of their actions will be. But rather than cause further issues (and headaches for them) by explaining the difficulty, I suggest your approach to be an educational one but with an alternative solution that will benefit everyone. If we were to retitle the Exec Assistant role, it would probably be called ‘Executive Problem Solver’, so remember to always solve problems presented to you, not make them bigger than they need to be. But in some instances you’ll need to be brave enough to actually stand your ground and say NO. I’ve seen on many occasions meetings cancelled that have visitors travelling from interstate or overseas where the assistant has failed to advise their manager of the detail around the attendees travelling in for it. Not only is this highly inconvenient for the meeting attendees, but it’s highly embarrassing for your manager, and probably not something that would have been done had they known the full ramifications of cancelling the meeting. As EAs its our responsibility to ensure that our managers are completely educated on the details of not only their meetings, but anything that they’re walking in to that we’ve organised for them. Ultimately we should treat our managers with the same level of education that we would expect if we were the ones conducting the meeting.
Communication is key
If you constantly make things happen, seamlessly, quietly and without issue, the perception will be that what they’re asking of you is dead easy. And if they think it’s dead easy, they’ll continue to have these unrealistic expectations of you and the role. Now I’m not saying become a whining moron that can’t get anything done without issue, but if you really are struggling to get that time with CEO of that huge corporate company because their diary is booked out six months in advance and your boss wants to see them tomorrow, then it’s time to give them a reality check on the situation. Similarly, if you don’t communicate with your manager on the issues you’re experiencing, they can begin to think things that I’m sure you’d rather they not! For example, they may think that you’re just not actioning what they’ve asked of you, maybe because your completely inefficient or can’t prioritize things correctly, or maybe they think you’re a complete idiot and haven’t understood what it is they asked! Either way, it’s in your best interests to communicate with your manager on these things, whether you’ve been successful in what they’ve asked of you, or if you’re having difficulty. The Exec / Exec Assistant relationship is a ‘partnership’ and needs to be approached in that way always. It should never be a one way relationship where you’re subservient to them. If they’re asking things of you, even so called ‘simple diary tasks’, it should be approached and tackled as a partnership. Yes you’re doing the leg work, but it’s a task that is being managed by both parties, after all, they’re the ones that will need to turn up to the meeting and run it, so in essence you’re both making it happen.
We all know that sometimes doing diary can be the most frustrating part of our role and sometimes you just need an ear to bash or a fellow EA with the same issues to talk to, to make those frustrations fade away. So make sure you have someone, a fellow assistant perhaps, maybe a mentor or even just a friend, that you can confide in, and shoot the breeze with, so to speak. You never know, they may have a solution to your problem, or an approach that may not have even crossed your mind. But whether it’s a constructive conversation or just a whinge and a moan, either way it will make you feel better and ease your frustrations. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved! And having a good support network around you is critical in this role. Having like-minded individuals around you is important, not only for solving problems, but for your own sanity!
There really are many misconceptions and myths when it comes to the EA/PA role, and the idea that what we do is basic is just one of them. And you all know by now that it’s my passion to debunk these myths and unite together to up the respect and value of what we do. Education of others and the way we conduct ourselves in our role are just two of the ways that we can contribute to demolishing these myths and changing the perception of our roles collectively for all of us. So be bold, speak up, and think before you act, especially when your experiencing frustrations in your role. By simply making these small tweaks in your approach you can make a difference in changing the value of the role for all of us.