Monday, July 20, 2015

10 Tips to be a Better Executive Assistant - Part 6

Here are 10 random tips I’ve culled over the years on how to be a better assistant.  This is part 6.

1.  Be a ninja

Whenever I go into people’s offices, I try to train them to understand that if I need them, I wait in the doorway until they see me or acknowledge me so I can ask them a question.  If I only need to drop stuff off, I walk in silently, don’t make any eye contact, put stuff in their in box, and leave silently.  This way, after repeated exposure, they understand don’t need to greet me and don’t need to stop working unless they want to.  Usually when I enter in silently, I will get a thank you and I say thank you/you’re welcome and leave.  Or sometimes they are so focused they do not even hear or see me come in.  So be a ninja!  And you might be interested in being another sort of ninja too.

2.  Create an office bible

In case you get sick, go on vacation, or get hit by a bus, it’s always good to have an office bible so your temp or co-worker can have info at their fingertips when needed.  This will likely cut down on a lot of basic questions like the what the fax number is or your boss’ parking spot number.  Keep it somewhere where it can be easily found, but either limit the amount of confidential information or put it in the your top desk drawer so it’s not out in the open.  This office bible should list any detail you can think of from both basic information, like or dislikes, favorite catering places, etc.  Also have a digital version so you can easily find stuff by keywords or phrases.  If you need to list confidential information like passwords, put it in code by using hints, clues, or only putting part of the info, but use your best judgement.  Constantly update it as well.   

3.  Use your cell phone alarm

Chances are, you use your calendar to remind you about meetings and any important events. However, I found that not helpful and I’ve always used my cell phone’s alarm clock.  I have an Apple phone so I use the “chimes” tone because it’s soft, sounds pretty, and is not as disruptive as other sounds available.  The cell phone alarm clock method is much better because I set several alarms giving myself 15 min warning, 10 min warning, 5 min warning, and a warning for when the actual engagement is.  I also always have my cell phone with me so if I’m greeting guests, in the copy room, restroom, I don’t miss an alarm.  The alarm that everyone else can hear allows me to say, “Oh sorry, that’s just my alarm.  I have another meeting after this one.”  I also don’t write what the alarm is for, I generally know is on my calendar, but even if I don’t, I know I have something soon so I check my calendar right away.  I have 2 sets of alarms on my calendar.  The ones for work I label Wk in my phone and the really loud alarm that I use for myself at home or when I’m not at work is just labeled Alarm.

4.  Save all food orders and preferences

Chances are you order in lunch a lot and probably from the same 5-10 places.  I save “food profiles” of each individual for each restaurant.  This way, I tell them I will order them what they usually get unless they want to see the menu again.  This helps track preferences, any allergies, diet restrictions, and cuts down on circulating a menu and following up to make sure people get back to you in time.  For buffet style lunch meetings, I look back on the calendar or in my account history to see what was ordered and try to order completely new stuff so they don’t get bored.  I also try to find new places that cater or look for different cuisines to keep in interesting.

5.  Save emails and details

I very rarely delete any emails.  I will work at a company for 4 years and have emails archived from my very first year that I’ve had to look back at for handy information three years later.  When I book meetings for my boss, I paste in the body of the event the entire email thread to help refresh their memory or put in attachments and links as necessary.  Also list a phone number, parking instructions, confirmation numbers, and other details in the subject, location, or body fields of a calendar event.  

6.  Refer to the past, and start on a positive or grateful note

When I haven’t spoken to someone in a long time, or especially when I need help, I always try to remember a detail from our previous conversation or exchange for a more personal touch.  I will either ask them about it or thank them for something.  This can be anything from asking how their vacation was, their children’s recital, or thanking them for the lunch spot suggestion.  It starts the conversation on a positive note.

7.  Know the players of your industry, your local community, government officials, luminaries, and the competition

If you work for a high level executive, chances are, they know EVERYONE.  Whether that person is a governor, senator, actor, or works for a competing company, or is high profile - smart, wealthy, business people tend to network and know people from all walks of life through their philanthropy work, and have ties with universities, and probably worked with a great many of those they compete with.  At the core of every successful and rising executive is their desire to SOLVE A PROBLEM and that means they consult and meet with others to tackle and come together to solve an industry-wide problem, a policy problem, or a humanitarian problem.  So at least be familiar with all the key players, even if it’s just their name.  The degrees of separation are very few and they’ve met each other at conferences, retreats, seminars, and grew up with them at university or at the same companies when they were younger.  When you know the players and they call for your boss, you will save face instead of asking how to spell their name or what company they are calling from.

