Saturday, April 21, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Tips and Tools for EAs?

"Do you have any suggestions for tools that would help in the day to day work? For example, I am about to start as an EA, and am a bit worried that I won't be able to write down everything my boss says. Do you use a voice recorder? Do you recommend any other tools?"

Hello! Thank you for stopping by my blog! There are a few tools I use in my day to day work. Hopefully these will be of help to you.

1) Notepad and paper - I am a big fan of the good ol’ fashioned stuff. You can write (short hand if you can) quickly and it will never fail you like electronics do. Write as fast as you can and repeat back to your boss whatever they said to confirm you got it all at the end as a summary. You can also ask for clarification, by saying you couldn’t hear them. My #1 tool for writing down stuff when my boss is talking is I will repeat what she says as I’m writing so it forces her to slow down and she knows which part I am writing down. A convo will go like this:

Boss: Can you come in my office real quick please? I need your help with a few things. Could you make a reservation

Me: (writing simultaneously) Make... a... reservation... at....

Boss: At The Lobster for 7pm for 8 people Saturday night?

Me: (writing simultaneously) The Lobster... for 7pm... for 8 people... on Saturday night.

You usually can train your boss to talk slower by doing this. Then they will eventually pause after each request to give you time to write instead of blurting out 5 things. Always show up in their office pen poised ready to write with notebook already opened. Otherwise, if you show up with nothing they will think you don’t plan on writing anything down and will somehow remember all of it.

My notes for the above will looks like this once done:

Lobster RSVP 7pm for 8ppl Satur

2) Laptop - I take notes with a Mac Book Air just because it is so compact and easy to carry around. I am not a big fan of touch screen keyboards as they are not a true QWERTY keyboard. It also is cause for a lot of errors. The touch screen keyboard won’t give you a fast typing rate because you have to type with one finger versus all 10. If you know your boss will go on awhile, best to maybe just start with the laptop vs the notebook.

3) Voice recorders - I am sure there are some people who use this, but there is an element of it being a big creepy. In all my years, I’ve never seen anyone use this. Only journalists do. Also realize, the time it takes for you to listen to everything again or find the right spot in the message will eat up tons of your time. If you are going to use a recorder, ask your boss first, and still write down everything as best as you can just in case the battery dies or you lose it/etc. Once that recording is gone, it’s gone forever and no one will be happy. Recorders also have a limited time so regardless of how many hours it can keep at some point you will have to erase old messages. (FYI - I never erase voicemails and let the machine delete the directly after whatever saving time expires)

4) Don’t rely on your memory - Relying solely on your memory is to set yourself up for failure. Someone will tell you something and by the time you walk back to your desk, 5 things would have happened and you will forget. This is why it helps to carry around a tiny notebook too. If you don’t have it with you, whip out your cell phone and send yourself a text message or email. Or you can always grab pen and paper off of someone else’s desk. Or take a photo too if it will help you remember.

5) Post it notes - I use a ton of these everyday. It’s a great reminder system or to do list. Once it is over, you can toss it or save it in a notebook just in case.

6) Colleagues - Sometimes if other people were there, you can ask them for specifics on a part you missed. This is why it is helpful to make friends with others at work and also be helpful to them too.

7) Encourage the paper trail - Whenever people stop me or call me, I will often ask them to specifically email it to me so I can have the paper trail. If they are too senior to me or unreliable, I will recap the details of the convo in an email to them to confirm it and to also have it in writing.

8) Save everything - Believe it or not, you will write stuff down and need it 3 months later. As a rule, I never delete any emails or throw out any files or paper. Usually once a year goes by and the same event or task comes up, we wonder what the budget was, what we did last time, and other important details.

9) Screen shots, Scan & Copy/Paste - A lot of companies use IM to communicate and I will save some of those too if important details are in there. I will also fwd texts as emails to myself as well as necessary. I will also save documents that I have to mail the original by scanning it or making a hard copy of it.

10) Evernote - The Evernote family of products help you remember and act upon ideas, projects and experiences across all the computers, phones and tablets you use. Even the basic programs are free and very helpful.

Keep me posted and have fun on your new job! :)


  1. Hello!

    I'm so happy to have stumbled across this blog. It's really informative and entertaining.

    These are great tips you list. I also save any task-related notes, and these have really saved my backside-one time when a former boss accused me of making a bad decision---I found the note he wrote instructing me to make this bad decision, per *his* instructions-poor guy! A seemingly benign note may be a life saver down the road.

    If you can share any other tips for starting a new job (and yes, I'm starting a new assisting job next week!).

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantMay 31, 2013 at 3:14 PM

      Carolyn - Just a random hello! Thank you for being a loyal reader!