31 January 2008

The 24/7 Executive: Are Our Bosses Addicted?

With the use of the wireless hand-held device, our bosses now seem to be working continually. Is the ability to conduct business 24/7 the new high? How is that impacting the role of the assistant and can we help?

The Wireless Corporate Addiction

A young lawyer puts his wireless hand-held device under his pillow so he won’t miss that all-important call or e-mail. He doesn’t want to miss the opportunity if someone should want to get in touch with him. Initially he is somewhat surprised when he is awakened in the wee hours of the morning with incoming messages, but now he considers it normal to receive e-mails at any time of the day or night.

A corporate executive is concerned that while on a cruise in a remote part of the world he will only be able to check his messages when he disembarks on land. His spouse endures patiently until the next port of call, while his assistant waits anxiously to see when he logs on so messages can be exchanged.

It is such a noticeable phenomenon that the name Crackberry has been dubbed for those who are addicted.

Some disturbing symptoms of this wireless addiction are feelings of anxiety when you are unable to go online or are out of service range, and neglecting your real relationships for your wireless ones.

Colleagues and assistants unknowingly become enablers as they feed this compulsion to check messages by taking advantage of their online availability. Employers may even fuel the addiction by their expectations of 24/7 accessibility.

The laptop started the excitement with the convenience of being able to bring your computer on the road. With the wireless we can now carry our computer in our pocket. We have gone from the fascination of the big screen to the addiction of the small screen and executives have taken to it with a passion.

The Day the Berry went Black

April 17, 2007 will be remembered as the day when service was interrupted for hours, well into the next day, for millions of users of the wireless hand-held device in North America. Offices were buzzing about what could have happened. “Where were you when...?” or “How did you cope?” were the kinds of questions executives were asking each other. People held their collective breaths wondering when service might be restored and they could get back to thumbing their way through their messages.

Getting the Cold Thumb

If you have ever waited for the elevator or for public transit with one of these users you will have gotten the cold thumb. They do not acknowledge the people around them because their focus is entirely on the wireless as they continue to talk with their thumbs.

Physiotherapists are seeing more repetitive strain injuries on hands and thumbs from this overuse, with the increase in tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Some users have had to withdraw and go cold turkey because of the damage.

Lighten up

Some websites have taken a light-hearted look at this pastime and are making suggestions for other uses for the wireless device, such as using the wireless as a night light to go to places it has never gone before – directing blurry eyed executives to the bathroom.

Paparazzi type sightings of Crackberry users have become the new frenzy and are posted on websites. Who will they spot using their wireless?

People are also coming up with new words to express their online addiction such as blirting, which is the equivalent of wireless flirting, and talking with your thumbs to explain the wireless chit chat.

Don’t Berry and Drive, however, may be the new catch phrase to describe the emerging socially unacceptable behaviour of driving while on your wireless. The dangers of focusing on your wireless while driving are becoming a real concern, and rightly so. Concentrating on anything other than your driving is a danger to yourself and to others.

The Changing Role of the Assistant

With the increasing demands on the time of the executive at work and at play, the stresses are mounting as their workloads are increasing and they need the help of their assistants more and more.

It used to be when our bosses were away it was a time for us to catch up on our filing, take messages and pass on any urgent requests that needed to be handled in their absence. Now when they are on the road, or on vacation, the need for assistance is becoming critical. No longer are people going through the assistant to contact the boss, they are going directly to the boss through the wireless hand-held device. As our bosses are waiting to connect to a flight or during a break in a meeting, they are e-mailing their assistants and asking them for a status on a file so they can report back to a client or management.

Some professionals out of necessity have given their assistants access to their Inbox so the assistant can screen messages and weed out what they do not need to look at, or things that the assistant can handle on their behalf.

It is becoming increasingly important to read these e-mails thoroughly to look for action items or dates that need to be put in your boss’s calendar and handling requests for information.

The ability to be organized has taken on a whole new meaning for the assistant as we turn our attention to helping our professionals cope. Some assistants who have remote access to their work e-mail accounts at home have also taken to checking e-mails in the evenings and off hours to keep up with the demands.

The assistant can become a part of the solution, but a strategy between the executive and their assistant needs to be made to handle these types of issues.