8.  Have your full signature in every email

I never understood those people who only had their name in their signature or only put the full signature in the very first email, but did not enable it for replies.  Your contact information should be easily found instead of people having to scroll through many emails to find it.  This is what should be in your signature - a closer like Best, Sincerely, or Regards, your full name, your job title and who your executive is, your mailing address, your email address, your phone number, and if applicable, your fax number, and if appropriate for your work responsibilities, your social media handles/info.  Don’t forget to do this for your cell phone if your work email is connected to it too.  

9.  Write down reminders as you think of them

As an EA, you will get stopped by so many people, interrupted a lot, and have to multitask.  Make sure you write down all requests or questions as you think of them.  I make it a habit to either text myself, email myself, or write it down in my notebook as it happens or the thought comes to me.  I utilize Siri a lot for this and if my mind wanders while I shower and I think of something, I repeat it to myself over and over until I get out.  LOL  You can also call your office line and leave yourself a voicemail, if helpful.    

10.  Try finding the answer first

The more self sufficient you are, the better colleague you can be.  Even if you need IT or tech support, most often you can Google for an answer or solution if you have a question about how to set up a signature in Outlook or do something in Excel.  If you need to put toner in your printer, either read the instructions by yourself or be taught how to do it once.  Also, take good notes so you don’t have to ask the same question even if something only comes up about 2-3 times a year.  I keep notes from my very first day on the job and find myself referring to certain passages every now and then.  Your co-workers will love you more if you can do those things yourself, as long as you are not breaking union rules.

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you're the one who ASKED and read the post?   :)  

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address.

I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

13 Tips for Establishing Healthy Boundaries at Work and in Life

Hello New and Returning Readers,

Many apologies that I have not been blogging as much.  I have been getting your comments and emails.  It’s been a very busy year so far and I can’t believe half of the year is almost over.  Wow!  Time flies when you are having fun!  

It’s startling to me how things seem to be getting more amazing every year, and until you try something new or different, you don’t realize how much more your happiness can grow exponentially.  If you’ve read my blog since the beginning you know I am strong believer in creating your own luck, planting seeds consistently so they can come to fruition later, not making things worse, and controlling what you can, because you can’t control other people or circumstances.  The inspiration this latest blog was spurred for 3 reasons.

First, I read a quote that put that message in the most concise way I had ever read it.  

You can never have a happy ending at the end of an unhappy journey; it just doesn’t work out that way.  The way you’re feeling, along the way, is the way you’re continuing to pre-pave your journey, and it’s the way it going to continue to turn out until you do something about the way you are feeling.  -Abraham Hicks

Second, without much thought or effort, I’ve changed a couple things by lucky coincidence that have made a big impact like dominoes that will permeate in other areas of my life.  I can attribute these to exemplifying my happiness to becoming the happiest I’ve ever been.  And you know I was pretty psyched about life before!  :D  Here are some little things that made a drastic difference.

1.      I sleep with an eye mask that also covers my ears and the entire bridge of my nose so no light can seep in from under. 
2.      I am less a raging night owl.  There was actually a period of a couple of weeks where I was waking up at 630am every day to work out, sometimes twice a day - a pilates class and then walking 4-6 miles too.  Prior to that, it was not surprising for me to be up until 3am or 4am and then to catch up on sleep all weekend by sleeping in until 2pm or later.  I now sleep between 12am-2am and will take the rare nap when needed on the weekends.  
3.      I have a routine where I go grocery shopping every Sunday night to buy my food for the week.  The money I was spending on eating out 3x a day can be put towards fun things or even more for my savings accounts.

Third, I’ve been asked for advice a lot - from a family member about negotiating a salary and an employment contract, a friend on how to interview and prepare for a job, a loved one on how to make the better decision, and with 2 friends who are budding entrepreneurs, and a couple of others.  I also am navigating my way through the barrage of requests in my personal life & hobbies - whether to become a committee member where I volunteer, taking a meeting, or doing a favor however big or small.  

