One of the more memorable lines from the movie “Jerry Maguire” was when Jerry, a sports agent, pleaded with his client, “Help me, help you!” Recently, I conducted a training session with a group of administrative assistants. To prepare for the session, I decided to do some research to find out more about what it’s like to be an administrative assistant. The overall theme of what I learned is well summed up by Jerry Maguire’s line, “Help me, help you!”
According to my research, one of the most important issues for both administrative assistants and the people they work for can be articulated in one word – dependability. Unfortunately, the research also reveals that one of the most significant challenges for administrative assistants is, you guessed it, dependability.
This is primarily because of the very nature of the responsibilities of an administrative assistant. Think about it, administrative assistants are almost always focused on everyone else’s priorities, not their own. They live in a very reactive-responsive world. Based on some other research, administrative assistants are typically planners by nature. In other words, they like to think in advance about what needs to be done and how to best do it.
That makes common sense to me since planning is a very important element of their job. They sit at a central location in a workplace and deal with all kinds of people and situations. They often work hard to help create stability in very challenging environments. And although they are typically planners, they often deal with shoot-from-the-hip bosses and clients. Specifically, one of the most difficult challenges for administrative assistants is dealing with interruptions. As you might imagine, all this leads to some very frustrating experiences. And if all this is not enough, administrative assistants must usually suppress their emotions. They can’t really voice their frustrations.
So, my message to you this week is that if you have an administrative assistant, help him or her help you! For example, sit down frequently and realistically talk about their workload. Help them carve out at least a portion of their day where they can work without interruptions on important projects. One of the things I encourage executives to try is a strategy I call the 96-minute rule. This idea is based on the fact that you get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your efforts – sometimes called the Pareto principle. If this is correct, and I believe it is, then it’s a good idea to try and block out 20 percent of your day (96 minutes for an eight-hour day), and focus on your most important priorities. And of course, there’s no reason why this should just apply to executives. It is just as important for administrative assistants to have uninterrupted time to focus on things that are important.
The bottom-line on all of this, sit down with your administrative assistant. Take the time to talk with and listen to him/her and look for ways to help them help you.
Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.