In Summary

This may well be the generation of the 24/7 workforce. Are we up for the challenge or do we need to step back and re-evaluate? It will be interesting to see how the role of the assistant will be impacted and changed as we move forward to this new way of doing business.

25 January 2008

Out-of-Office Blog Assistant

I am officially on vacation for a week so this will be my only post until I get back on Monday, February 4th. Consider this my blog version of an Out of Office Assistant.

Why is it when you decide to take some time off it seems like you couldn't have managed another day?

I finally finished putting my desk in order for my replacement. Which is probably along the same lines as people who hire a cleaning service to clean their homes, and then they proceed to clean it before the cleaners get there. I think the shape our desk is in reflects on us and we just don't want people to see us at our worst.

Until next week,


24 January 2008

Using Short Forms in Business Writing?

In writing, it all depends on who your audience is. In personal e-mails and letters I will write don’t, can’t, doesn’t, etc., but in a business letter that would be a no-no and I would always spell the words out. Business writing is considered more formal.

In e-mail it can be less formal and if writing an internal e-mail I would use a short form, but when writing an e-mail to a client outside of my company I would be more formal and write the words out.

I would only use short forms like GB, OMG, LOL etc. in personal emails.

If I am transcribing a dictation and my boss says the word “don’t” in a sentence, I automatically change it to “do not” and I know he expects it of me. My job as the assistant is to make the letter look professional and that includes correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation when necessary.

23 January 2008

Latin Anyone?

Here are a few Latin words that will come in handy if you work in a legal office:
  • bona fide means good faith
  • prima facie means first glance
  • res judicata means been determined
  • res ipsa loquitor means the thing speaks for itself (rarely used)
  • ex facie means on the face of it
  • and et cetera is Latin meaning other things of that type

When Latin words are used in a document they should be italicized.

22 January 2008

Becoming a Go-To Assistant

It is exciting when you get the call telling you that you were selected for the job. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing for the interview and to know that you were successful is a great feeling. You will want to be the best that you can be. Here are some things you can think about as you continue in your career whether you’ve been on the job one week or 20 years.

The "Leave it With Me" attitude

Do you want to be the kind of assistant your boss and others in the office look to when they need help because they know you will get right on it and get the job done? It is never too soon to begin or too late to start.

In the interview you were probably asked if you had initiative, but once you are in the job will you show it?

Initiative can be defined as using your own judgment to make decisions and doing things without having to be told. If you have initiative, you have a plan and take the next step to accomplish the task.

Can you have too much initiative?

Be prepared to go through a learning curve. The more experience you have the sooner you will be able to take more initiative, but if you are new, don't be afraid to ask questions. Write the answers down. Your co-workers will usually be more than happy to pass this information along so that you can become part of the team. As you begin to feel confident and get knowledge about what is expected of you, then you will be able to make more decisions and take on tasks on your own. This is the best time to start putting together a secretarial manual.

The Secretarial Manual

Never underestimate the value of compiling your own secretarial manual. When you find out how to do something or who to call to get something done, write it in your manual. This will be a great resource throughout your career.

You can either start a Secretarial Manual in a Word document, or some people are finding using their Contact Cards in Outlook a great tool for storing information they need to know. If you are using your Contact Cards a good suggestion would be to create a subfolder for your Secretarial Manual to keep it separate from your other Contact Cards.

Lynn Crosbie a Medical Assistant at a Research Hospital says, “Every time I learn something new, I write it in my manual, i.e. how to use the fax machine, information about the phone system, where the photocopier is located, who my contacts are in this position, who I can call for help, etc. If I write it down the first time, I probably won't have to ask again (which your new co-workers will appreciate)”.

Become an Expert

Don't always rely on the IT staff for help with software issues. Educate yourself on the software programs you use. Microsoft offers on-line tutorials. And there is always the Help feature. It is a great tool for finding the answers you need.

Are you comfortable using the features on your telephone? When your boss wants you to set up a conference call or forward a message, can he or she rely on you to know what to do. Take the time to read and understand the telephone user's manual and keep it handy. Then when your boss urgently calls you in with a question you will be able to help.

Do you use the photocopier and fax machine at a basic level or have you learnt some of the advanced features? The mailroom staff are usually more than happy to help you if you want to learn more. If you are the mailroom staff as well as the assistant, call the company that sold the photocopier to your organization and ask if they offer training. A lot of the newer machines either have a "Help feature" built right into it or they show "error messages" to help you figure out where the problem is.

