A secretary or administrative assistant does much more than just schedule or reschedule meetings. You’re responsible for organizing and maintaining your boss’s calendar so that they’ll always meet deadlines and never miss an important event. Because of this added responsibility — you’re probably the most crucial person in your exec’s life. Here are twenty-five calendar tips for secretaries.
You will want to be continually improving your calendar skills. These additional ideas for higher productivity.
1. Know your boss’s preferences and priorities.
You’re responsible for your client’s and superior’s calendars. You’ll want to continue upgrading any needed calendar tools and helps.
First, you need to get better at “doing” the calendar process.
- For example, when are they most productive? How long does it take them to complete specific tasks?
- When do they prefer to schedule meetings?
- Do they have a particular time when they like to return emails and phone calls?
You can answer these questions by simply asking them what their levels are or what prioritizing do they want? You can also shadow them for a week or two to witness their routine first-hand. Go through their back schedules and calendars to note how their schedules have appeared before.
2. Commit to lists and planners.
As a secretary or assistant, you must be organized — for both your boss and yourself. If not, you won’t be able to prioritize tasks. And, even worse, you may make common scheduling mistakes like double-booking appointments.
The most natural solution is to create lists and use planners and calendars. While you can use a paper planner or calendar, going digital allows you to access this information anywhere, anytime. It’s also more convenient to share with others. You can also use these tools to set reminders and notifications so that important dates and tasks will not be forgotten.
If you do use several apps, such as an online calendar and a task management app, make sure that they’re synced and updated in real-time.
3. Get familiar with your chosen calendar.
If you do use an online calendar, set aside time to understand the essentials and how to use the Calendar thoroughly, for example, with what other tools does this Calendar integrate? How can it be shared with others? And, what shortcuts are there so that you can quickly add and edit information?
To get you started, here are some helpful guides you can refer to:
4. Create a calendar template.
After you’ve gotten to know your boss’s preferences, and how to use your calendar, you can create a calendar template. It makes managing a calendar easier since you can input essential dates and data instead of creating a calendar from scratch for every day, week, or month.
For example, does your manager prefers to have all meetings take place on Tuesday? Block out that day in the calendar for meetings so that nothing else is scheduled in the same timeframe. If they want to check their emails daily from 1 pm to 1:30 pm, then in the template would block-out that time for that specific task.
5. Use a shared calendar.
If you’re using a digital calendar, then one of the most important features it should have is the ability for the calendar to be shared with others. Most calendars allow you to share it via email or an URL code. As you’re creating and managing someone else’s schedule, they should have access to their calendar so that they know exactly what’s going on.
Additionally, shared calendars ensure that everyone remains on the same page. It also prevents surprises, conflicts, boosts productivity, and helps manages tasks, deadlines, and milestone.
6. Address possible scheduling conflicts before they occur.
Let’s say that you’re reviewing the calendar for either yourself or your superior and spot a possible scheduling conflict. For instance, there is a meeting that ends at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, but your boss has a dinner commitment at five pm. You may want to see if you can conclude the meeting earlier or push-back the dinner ASAP. Paying attention to the details that cause frustrations in scheduling will prevent your boss from rushing from one appointment to the next or even running late.
7. Create and stick to your routine.
Everyone needs a routine. Without one, you’re aimlessly wandering from task-to-task. What’s more, a set routine will keep you on track. You’ll know precisely what you’re working on and when.
An effective routine should be based on energy and not time. If you are most productive in the morning, then that’s when you would want to focus on your most demanding or essential work for the day. After you’ve determined your ideal routine, add blocks of time to your calendar that is set aside for a specific activity. Remember, your routine should remain the same every day.
8. Batch similar tasks together.
Batching is where you group similar tasks to accomplish at the same time. This way, your brain isn’t switching gears. For example, you could arrange all meetings on the same day of the week. Now you and your superiors aren’t interrupting your day to attend a meeting. The other days of the week would then be dedicated to your other priorities.
9. Never book back-to-back or standing meetings.
These suggestions may feel like you are going back to scheduling 101. Back-to-back meetings are disastrous since this doesn’t provide an opportunity to prepare and decompress from the previous appointment. If there’s travel involved, your manager could run late. It’s unprofessional to be late for any event or meeting and results in wasting someone else’s valuable time. Always add a buffer between meetings to prevent these mistakes from occurring.
Additionally, scrap any standing meetings. If the other party isn’t committed or the event doesn’t serve a purpose — it’s not worth adding to the calendar.
10. Optimize time for different types of meetings.
Speaking of meetings, they’re not all created equal. As such, they shouldn’t require the same amount of time. For example, a discovery call with a potential client should only take 10-15 minutes. A face-to-face appointment with a high profile customer should last around 45-minutes.
Knowing how to optimize time for various types of meetings means that you aren’t committing additional time to your boss’s calendar.
11. Always bring your calendar into meetings.
Whether you’re using a paper or electronic calendar, always make sure that you have that calendar with you — by your side whenever you attend a meeting. Having this calendar with you allows you to jot down how long the meeting lasted, who attended, and what was discussed. Having this information will make planning future meetings a breeze.
Rely on a tool such as Calendar as it will tap into the power of machine learning and make smart suggestions on how to schedule meetings to more significant advantage. Although voice-intelligent calendars are right around the corner, they’ll be able to make meetings even more productive. For example, smart calendars can analyze past events to see how everyone participated. You will also want to suggest to your higher-up that they find ways to make meetings more engaging and time-effective.
