Monday, July 30, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: 1000 Emails Project

“I really enjoy reading your blog. Certainly is helping me during my current job. My boss hired me to help them get organized. So the task at hand is tackling the unread emails and sorting them as follow up, projects, inquiries, factory orders, catalog etc. They want to print them out and organized that way, but there are over a thousand emails. Is there a more efficient way to attack this? Any advice would be helpful. Thank you!”

Dear NC,

So glad you are enjoying my blog. I’m not sure how helpful I can be! Eeeeep! You have been tasked with a major project. I couldn’t really tell if the 1000 emails were it or if you will continue to get emails every day that would increase the number of them forever. Yikes! Here are my suggestions for you.

1. If it’s not too late, sit down with your boss and try to get a sense of their goal.

Aside from having everything printed out, you will want to find out any future steps that would help you organize everything. Maybe they want all the factory orders Products A thru Z to go to one person. Or do they want one type of project’s emails all together, say everything related to Product A - follow up, inquiries,, factory orders, catalog requests, in one big stack. Once everything is sorted who will handle the next step, carry out the task, and keep your boss apprised of status? In the beginning, it’s best to start on the course they asked you and to then offer suggestions if they will help out your boss first and foremost later (not just make things less of a hassle for you). Also try to make sure you have all the categories they want and hope that it is less in number. Once they add more categories you'll have 100 different ones with only 10 sheets in each which may not be as helpful. Or you may find yourself having to re-sort constantly as your boss figures out new categories.

2. Once you print everything out, how should it be displayed?

Depending on usage, maybe they should be in a binder, file folders, taped up on boards, just stapled in a packet or interofficed somewhere. You will need to order many many office supplies to accommodate this project and find yourself and nice big desk, floor, or room to spread out and work. It’s important that once the day is over, the cleaning crew does not come in to disturb all your hard work as well.

3. Every now and then, check in with your boss.

You’ll find that there is a lot of back and forth between you and your boss. They may change their mind on any little thing as they hear updates from you. Ask them if you are heading in the right direction or bring up points that may give them a bigger picture. If you are getting emails every day that you have to also print out, it would be helpful if your boss could tell you which ones are priorities so that you address what is very important first. If your boss has time, get a full list of the projects ranked in order of priority or even just three groupings - 1/urgent, 2/time sensitive, 3/timely.

4. Get a deadline, have a plan, plot your strategy.

You should pace yourself and get an understanding of a reasonable timeline. This way you can figure out how many hours you should dedicate to this project while juggling your other duties. I’m a little concerned that 1000 emails went unattended until you were hired. Perhaps you can work overtime if that’s allowed.

5. Print first, sort papers later.

This will sound horrible, but sometimes it’s just easier to print an entire thread of emails and throw out the other pages you don’t need instead of going thru each email and figuring out if you only need the first page or the first 5 pages. Try to recycle the pages you don’t need. Also keep in mind if any of it needs to be shredded. Don’t forget to see if sorting the emails via keywords will group similar emails together so that when you print stuff out they are already collated by topic/keyword. Or perhaps your email program will allow you to “check all” and then “print all selected.”

6. Follow up and future strategy.

It’s important to figure out once you get thru this project how they will manage future emails and tasks. The goal is to not have to print 1000 emails every month because no one was regularly checking the email inbox and dealing with business in a timely manner.

7. Get help.

If at all possible, maybe an intern could do all the printing so you can focus on sorting. If that’s not possible, maybe you can print while you are multitasking - on hold on the phone, waiting for 5 minutes for someone to show up, etc. Every minute helps!

Keep me posted and I wish you luck on your project! Tell me what worked and didn't!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

7 Unexpected Ways Your Finances Matter When Job Hunting And Working

It occurred to me that even the most basic information isn't common knowledge sometimes. I only realized this when I had the below conversations with my friends who had great jobs, but were not executive assistants or outside of the corporate realm. I hope these tips help you!