Sue Marsh, a team leader and busy assistant in a law firm agrees, "The bottom line is the more you know, the better you can assist your professional and the rest of your team and it makes your work easier to do".


Becoming a Go-To Assistant, doesn't mean you have to know everything and do it all yourself, sometimes it is just taking the task and passing it on to someone who does. One of our greatest resources is our co-workers.

Pass it on

For those who have been on the job for many years, when someone new is hired on become a mentor. What a great way to help someone new learn the ropes. And who knows they may teach you something as well.

As an assistant you are an important part of the team and your skills are needed to effectively complete a project or job. Become the Go-To Assistant in your office.

Interview Poem

You're going on an interview, whether by choice or necessity
You have to go in with confidence, and being prepared is the key
When they say, "Tell me about yourself", that’s not the time to babble
Don't talk about your kids and spouse or your financial trouble

You could be asked things like, "What have you learnt from your mistakes?"
or, "Why should we hire you over the other candidates?"
Where do you see yourself in five years, that's a good question
Or how do you handle a difficult co-worker or a stressful situation

When asked what your skills are, how do you remember them all
Taking the time to write acronyms could help you with your recall
R-O-D, for Reliable, Organized, and Dedicated, is an example for you
Whatever helps you to remember, it’s something you need to do

Try to stay calm and relaxed; show them your great personality
They're also looking for a good fit, with the employees in their company
When they ask you a question, take the time to think about it
They won't hold that against you, and you will benefit

You want a new job but is this the right one for you
Find out about the organization and be sure to ask questions too
You could ask what the work hours are, and what computer programs they use
But wait, don't quit your job just yet, until an offer's been made to you

Lynn Crosbie writes office etiquette poems in Ottawa, Canada. She has been an administrative assistant for over 25 years.

21 January 2008

Smell and Tell

What would you do if a co-worker came up to you and asked you if they had body odour? What if someone you work with does have body odour and hasn’t asked you? How do you handle it and what should you do?

The first scenario happened to me many years ago. A woman I worked with told me that someone had mentioned to her that she had body odour. I was a young woman at the time and unfortunately didn’t know how to reply. Instead of telling her the truth, I hemmed and hawed and finally said, "What an awful thing that was for her to say to you". I then proceeded to recommend some good deodorants and showering and laundering habits. I didn't say yes, but my round-about answer was saying yes.

The woman who had initially told her the truth had actually done the proper thing and did her a favour by telling her.

It is a difficult thing to talk to people about such personal issues. I think that generally it would be the HR Manager’s responsibility to approach employees about such sensitive topics, but if you have a friend who has this problem, it would be a good-friend thing to do to tell them in a kind and gentle way.

I have since completely lost the sense of smell so if someone would ask me this type of question now, I could honestly say, “I have no idea”, and I like that very much. Although now I often have to wonder, how do I smell and would anyone tell me if I had b.o.? Hmm! Something to think about as I shower and put on my deodorant this morning!

18 January 2008

The Art of Minute Taking

Minute taking is an art! Anyone who is good at it is to be commended.

I have never had to take minutes, but I almost did many years ago. My boss came to my desk and told me he needed me to take minutes for a meeting. I was not aware of the meeting so I wasn't prepared. I started to sweat and my heart started pumping as I mumbled something about it being a long time since I had taken minutes and he had better tell me when I needed to write something down. As my boss and I entered the meeting room I heard, “Surprise”! It ended up that instead of a meeting it was a surprise baby shower for me. Whew! I had escaped once again having to taking minutes.

Is the thought of taking minutes really that frightening? I thought so and I know many others who feel the same way. I recently spoke to a friend who is a minute taker and she passed along her wisdom and experience and I noticed when we broke the steps down, it really didn’t seem that daunting a task and I think that even I could do it.

Of course these tips are general ones and some meetings require more specific preparation, but they should be a help and a guide to you.

What you need to do before the meeting

Whether you are booking a meeting room on-site or off-site you need to ensure you have the space booked for the time and date you need it. If you require videoconferencing or teleconferencing, you will have to arrange for that. An LCD, laptop and a screen will need to be available if there is going to be a presentation at the meeting. You will want to order food if required.

