While good assistants can free us from routine office operations and guard our schedules, great assistants can accomplish routine non-supervisory work normally performed by a manager or executive, freeing us to focus on higher-level tasks.

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For those of us fortunate enough to have great assistants, we know how significantly they can improve our effectiveness. I’ve been blessed to have two incredibly great assistants, and while each has moved on to positions of greater responsibility, their contributions remain with me.

High Payoff Contributions

The following four items are tasks (or performance areas) that a trusted assistant can undertake readily, freeing your time of up to a couple of hours a day immediately and dramatically improving the operation of your office — unless it’s already a finely-tuned machine.

  1. Be the steward of your schedule. Encourage your assistant to take ownership of the effectiveness of your schedule. Make sure he or she understands your work priority and who can — and should — be allowed to override your planned day. Then, let your assistant begin managing your appointments for you. Meet with him or her every morning and afternoon to review it for a couple of weeks and then reduce the meetings to a frequency that serves you both.
  2. Filter and order your email. Really. Why do you need to decide which email you read — and why should you have to repeatedly make that decision based on when someone sends it? People send far too much email and exercise almost no discernment in how to make it more effective. Let your assistant decide what you need to read, and when. How the two of you organize this process is up to you.
  3. Take notes on topics of interest to you in meetings. If you’re using your assistant effectively, he or she already has an idea of what kind of information you need to perform your job well. Let them help you obtain it, and encourage them to make you aware of things you haven’t asked about.
  4. Identify improvements in office operations. This one’s easy. Or you can make it hard. If you don’t have another person who is the office manager, your assistant will be in a great position to recommend — or simply make happen — improvements in how people and information flow into and out of your organization. Give them the responsibility and authority to do it.

Potential Game-Changers

The remaining four items contain items some managers are comfortable with, and some items many are very uncomfortable with. No one promised management was easy; these potential game changers can help a great assistant help you be vastly more effective.

  1. Respond to routine email for you. Many of these are fairly easy. Typical examples include routine requests for information, responses to scheduling emails, and inquiries for which your subject matter expertise or specific decisions are not required. In other cases, allowing your assistant to understand how you would respond to similar messages will enable him or her to draft the responses for your review and transmission.
  2. Attend non-decisional meetings for you. If the purpose of the meeting is the distribution of information rather than decision-making, your assistant may free up some of your time for other things by attending these meetings and gathering the information. Then they can summarize it for your review.
  3. Demonstrate potential for advancement. Some really great assistants are very happy in that role and have no desire to move to other positions or to acquire additional responsibility, even when demonstrating clear capability for it. Others have the capability and the desire for increased responsibility. Consider giving it to them. Otherwise you lose a great assistant, as well as a potentially high performer for another job.
  4. Identify potential talent for you. What?! Let your assistant find talent for you?! Why not?  If an assistant has the ability, why waste it? Few people will know your organizational needs and management agenda as well as your assistant, and few people are as well-positioned to “sell” working for you. Does that mean let them hire the talent?  No. I’m not suggesting delegating hiring authority. I’m suggesting leveraging available assets to achieve greater effectiveness with limited time and resources.

(Photo credit: Young Woman Wearing Headset via Shutterstock)

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