12. Plan for breaks and interruptions.
No matter how organized and prepared you are, emergencies happen. While it’s impossible to always plan for the unexpected, you can make it less of a problem by having some flexibility in your manager’s schedule. Now if there’s a fire to put out, it won’t completely throw their entire schedule into chaos. They can move a task back to an empty block of time.
Also, you need to build in breaks into everyone’s calendar. We all need time to unplug, rest, and refocus throughout the day. For some of us, if it’s not in our calendar, we may keep on working until we hit a wall.
13. Don’t offer open-ended scheduling options.
Let’s say that you leave Friday mornings open for your boss. They receive a request for a meeting, and you say, “Friday morning is open. What time works best for you?”
A high number of appointment requests and your boss’s Friday morning is now jam-packed with meetings. Now you have left them with little time to handle priorities like administrative tasks. Instead, only offer one or two options to reduce this from happening. However, I would reply by sharing your exec’s calendar so that they can see their availability for themselves.
14. Use a variety of tools.
If you want everyone’s life to run smoothly, you need to have an arsenal of tools. An online calendar should be the first tool that you embrace. Consider solutions such as:
- Calendar to automate any meetings or events that need to be added to a calendar.
- Trello for project management.
- Dropbox for sharing files.
- Todoist to manage all of your lists.
- Slack to communicate and collaborate with others.
- SaneBox to keep your inbox in check.
- Hootsuite for managing social accounts.
15. Color-code everything.
A color-coding system is where you assign a color to a particular activity. For example, you could use blue to represent all meetings and red for concentrated and undisturbed work. It’s a quick and effective way for you, and your boss, to view a calendar with just a glance.
16. Double-check synching.
Always make sure that all of your boss’s devices are synched with her calendar. The last thing you want is for them to miss an important deadline or appointment because their calendar on their phone wasn’t updated. To make matters worse, Google Calendar is known for having syncing issues even though it’s one of the best calendar tools available.
17. Check the weather and traffic throughout the day.
Your executive is always on the go. One of your responsibilities is to keep up with the weather conditions and traffic patterns. If there was implement weather or an accident, it could result in them arriving late to a meeting or appointment.
In your calendar, you should set reminders to periodically check the weather or traffic so that your exec can plan accordingly. Some calendar apps provide real-time weather and traffic information and will notify you on when you should leave.
18. Keep others on-track.
Whenever there’s a meeting scheduled, it’s your job to confirm the event with everyone attending. You also need to make sure that you’ve sent participants an agenda and directions to the location of the meeting. Thankfully, most calendar tools will send event reminders. But, you still want to make sure that everyone will attend and be there on-time.
19. Become a timekeeper.
When your manager is in a meeting, they probably aren’t focused on keeping a sharp eye on the clock. As such, you could be the one keeping track of the time. When there are only ten minutes left, give them a cue so that they know it’s time to wrap up. You may also be expected to keep everyone on the team in line with the boss’s calendar.
20. Simplify your inbox.
As an assistant, you not only have to tame your inbox but also your supervisor’s email. Suffice to say, if not tamed, email can become an overwhelming and time-consuming task. That’s why you need to set aside times throughout the day to go through emails. Since you may not have time to go through every message, you’ll establish a priority matrix. Determine which messages are urgent and need immediate action and those that can be responded to later. The priority matrix will also help you identify messages, in email, text, or calls that require a follow-up. Those items require monitoring you’ll add to a to-do list.
21. Set an out of office message in your calendar.
Both you and your boss need time away from the office. But, what if someone asks when your superior is free or not? Instead of viewing their calendar and rattling off a series of dates and times, you can share the calendar with the other party. But, by adding an out-of-office message to the calendar, no one will be permitted to book an appointment whenever you and your boss aren’t in the office.
- How To Set an Out of Office Message in Outlook
- How To Set An Out Of Office Message In Google Calendar
22. Prepare, prepare, and prepare again.
Preparation is vital when you’re an assistant. There’s no right or wrong way to prepare. However, the best place to start is reviewing you and your manager’s schedule in the evening to make sure that everything is for tomorrow. You don’t want to wake-up to any surprises first thing in the AM.
Personally, I also like to prep my meals and clothing the night. The decision the evening make that decision in the morning. Generally, you can’t pick your boss’s clothing without assistant-access permission to their items. However, some executive bosses do get desperate enough to allow you to have access to accomplish this task for them. But you can have their favorite snacks or list of their favorite restaurants readily available.
23. Set aside time to discuss your boss’s calendar.
No matter how well you know, your manager, schedules, and priorities will change. To address this, you should block out a time to discuss the schedule with them. Some secretaries like to do this weekly, while others feel that once a month is satisfactory.
24. Review this (and next’s) week’s calendar.
Once a week, preferably on Fridays, review your calendar so that you can see how the last week priority activities were spent. You can then use that data to make the next week even more productive and effective. For example, if you notice that your exec spends an hour per week hosting a team meeting that only takes 30-minutes, cut-back the meeting length going forward.
25. Follow the fundamental rule of scheduling.
Finally, make sure that you always follow the fundamental rule of scheduling; all scheduling goes through you. No exceptions.
Having a steel-control on the schedule may sound like a bit much. But, if too many people are involved in creating and managing a calendar, it can become extremely cluttered. And, it can lead to scheduling conflicts or errors. The fewer cooks in the kitchen, the better.
Student at UC Berkeley, currently working on a degree in Electrical Engineering/Computer Sciences and Business Administration. Experienced in CSX, productivity management, and chatbot implementation.