An agenda should be sent to the attendees with the previous minutes and all background documents. It is advisable to bring extra copies of the agenda and attachments to the meeting in case someone arrives and has forgotten theirs.

A preferable way to send the agenda and attachments would be by e-mail, but some offices or Boards now have a website on which they post the agenda and any back-up materials, which can then be retrieved by the meeting attendees or Board members when they log onto the site.

Getting Yourself Prepared

In order to be as prepared as you can be for the meeting you should look at the attendance sheet from the past minutes to know who is on the committee and will be attending. If this is the first time you are taking minutes at this particular meeting, read through three to four previous minutes to familiarize yourself with the issues.

You can also start to create an agenda from the last minutes and present it to be approved by the Chair of the meeting. Once the agenda is approved you can use the new agenda to start the minutes.

If you start the minute template ahead of time and fill in as much information as you can, that will help you to be better prepared going into the meeting.

The first thing you will need to do in the meeting is to take attendance. You are required to record those who are present, anyone who sent their regrets, any guests, and remember to record your name as the Recorder or Minute Taker.

If you don’t know all the people in the room ask them to introduce themselves, or make sure there are nameplates provided. Minute takers should not be afraid to speak up and ask people to identify themselves for the minutes. Especially those calling in or on videoconference who may forget to identify themselves before speaking. If the participants are not clear you need to ask them to repeat what they said for the minutes.

The two most important people in a meeting are the Chair and the Minute Taker. Your job is important!

A good way to record the minutes is on a laptop. You have already started your minutes with as much information as you have been able to gather ahead of time so you are as prepared at this point as you can be.

When you are recording the minutes you should record each item in the same order as the agenda lists them, not in the order they talk about them.

If the Chair says this is not for the minutes you need to take your hands off the keyboard so the meeting participants know it is not being recorded.

Don’t feel offended if you are asked to leave a meeting during an “in-camera session”. For example if they are discussing staff or executive salaries they will ask staff to leave. No minutes are taken during an in-camera session, but you still have a role to play as you will need to record for the minutes the duration of the in-camera session. Be aware of the time you left the meeting and the time you go back in.

A good Chairperson can make the difference

Denise Bellfoy an Executive Assistant and regular minute taker says, “A good Chairperson can make your job much easier”.

A good Chair will keep the meeting on time and will summarize the discussion for the minute taker. If the Chair is sensitive to a long meeting he or she can call a break. Sometimes the hardest part for the minute taker is to stay alert and concentrate, especially if the meeting is long and drawn out.

If there are motions for approval, a good Chair will word the motion for you for the minutes.

Some things to be aware of

If there is a presentation in the meeting, you do not need to record the presentation in the minutes, but you will need to include a copy of the presentation with the minutes when you send them out.

Some good advice for the minute taker would be to sit to the left of the Chair and take as much space as you need. Important people take a lot of room and you want to be as comfortable as possible and have everything easily accessible to you.

When transcribing minutes avoid writing “he said, she said”. Summarize the conversations and record the outcome. Again, if you have a good Chair, he or she will be able to guide you on what to record.

Avoid using emotional words when recording the minutes. Use business words. For example, do not use “she felt”, but rather write, “the committee member agreed”.

It is recommended you do a rough draft of the minutes at least two hours after the meeting with a final draft within 24 hours. The Chair will need to review and approve them before they are finalized and sent out.

Here are a few examples of different types of meetings:

Operational Meetings

An Operational Meeting is a meeting that deals with the business of an organization. A table format is the easiest form to take minutes at an operational meeting.

I would recommend setting up the table with these headings:

Agenda Item/Discussion/Responsible Person/Timeline

Items from the Operational Meeting will then be brought forward for Board approval.

Board Meetings

A Board Meeting is normally run by Roberts Rules of Order, which is a recognized guide on how to run a meeting. A Board can also set their own rules if they choose.

Items requiring approval by the Board are summarized by the Chair and the minute taker will need to record the Motion, who Moved the motion for approval and who Seconded it.

There should be an Appendix of Action Items attached to your minutes (which is basically a to-do list).

It is important to note that Board minutes are public once they are approved.

Meeting adjourned

Now that wasn’t so bad was it? I found when the steps needed to record the minutes were set out, it made the task not seem so overwhelming. Minute taking is not easy, but it can be accomplished without fear and trembling each time you are called upon to take them if you go in prepared.

