A gatekeeper. A guardian. A goaltender. Executive assistants (EAs) are called many names, and sometimes, it can be quite frustrating. After all, none of these words barely scratch the surface of the real value these professionals provide.
But perhaps there is a better way to phrase it: a strategic partner and a trusted confidant. As an EA, you can also be called a professional problem solver and the force behind a good leader.
Considering the number of communication platforms, mobile apps, and many other tools available today, company executives could be more self-sufficient. But the truth is that they need more help today than they had before.
Why? That’s because an executive assistant’s function has evolved from a simple support role into a more strategic one. This is why you’ll need to up your game if you are to become efficient at wearing all the hats you’ll be given as an EA.
To help you out, here are five ways to become an excellent EA:
1. Study to Become a Better Executive Assistant
What better way to become a better EA than by studying? If you haven’t started yet, consider enrolling in an executive secretary course to develop not just your skills but also your attitude and behavior towards the job.
Getting an education is said to be the most straightforward way of acquiring knowledge, skills, habits, belief, and values. Through this, you should be able to get a peek at the industry and develop expertise for it before you even dip your toes into the water.
2. Learn About the Industry
Aside from educating yourself on the craft itself, you must also learn all the ins and outs of the trade your company is in. You must be privy to the industry knowledge based on the tasks your superior assigns to you, of course. But, aside from that, you should also do your own research.
Subscribe to trade publications and read news articles related to the industry. Browse websites and, if your schedule allows, attend networking events. If you dedicate enough time and effort to gaining more knowledge about the industry, you will be able to understand your own work and the company’s goals on a deeper level.
This can also help you become an expert in your own right. Aside from relying on others’ assistance less, you’ll become the person people would look to for answers. This way, you can anticipate the needs of the executive you’re supporting and make your job as an EA a whole lot easier.
3. Listen Carefully
Listening is another important skill and habit you must hone to become a better executive assistant.
Once given a task, an efficient EA asks a lot of questions. This not only shows that you heard your boss loud and clear, but also eliminates any misunderstanding or confusion about the task you’ve been given. Offer a quick roundup of the dates, names, and activities involved in the task to ensure that you and your boss are on the same page.
It is also strongly recommended that you minimize distractions. Unless it is instrumental to the task at hand, put your phone on silent and set it aside. Also, avoid performing personal activities while at work, including checking your social media account and email.
To maintain your focus, use a separate phone and email for work. This will let you stay connected with your boss and other important people, depending on the extent of your responsibilities within the company.
4. Improve Your Organizational Skills
Staying organized will help you perform your duties as an executive assistant better. After all, one of the roles you need to play as an EA is a train station controller in your boss’s life.
You hold the key to ensuring that the CEO or president of the company is in the right place at the right time.
To improve your organizational skills, you need to start with yourself. Establish a routine that will work with your own general schedule. While it may change depending on the tasks you’re assigned, this should – at the very least – help you adjust to the job quicker.
It would also be best to create a routine from the moment you wake up. Set the alarm at the same time every day, preferably early in the morning. Then, start your day with exercise and breakfast to jumpstart your metabolism and ensure the continuous flow of fuel in your body to help you get through the day.
When you arrive at the office, make a list of tasks and goals you need to accomplish daily. Don’t forget to set a specific time for lunch and a schedule for going home. This should let you establish your availability and reliability, not to mention prepare you for the following day.
5. Master Strategic Multitasking
As an EA, you’ll be given more roles than you dare to imagine. Most of the time, your tasks would be simple. Other times, they’ll need your help to plan strategies for the company’s future or perform the roles of human resources managers (you might need HR training for this).
The bottom line is that you must learn to multitask. While the human brain technically cannot handle two or more complex tasks at the same time, this doesn’t change the fact that an EA typically performs a fair amount of multitasking.
The key is to do two simple tasks simultaneously. This includes data entry, booking for travel, and responding to simple emails. You can also answer phone calls while doing something else. After all, there’s no better way to spend the time while you’re on hold than to do some quick filing.
Of course, you’ll need to prioritize more complex tasks and focus on them one at a time. Many taskmasters succeed in accomplishing this with the help of the Pomodoro Technique.
To do this, start by choosing a task you can finish for about 25 minutes. Then, set a timer to that length of time and focus only on that one activity until the alarm sets off. Once the alarm goes off, take a break and repeat the process.
Setting aside short time increments for focus-intensive tasks allows your attention to be more accessible. This can also help when your mind is prone to wandering during complex activities.
Giving Efficient Support
Acting as support for the leader of an organization is tantamount to supporting the entire company. No matter how many hats you wear or roles you play, perform them efficiently with the tips listed in this article.
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Jerrin Samuel is the Executive Director at Regional Educational Institute (REI) in Abu Dhabi. Since 1995, REI has been at the forefront of education by delivering quality corporate training courses in the UAE, helping many businesses and organizations achieve greater productivity and higher customer satisfaction levels.