1. Have a great credit score.

Believe it or not, major corporations will run a background and credit history check on you. Why? Because if you’re working for any C-Level Executive or executive, you’re dealing with money, whether the executive’s or the company’s. The worse your credit score and history, the more likely one is believed to be at risk for white collar crimes or embezzlement. Major corporations want to eliminate as much risk as possible, including getting sued for any wrongful lawsuits. So if you have a good credit score it’s more peace of mind for your executive and company. It gives the impression that you are extra trustworthy. There are numerous examples of people stealing from companies or doing illegal things. Google Disney insider trading scheme assistant or just look at Enron.

2. Have enough credit.

One of the most surprising things for me was to learn that not all companies will give you an expense account or a company credit card. The company will ask that you charge everything from business travel to catered lunches on your credit card and they will reimburse you. This adds up to thousands of dollars and it usually takes at least two weeks to get your money back. That’s assuming you have enough free time to do an expense report immediately for 2 hours on top of your already busy schedule.

3. Have a huge savings account.

Besides having a checking, retirement account, and a rainy day fund, you should also have a huge savings account of 6 months to a year or more of living funds. This is in case you lose your job or want to look for another one. Most people fall into the trap of taking the first job offered to them because they are running out of money. That’s the worst way to make a decision and to plan for a life - out of desperation. You deserve more than that!

4. Have cash in your wallet.

Every now and then your boss or co-workers will ask to borrow money or to break a big bill. Since you are the executive assistant they expect you to have the answer for everything in a pinch. There is nothing more embarrassing than to admit you have no cash in your wallet. The most anyone has ever borrowed from me was $40 and the executives always insist you remind them they pay you back and do give the money back. It’s a little odd to borrow money from someone you supervise, but it has only happened once or twice with any boss I have ever worked for.

5. Have cash in your bank account.

You’d think that if you had a credit card, you’d be safe, but I once had to get a cashier’s check for almost $400 for a work event. It was for catered food at a place that did not take payments over the phone with a credit card. I had to either drive 20 miles each way which would have taken over three hours, 1 hour each way and standing in line to pay (this place serves over 5000 customers a day not counting pre-ordered food.) Or I could mail in the money. Or you may find you need a money order or traveler’s checks. Since you never know when a work emergency will come up and you need funds, you should always have a positive cash flow and not live paycheck to paycheck.

6. Have money for group gifts.

It’s inevitable that someone will have a baby or it’s someone’s birthday every now and then at work. Although you don’t have to contribute or offer the same amount as everyone else, you should have it in your budget. Alternately, you could say you only had X amount of dollars in your wallet and give that, offer to write a check, or give your own gift by baking cookies or something.

7. Have money for job hunting and working.

Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Whenever you interview for a job, there’s at least 2-3 interviews if not more. You have to wear a different outfit each time. Sometimes companies don’t validate for parking especially if you are doing testing at a temp agency and are there for a few hours. You will spend a lot on gas just driving around town or on business travel. You’ll need to make copies of your resume or have a nice folder. Thank you cards, buying people coffee when you network or need advice, thank you gifts, and postage all add up.

Now you know why it's always important to pay yourself first! :) Happy job hunting and working!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How I Read To Help My Career

I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July. I was originally going to write a post on why I am so grateful to be an American. And while I am, I wouldn't be able to churn out a post long enough with either some personal insight or helpful advice. I was going to start off with the notion that I'm constantly amazed at how lucky I feel about being born in America. I could have very well been born in Africa in the sweltering heat and constantly starving instead of a 4th generation Asian American. Life can seem so beautiful and unfair all at the same time...

I started reading a new book today and I wanted to explain why I read. I read for entertainment, solace, knowledge, and advice, but at the heart of it, I read because I'm moved. The best books have inspired me to act and have caused me to think, reflect, and question. At the very least it distracts my mind and new ideas or thoughts come to me that are sometimes totally unrelated to the subject at hand. Studies have shown that your brain needs that quiet time, that other focus, so that it can work out problems and come up with solutions. I've experienced it often.