16 January 2008

The Paperless Society: A dream or a necessity?

There is a lot of talk about the paperless society, but as I look at the office today I can see we still have a long way to go. We have made impressive strides in that direction however with the use of e-mail, word processing, document management systems and the ability to scan documents.

E-magazines, blogs and feeds are now readily available to pass on information, and I have seen the early stages of on-line books that you can take along with you just as we do with paper books today.

Many of us have already become paper free when it comes to having our paycheques automatically deposited, doing our banking and making bill payments online. We are getting there, but the problem may not be with the technology, but in our willingness to share in the solution.

When did paper become a bad word?

I remember as a young secretary in the late 70’s being concerned about the paper waste I saw in my office and even then having a conscience about it and wondering if there was some way that we could re-use it. It wasn’t something people talked about back then. We have come a long way as a society in understanding the need to manage waste.

I think my generation’s answer was recycling. When it was first introduced it was inconvenient as we had to remove the paper from the cans, wash them and then sort our garbage in their respective bins of glass, paper and tin. We had a long list of what could and could not be put in the recycle bin. There were only certain types of paper and glass that would be accepted and if your cans were not completely cleaned they were not picked up. Today we are able to recycle just about anything.

Today’s generation wants more than just recycling however. They want to be good stewards of our earth in all areas of waste and after so many years of mismanagement, they have a valid reason for wanting to do so.

Public pressure has made governments move to set new targets and goals for the environment, and they have made advances in going paperless with the acceptance of e-filing of documents and setting standards for waste management. They need to go even further however if we are going to realize the possibility of a paperless society.

What kind of global footprint are you leaving?

The new buzz words when it comes to the environment are environmental sustainability and on a more personal level our ability to leave minimal carbon footprints.

Environmental sustainability is the vision that what we do today must not affect the quality of life for tomorrow. This involves governments, corporations and ordinary citizens who care about what we will leave to future generations.

A carbon footprint is a measurement of the amount of green house gases that I produce in my own little space by the choices I make in what products and services I use or the form of transportation I take and many other areas. The ability to reduce my footprint makes it even more personal for me to be a better steward.

New Rules

As more and more people jump on the paperless bandwagon they are insisting on eliminating the need for paper and we are beginning to listen. Materials that used to be handed out at conferences and in schools are now made available on CDs or posted on websites for easy access. In a paperless world the need to have a computer or have access to one will be a must.

As e-mail becomes the preferred choice in business correspondence, e-mail management will become even more important and necessary. There is software already available to save e-mails directly into our document management systems and to put them in the correct file. E-mail etiquette rules will also be essential to follow, and will become the new standard for business writing.

New Problems

In a paperless society there will be a need for greater security to increase people’s comfort levels in using the technology and therefore eliminating the need for paper. Financial institutions are already encouraging customers to access their bank statements on-line and reassuring us that their sites are secure. All these advances will however come with a cost that will undoubtedly be passed on to the consumer.

With the increased use of electronic devices, proper ergonomics will become a factor with the need for better workstations and decreased glare on computer screens. Office workers and young people especially will be affected by this. In schools the computer has become the new notebook. Children are on some sort of electronic device a good part of the day with the use of cell phones and laptops. We will need to learn the proper way to use our technology to avoid injuries.

With all our technological advances and knowledge however we will not go paperless until people learn to not press print, and they will not do that until governments, courts and technology come together and make it possible for electronic use only.

It will be interesting to see how this next generation meets the challenges that have been given it as we march on to the goal of becoming a truly paperless society.

Click here for a link that gives good information on what a carbon footprint is and how to measure it.

Meetings: A Poem by Lynn Crosbie

So you've organized a meeting; arranged the venue, time and date
You've sent everyone the details and hope no one is late
You've checked to make sure the "key" people can attend
While other members have arranged for a delegate to send

You've ordered the catering and hope people like the food
You've checked out the A.V. and everything is good
You've copied all the hand-outs, you’ve placed them on the chairs
Everyone has good directions; no problems getting there

You've made travel arrangements for your out-of-town guests
And you've booked a hotel so they have a place to rest
You've sent them their Itinerary and the confirmations too
You've kept within budget and paid the bills before they're due

You've made all your deadlines with the help of to-do lists
You wanted to make sure that nothing got missed
You're working behind the scenes, taking great care
To make sure everything is perfect and everyone is there

Lynn Crosbie writes office ettiquette poems in Ottawa, Canada and has been an Administrative Assistant for over 25 years.

