If you’re a busy leader, learning how to use an executive assistant is one of the most effective ways to improve your productivity, work-life balance, and success. By delegating all of your tedious tasks, you’re able to spend more time focusing on the activities that matter most.
At Prialto, we’ve been providing virtual assistant services for over ten years. We’ve learned that there are five best practices that set apart the executives who gain sustained productivity improvements from their assistants and those who struggle to get the value they’re paying for.
- Help them understand your world
- Share all of your specific preferences
- Delegate on-going tasks
- Communicate with context
- Provide frequent constructive feedback
Following these best practices will enable you to successfully offload tasks to an executive assistant and focus on the activities that matter most.
1) Welcome Them Into Your World
Every industry has its own unspoken rules and shared knowledge. If your assistant has limited to no experience in your field, they’ll lack the insights needed to complete nuanced projects effectively.
Before you ask them to complete tasks on your behalf, you need to empower them with the industry knowledge they need to be successful. Here are a few effective ways to do that:
- Give them access to your calendar and inbox
- Have them listen in on some of your meetings
- Recommend publications, podcasts, books, etc. that will help them better understand your industry
Sharing this kind of knowledge with your executive assistant helps them become a part of your world so they can effectively tackle the projects you offload.
2) Share All of Your Specific Preferences
The most productive executive assistant relationships occur when your assistant knows your preferences so well that they’re able to quickly complete your tasks better than you could yourself.
To reach this point, you need to be upfront about all of your preferences ranging from what restaurants you prefer to have external meetings to the specific fonts that you want all your emails in. As you share your preferences with your executive assistant, encourage them to document everything you share so they can reference it later.
At Prialto, our virtual assistants document all of their clients’ preferences on a wiki page, however, you and your assistant may prefer an excel sheet or Trello board. The key is to find a place that’s easy to capture your specific preferences.
3) Delegate On-Going Tasks
One of the biggest challenges that people struggle with when they start working with an executive assistant is figuring out what to delegate. At Prialto, we’ve fostered relationships between executives and assistants for over ten years. In our experience, the happiest and most productive executives start by delegating on-going tasks.
- On-going tasks only require you train your assistant once then they’re permanently able to take on that task. This gives you a very high return on investment for your time.
- Offloading tedious, on-going tasks often has the biggest impact on your productivity. Though each individual task may be small, added up they can be surprisingly time-consuming and distracting.
Here are some great ones to start with:
- Filing your expense reports
- Scheduling meetings
- Managing all of your travel
- Making lunch arrangements
- Creating reports and/or agendas for weekly meetings
- Plus other tasks that need to be completed on a regular basis
Once you’ve offloaded all of your tedious, on-going tasks, you can spend more time focusing on the tasks that drive your success.
4) Communicate with Context
Though a good executive assistant will learn to proactively anticipate your needs, you can’t expect them to read your mind. Communicating with context ensures that they have the information they need to complete projects correctly.
To give your assistant context, you need to explicitly state what you expect from them. If you often delegate tasks in a rush, you can create a system of context clues that give your executive assistant the information they need without any additional instructions.
Here are some examples:
- When our lead sales executive wants a meeting to be scheduled as soon as possible, he loops his assistant into the conversation by saying “My assistant, @Connie will find a time for us to meet.” However, when the meeting can be scheduled any time in the next couple of weeks, he doesn’t include the @ sign and simply writes “My assistant Connie will help schedule a lunch meeting for us.”
- Some of our members have their executive assistants listen in on meetings so that they have context for how to move forward with projects.
- Many of the sales and HR executives we work with refer to contacts with specific terminology so that their assistant knows how to move forward without any additional instructions. For example, asking their assistant to move a “recruit” forward tells them to follow a different process than moving a “candidate” forward.
To work with your executive assistant more efficiently, create a set of keywords or other cues to quickly give them the context they need to complete tasks successfully.
5) Provide Frequent Constructive Feedback
While you may think you don’t have time to give your executive assistant feedback, the reality is you don’t have time not to. If you don’t provide constructive feedback shortly after your executive makes a mistake, takes too long to complete a project, or does something else that doesn’t meet your preferences, the missteps will continue to occur and erode the value of delegating tasks to an assistant.
Here are some tips to provide effective feedback:
- Don’t show anger. Your executive assistant works hard every day to help you be successful. Your goal should be to help them improve, not feel ashamed.
- Provide specific details about what they did incorrectly and how you want them to improve.
- Offer to answer any clarifying questions they have. Ensuring that your expectations are aligned prevents additional mistakes from occurring.
If you’re providing regular feedback, these conversations will be quick and painless since your assistant will view them as learning opportunities rather than personal attacks.
Hire a Virtual Executive Assistant
Worried that you don’t have enough time to train, manage, and learn how to use an executive assistant? Hire a virtual assistant through a managed service. We vet, train, and coach your assistant so you can focus on the activities that matter most.
Whenever you want to offload a new project or would like to see service improvements, just let your Engagement Manager know and they’ll take care of it.
About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.