Now, onto the reason for this post.

I’ve written before on learning how to say no.  And in consulting with some of the people above, I also realized a part of it was tied to self esteem/confidence, knowing what they wanted, or establishing priorities.  These changes require a tremendous amount of time and effort.  However, the deeper realization came that it’s more so about awareness, having healthy boundaries, and you yourself are an investment worth protecting.  Right now, whether you believe it or not, you have talents, time, energy, and skills unique to you that must be safe-guarded for the mere fact that you are alive and no one lives forever.  Only you can live your life, no one else can live it for you, so only you can be the first line of defense to protect your own well-being.  Of course, this is assuming you are not a conjoined twin.  :)

I’ve given a lot of thought to being an effective EA, living life well, and learning and growing for many years.  And on that journey, I’ll share an actual incident that happened to me shortly after college.  By this point I had been working for maybe a year or two.  Near our office was a small little mini mart type shop similar to what you might find connected to a gas station, but a lot nicer.  One day, I was walking out to lunch and I ran into a co-worker who was on their way back to the office after having eaten.  This person wasn’t in my department, much less on my floor.  I didn’t know them well and if anything, we only knew each other because we worked at the same company, but did not work together.  I knew them more or less in passing.  

They stop me and say, “I didn’t have a chance on my lunch break to go buy my lottery tickets.  Here’s some money, would you go buy it?”  I was so shocked at the request that I didn’t know what to say except yes.  Meanwhile, my inner dialogue was annoyed, asking what sort of person blatantly asks for a favor like that, why should I spend 15 min of my lunch break to do a personal favor because they didn’t plan well or remember, and how would I prepare myself in case they asked me again tomorrow or everyday going forward.  Luckily, it never happened again and like a dutiful, obedient person, I ended my lunch break early to walk to their office and hand over their change and lottery tickets.

There was nothing in the situation where the person asking for the favor should have believed I owed it to them to do it.  They weren’t my boss, they weren’t even senior to me on the org chart, we were barely acquaintances, and I didn’t owe them a favor.  I might have seen that person once a month in the halls.  And yet, from their PERSPECTIVE they thought it was totally fine to ask because they needed something.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always been interested in learning and growing as a person so I will read all sorts of topics.  And even though I’m not a parent, I read that the latest trend is NOT teaching your kids to share.  To quote the blog post by Joe Martino:

I think it does a child a great disservice to teach him that he can have something that someone else has, simply because he wants it. And I can understand the desire to give your children everything they want; we all have it.  This is not how things work in the real world.

With this new trend, I’m pretty confident that person who asked me to buy their lottery tickets or anyone reading my blog came from the SHARING IS CARING movement.  So we may have a hard time establishing boundaries, setting expectations, saying no, and grapple with taking care of ourselves, even before or supposedly at the expense of others.  As kids we were raised to share upon demand - whether it was having to give up the toy or expecting the toy without waiting just because we asked, which shapes our minds as adults too.  Once you learn to be aware of an unreasonable request or situation, to trust your gut, and establish boundaries, THEN saying no, negotiating for what you want, and asserting yourself becomes much easier, and if I dare say, natural.

While EAs should and are often expected to help out and wear many hats, there are still lines that need to be drawn.  I’ve heard from others where they were asked to run out and get lunch for their more senior co-worker, and then never reimbursed either because they were too shy to ask or felt it was inappropriate.  Even though the person said they’d pay them back they never bothered to remember they owed money each week they asked for lunch to be picked up.  I do agree that money is a very touchy subject.  Unfortunately, this meant they  lost out on hundreds of dollars.

At some point, the healthy boundaries help you draw the mental line where you acknowledge to yourself you are a separate person with your own wants, needs, desires, and opinions and it’s okay to talk about it and be your own individual.  So this post is less about how to do x, y, z in a specific order and more about how to simmer on the below 13 points.