15 January 2008

When you go to the bathroom with your boss: Same-sex working relationships

It is reported on the U.S. Department of Labor's website, Women's Bureau, that in 2006 women accounted for 51% of all workers in the high-paying management, professional, and related occupations.[1] When you put that statistic together with the fact that the role of the Administrative Assistant is mainly dominated by women, with men only representing 5% of the workers, [2] the likelihood of working in a same-sex working relationship with a woman becomes increasingly higher. It is also more likely if you are a woman from the baby boomer age that you will be working for a much younger woman.

Long gone are the days when companies had executive bathrooms

I entered the workforce in 1974 and until recently had never worked for a woman and I didn’t think I wanted to. I had heard all the horror stories from other assistants complaining of mood swings, high expectations, perfectionist tendencies and the list went on. I have found none of those things to be true however. Rather, I find working for a woman has been a refreshing change with the added bonus that she understands me. She respects my knowledge and experience and looks to me for assistance and guidance in the areas she knows I have expertise.

I think the fact that I am close to her mother’s age makes it harder for her to view herself as my boss, but rather she sees me as a co-worker. Regardless of how she feels, however, she is still my boss, the same as any man has ever been, and I am her employee. I respect the position she holds and look forward to seeing her advance in her career and cheer her on as she goes where women are just beginning to feel more at home.

It still surprises me however when we share the same bathroom space. I am not used to discussing work issues with my boss while fixing my hair or washing my hands at the sink. The bathroom also was my private place to go where I would see my female co-workers and we could have a quick chat and complain if we had too. Not anymore. You just never know if your boss is in the next stall!

Do we really want to go there?

Today, there is even talk of men and women sharing the same bathroom space, as portrayed in the popular television series Ally McBeal.

Same sex working relationships and sharing bathroom space with my boss is one thing, but I hope I retire before I see unisex bathrooms in my office. There are some things that you just don’t want members of the opposite sex to know about you, especially your male co-workers.

A friend of mine works in an office where men and women do share the same single bathroom and she compares it to the complaints mothers have long had at home with the bathroom habits of husbands and sons.

It's a brave new world out there.

Here is a link to a debate in Britain "Are Unisex Toilets in Schools a Good Idea?" Duh! No...

[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Quick Stats 2006, http://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/main.htm (Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Earnings, 2006 Annual Averages and the Monthly Labor Review, November 2005) (accessed January 13, 2008)

Stats Canada, Women in Canada, http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/060307/d060307a.htm (accessed February 1, 2008)

[2] Chicago Tribune, A job once filled by men became a pink profession (2006), http://goucher.edu/documents/MediaHits/Chicago%20Tribune%20news_%20A%20job%20once%20filled%20by%20men%20became%20a%20pink%20profession.pdf (accessed January 13, 2008

Finding Time for Fitness

I had been going to the gym for three years with no results. I was discouraged. I wasn't gaining weight, but I wasn't losing any either. Where were all the toned muscles I had expected? I was also getting bored with the same routine. So I did what many people do after their initial zeal – I quit!

I browsed around looking for another fitness place to go to where I might be more motivated. At one gym I saw a sign-up sheet for a personal trainer? Could I afford it? It was expensive, but they promised results. I was turning 50 that year. It seemed every decade brought on five more pounds of unwanted fat. This time I was ready to do battle. I signed up.

I went into it with high expectations and determination. I, of course, wanted instant results, but was told it was going to take time and that I had to be committed and do the work.

I signed up for 12 weeks. I was faithful. I worked hard. I started to see some results. I lost five pounds in my twelve weeks of training. I tried so hard. I listened to the trainer as he told me about my diet and what I should and shouldn't eat. My muscles were getting toned, I could see the difference. But I was hoping to lose more weight than that.

Now the 12 weeks were up and I was on my own, but this time I was equipped with the knowledge the trainer had given me so I continued to work out. I added 20 minutes of cardio on my weight training days and on the alternate days I did a 30 minute cardio work out. I could still hear my trainer saying, “Just five more, come on I know you can do it”. I committed to going to the gym a minimum of 5 times a week with the weekend being my break time.

