By Erin Ollila
The most important executive assistant skills include the ability to keep track of details, coordinate with multiple parties, and — perhaps the most vital — keep your boss's schedule on track. But, as often happens, sudden changes can come along to disrupt all your careful plans.
The more organized you are, the easier it will be to adapt to changing circumstances without missing a step. Jessica Litman, a professional organizer, has a few tips on how to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Although Litman primarily focuses on organizing homes, the same techniques that work for running a household can also work for running the boss's office. Try these five ideas:
1. Set Up an Efficient Storage System
Even though a lot of your communication is digital, papers often end up on your boss's desk, or yours. Develop a storage system for both incoming and outgoing paper. This will prevent you from having to stop what you're doing to explain where things are, or retrieve paperwork, for your boss.
For example, create one space for documents associated with urgent tasks, another for items that can be discarded, another for paper that needs to be archived, and so on. Desk boxes can work well for this, but too many different boxes can take up a lot of desk space. "I love using magazine holders for keeping projects organized," Litman said, explaining that each holder can contain a different project.
2. Take Advantage of all the Features Offered by a Digital Calendar
If you're simply using the digital calendar as a scheduler, you are likely missing out on tools that can make your job easier. Adding notes, URLs or attachments to each appointment allows you to keep all the details handy, and to easily share them with your boss or other participants.
Some calendars' email functions allow you to customize how you organize messages and reminders. Taken altogether, these tools can help you more quickly adjust your plans, organize your day, and retrieve valuable information quickly.
3. Use Color Coding to Differentiate Projects
Even with the best storage systems in place, things can go astray. "Color-coding projects both digitally and on paper helps make sure things don't get lost in the shuffle," says Litman. Set up a color system that makes sense for both you and your boss. For example, company financial forecasts could be marked with green, personnel files with blue, vendor contracts with red, travel documents with yellow, and so on. Consider color coding with folders, colored paper, highlighters, pens or any other tool that works for you.
4. Label, Label, Label
"Label everything!" says Litman. "Seriously — over-labeling keeps everyone organized, and there are no questions about where things go or where they are stored."
Keeping all your documents and storage clearly labeled also helps if someone else steps in on a day you're out sick or on vacation. Use sticky notes, printed labels, stamps or a marker as part of your labeling system.
Similarly, when it's time to box up old paperwork, don't simply tuck the documents in the back of a file drawer. Set up dedicated bankers boxes for any old projects or papers that are important to keep. Putting them away in an organized manner will ensure you'll never lose an important document, because it's always accessible and easy to find.
5. Tidy Up
Finally, don't forget to clean and organize the work space when your day is complete. "Take time at the end of the day to clear off both of your desks," says Litman. "It sets up everyone for success the next day." For some people, this may simply mean straightening piles of papers. For others, it may mean putting everything away so there's an empty desk. Also consider printing out a daily view of the next day's calendar and leaving it on your boss's desk.
You use your executive assistant skills in many facets of your work. Staying organized will make your job easier and your boss's day run smoother.