1.      Realize that it’s not that people are “against” you, but rather they are just FOR themselves.  
2.      Anytime someone tries to rush you into a decision, it’s probably an emergency and priority for them AND NOT YOU.
3.      Anytime you unhappily make an exception for something, it’s hard to resist doing it again since you’ve already taught or shown the other person that behavior/decision is acceptable/okay.
4.      You must have bare minimums or requirements of what is acceptable or allowed so you know what you are basing your decisions on and why.
5.      Stop, think, ask for more time to make a decision, and ask yourself why you should do or not do x, y, z.
6.      Even if you have to say no, do it nicely.
7.      No one has the right to tell you that the way you feel is wrong.  They may disagree, but you are allowed to have your feelings.  They don’t get to decide how you feel.
8.      Be okay with re-visiting or re-opening the issue at a later/better time if you feel like you didn’t get it quite right.  
9.      Practice saying no, or you’re uncomfortable with something, or you will need to get back to them so when you are in a situation, your response is not automatically yes because you felt uncomfortable or didn’t know what to say.
10.  Don’t be surprised if people will make you say no or decline 2-3 times until they realize you’ve made up your mind.
11.  Be honest and let the first thing out of your mouth be what you are feeling:  Wow, I don’t know what to say.  or Hmmm…  I’m a bit surprised.  or I’m listening; I just to need to process what you just said.  Name your feeling then gather your thoughts on what you want to say.  
12.  If the person you decline gets angry, upset, or don’t like your response, that’s not your issue.  It’s theirs.  It’s okay they disagree, it’s not okay that they try to make you feel bad for it.
13.  Do your best, be patient with yourself and others, and know life will forever be a learning curve.  

I hope these tips help!  If you have any to add or a story to share, please do so in the comments.

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you're the one who ASKED and read the post? :) As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

21 Tips for Job Hunting - A Comprehensive Strategy

Hello New & Returning Readers, is currently doing a project where they are looking for people to provide tips to new college grads about to enter the working world.   I had always meant to do a post on job searching and so I figured, why not now?

However, here are my 21 tips on entering the workforce, whether for the very first time or not. AKA – Kiyomi’s 21-Step Job Hunt Strategy

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reader Mail: 7 Perspectives on Perfectionism & Making Mistakes

Hello, new and returning readers!  Happy New Year!  I realize I haven’t posted since June.  Yikes!  2014 was an extremely busy and super fun year!  

I’ve been getting all of your great questions and comments.  They are all such good questions and pressing questions that I am honored, and flattered, and excited that you write to me.  However, I do have a confession to share with you, my dear readers.

I think the hardest part of writing this blog is not being able to answer every single one of your questions or concerns.  And it’s not because of lack of time or lack of interest.  My absence, my lack of responding, or my lack of infrequent posts is most often because I do not have the answer either.  I don’t even have an interesting inner dialogue of ponderings.  If I was forced to write a post it’d be one word entries such as:

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

In all honesty, more often than I care to admit, I do not know what to tell you or how to even begin to address your situation.  Sometimes your question is the exact same question I am asking myself or the universe.  Other times, I realize I don’t have enough information.  Or I know the answer really has to come from YOU, WITHIN you, somewhere deep in your heart or a tiny seed of an idea in your brain.  And it is only something you will discover if you give yourself time, patience, love, and age a little bit or move through life with a plan, or most likely without a plan…  

I believe the best answers and revelations come in that quiet moment when one day something just clicks in your brain.  All the cogs, screws and inner workings of your mind just move a millimeter to the left or the right and things fall into place like a solved Rubic’s cube.  So this is why I am silent at times.  

I am searching just as much as you are; I am bathing in stillness in search of enlightenment.  

Which leads me to today’s reader mail; I am excited about it.  They don’t ask a question, per se, but that’s the brilliance of it.

“Thank you for your blog posts, which I read heartily and with intense interest! I've been an EA for nearly 20 years and have come to realize that the longer one is engaged with this work, the more specialized a field it becomes, and the harder it is to find others who relate to the particular challenges that the position presents over time. Your blog is an amazing resource for people like us. So, again, thank you!

I struggle with perfectionism and would be very curious to hear your take on the subject. In other aspects of my life, I am trying to let go of the idea of perfection (I have two young children and I am a practicing artist), but in this position, I believe perfection is an expectation of the role, across the board. I understand the mechanisms at play but continue to find it emotionally difficult to reconcile the expectation of 100% accuracy in work when I am only able to deliver 95%, at most.

Please share your thoughts. I would love to hear them.”