Feature Article: “How Bosses Should Work Effectively with Their Assistants”
Oh, lucky one, ye who hath someone to helpeth them. 

I recently received a call from a reporter at Entrepreneur magazine, asking me for a tip on how bosses could work more effectively with their assistants. “Just one?” I lamented, “There are so many important things to consider!” The magazine’s lack of space is your gain, as my fingers are itching to share some great ideas of what your assistant can do for you:

1. Make an initial pass of your email. Instruct your assistant to sort your email using the following criteria:
• Delete those of no value. Blacklist, unsubscribe, or use filters to halt continued receipt of that mail.
• Forward messages belonging to someone else or those that should be completed by another department or function.
• Respond to those to which you know the answer and don’t require input. Delete or file the original.
• File information-only (no action required) updates, bulletins, or reading material in project-specific folders. You can print these and take them with you on plane rides.
• Pass along (to a separate, action-only address) those messages requiring your specific action. 

2. Interrupt you only when appropriate:

Type 1 issues are those that require your input specifically. The world will stop until you are available to discuss it. These are legitimate; interrupt me when necessary.

Type 2 issues need only a quick “yes” or “no” answer and require just a little interaction. Have your assistant “save up” these issues and check in with you once a day for five answers instead of five interruptions with one thing apiece.

Type 3 issues are those that could be answered by someone else; you’re not the only person in the world who can help. Educate the visitor on the appropriate resource and don’t bother me with it.

Type 4 issues are already answered in print somewhere—like a procedure, guide, or employee manual—and don’t require your assistance. People ask these types of questions when they’re being lazy. Tell people clearly, “Please don’t bother me with Level 4 issues.” They are a waste of your time, and I will become involved should this continue, to ensure it stops.

3. Schedule appointments for you. Designate fixed office hours, when you will be available for ad-hoc meetings for mentoring, vendor calls, employee relation issues, etc. Block out these days and times on your calendar. Give your assistant access to your calendar and have him/her schedule real time. Or print them out and have them available at the reception desk, so your assistant can write in times and dates with visitors. Your electronic calendar is updated from the paper copy. Copy your assistant on any email, in which you mention an appointment to someone. Train your assistant to immediately follow-up and make the appointment according to the constraints outlined in the email.

4. Attend meetings for you. Push the value of the meeting down to the lowest common denominator and send your assistant if at all possible in your stead. First, think about the length of the particular meeting you’ve been invited to. Second, think about the cost of that meeting, given your salary level. Third, think about the opportunity cost, in terms of what you could do instead of attending the meeting. Fourth, think about whether your assistant is capable and knowledgeable enough to sit in the meeting. Fifth, contemplate whether you’ve given him/her enough authority to be able to take an agenda item off the table. It’s very frustrating for meeting attendees to hear from your delegate, “I’ll have to check with so-and-so and get back to you.” They would much rather hear, “I can absolutely ensure that will happen and can have the results to you by (x) date.”

5. Take over some of your work. Are you working on activities that have pressing deadlines, but aren’t high value? Do you look at some of the tasks consuming your time and think, “Why in the world am I doing this?” You should consider delegating the following types of work:

• Decisions you make most frequently and repetitively
• Assignments that will add variety to routine work
• Functions you dislike
• Work that will provide experience for employees
• Tasks that someone else is capable of doing
• Activities that will make a person more well-rounded
• Tasks that will increase the number of people who can perform critical assignments
• Opportunities to use and reinforce creative talents
• Recurring matters
• Minor decisions
• Time-consuming details

You should always retain broader management duties such as overall planning, policy making, goal setting, and budget supervision, as well as work that involves confidential information or supervisor-subordinate relations. 

Please write to me at [email protected] to share other ideas of what your assistant does for YOU and how he/she has helped you become more productive. I will post your name and suggestion in the next edition.
Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2004 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present: 
"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro," (R) helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]."