I think this is why everyone should read. Books are better reading material because of the long, in-depth subject. Regardless of what it is, it will keep your mind engaged on the same topic for a longer period of time. And I'm grateful to be in America where information is free for anyone to access. Censorship is not an issue and people can write their own opinions freely as well. To not read in this country is to not take advantage of the freedom so many other countries are denied.

As I've gotten older, my reading habits have changed. These are tips on how and why I read.

1) I read every single day without fail for at least 30 minutes.

Any habits you practice daily are markers of what you find important. My habits range from reading at lunch for 30 min or at night before I go to bed. Sometimes I read articles on LinkedIn about my industry or other trending topics. I subscribe to a couple of magazines that relate to technology, business, and personal growth which I also count as reading. I follow daily and weekly blogs. Every day I allow myself to seek out new information, a different perspective, or relaxation through reading. And what I gain can be anything from how to network better or bringing up an interesting topic of conversation the next time I am out. Even reading about what new restaurant opened up in town helps me with all my event planning duties.

2) I mark up my books and take notes.

When I read books, I've gotten into the habit of highlighting passages I find important, want to delve into further, or look up the definitions to words. I also find myself putting my book down every couple of minutes to write down ideas that pop into my head. Anytime I read, it reminds me to do something at work or to try a new method or share a tidbit of information with someone who would enjoy it. Reading is the catalyst that gets the wheels turning in my brain in the most unexpected and profound ways. At the very least, highlighting passages keeps me focused on reading and comprehending instead of letting my mind wander too far. If anything, as I read, I am more or less studying as if I were taking a class. I'm not reading to pass the time and forget the information. I'm reading to apply and incorporate that knowledge into my life in any way shape or form applicable.

3) I read several books at once.

I have a really long list of books that I plan to buy and I am always reading at least 2-3 books at once. Not to mention, I have about 30-50 books I've purchased but have not gotten around to starting. I will sometimes start books and get 1/3 of the way through and lose interest so I allow myself to pick up another book that speaks to me. And yet, when I return to the first book, I find it so intriguing I can't believe I put it down for a couple of months. For whatever reason, certain books mean different things to me depending on when I'm reading them. Either I'm not ready to read about a certain subject, I'm distracted in my life, or the book isn't pulling me in at the moment. The books that interest me the most, I will finish within three days. That is a mark of superb book.

4) After 50-100 pages, if I hate a book I will stop reading it. If I try reading a book twice and still hate it, I give up.

I can only think of one book that I honestly tried to read and never could get into it. I read to about page 50 and tried to revisit it. I ended up giving the book away. I let a couple of years go by and I bought the book again! I tried reading it and could not understand it at all or the worldwide craze it became. It was a personal growth book endorsed by some heavy hitters. The only thing I may try now is to buy a different book from same author if I were to try again. Perhaps that book just wasn't the right message for me.

5) Reading as a gift.

When I was young my father always explained to me that he would buy me any and as many books as I wanted. I was a late bloomer when it came to becoming a bookworm. I was a good reader at a young age, but was never interested in sitting still until about 5th grade. My father would take me to the book store frequently, just the two of us, so he instilled my habit of reading very early.

Now as an adult, I lend out my books freely. I offer them saying if I never got it back or if it took them a year to read it, it would be fine. I do ask for the book back once or twice so others can borrow it. And if no luck, I let it go. Hopefully they can read the book and pass it on to someone else as well. This is a practice I engage often that I have a circle of friends where I am there de facto local library. I ask them what sort of book they want, if they need me to bring them new books when we meet up, and we talk about what they borrowed from me.

And nine times out of ten, when someone has a baby or there is a gift-giving occasion, I will give a book.

Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness can all be found in a book! Go get some! :)