I have now lost 15 pounds. I went from a size 12 to a size 8. I have gotten my shape back. My muscles are more defined. I am more comfortable in this body of mine and I feel fit.

Some of my co-workers tell me I've inspired them to work out. They can see the difference.

I would recommend to anyone to go to a personal trainer, at least for a short time. You will get educated on what you need to do to accomplish your goals. The weight machines won't seem so frightening. They will become familiar and easy to use. Most of all you will have a plan.

I had almost bored myself out of going to the gym from those first three years when I didn't know what I was doing. I had one routine that I did every time I went. It is no wonder people drop out and decide it is not for them.

My routine is now varied. I change things up and try to make my time at the gym interesting. I challenge myself. No, I didn't lose the weight I thought I would with the trainer, but I did gain something much more valuable – I got educated on how to use the gym!

Don't give up! Just keep on going. Your health is worth it!

13 January 2008

Excuse the interruption: What to do about unwelcome e-mails?

It is always difficult to know what to do when a friend or co-worker sends you lengthy joke e-mails or funny pictures and chain e-mails at work. You don't want to hurt their feelings, but if you are like me you just don't have time for them at the office. I personally don't even like receiving most of them at home, unless they are sent personally to me by a friend and it is something they know I will get a chuckle out of or that I am interested in. Sometimes when I get these e-mails I feel it was just a "forward to all my address book" type of mailing and that the person didn't personally have me in mind when they were sending it.

Here are some rules I go by:
  1. Never send joke e-mails, chain e-mails, joke photos etc. to anyone's work e-mail account. If you feel the need to send them, send them to a home e-mail account instead.
  2. When you pass something on for the first time, why don't you ask your friend if they mind you sending it to them and to feel free to let you know if they would prefer not receiving these types of e-mails. Don't feel offended if they answer you in the negative though. Afterall, you did ask.
  3. If I am passing on an e-mail, I do not send it to my whole address book, but only a select few who might appreciate it, others may not! When I forward an e-mail, I send a personal message letting them know why I thought they might get a kick out of the message or photo I am passing on to them.
  4. I clean up the email I am forwarding and take out the string of email addresses. We don't need to read who forwarded it to whom and have to scroll down before we see why it was sent to us.
  5. I personally also delete the last paragraph that says "unless I forward this to all my friends something bad will happen" as I don't want my friends to feel they have to do that or for them to think that is why I am forwarding it to them.
  6. If I receive e-mails from friends with "dire warnings", when I reply to them I usually look up their particular warning to show them it is a hoax (hoaxbusters.com) and that usually encourages them to do the same before forwarding these types of things on again.


I received an e-mail today with the introduction "Excuse the interruption" and thought that was a good opening for an e-mail that may or may not apply to everyone in your organization, but must be sent to everyone for convenience sake and expediency. It made me feel the person was concerned about interrupting me and it made the e-mail seem less intrusive.

Do any of these sound familiar?

I was transcribing a particularly long dictation and as I was coming to the end of it I heard my boss say three words that sounded like music to my aching ears - “End of Tape”.

Here are a few others that I hear often and thought maybe you could relate to:

"Why didn't I know about that meeting?" (Maybe they didn't look in their calendar!)

"I just sent you an e-mail" (and then they proceed to tell you what they said in the e-mail)

"You mean, she (your bosses' wife) didn't leave her phone number." "I don't have it." (Sorry, never thought you wouldn't have your wife’s phone number...I'll remember next time)

"Why don't you go home early" (This said five minutes before your "usual" quitting time)

"Oh, was it really Admin. Assistant’s week last week? Sorry I missed it." (But no thanks or anything to go along with the "sorry")

"I need to get in touch with someone whose name sounds like this and he is the President or CEO or something of this organization that I can't recall the name of...oh yeah, and I need to get in touch with him URGENTLY. Know who I mean?" (Of course, you have no idea, but say yes, let me look into it)

"Did you book my flight for tomorrow?" (This is the first you heard of it)

The one I dislike the most is “There is a typo " and I think the one I hear the most is, “This is urgent!”.

By Lynn Crosbie and Patricia Robb

12 January 2008

Swearing in the Workplace

Networkworld posted an article called Never mind the b******t, swearing at work is a good thing,1 suggesting that swearing in the workplace is good for our working relationships and can help to relieve stress. The New York times however in their article The 4-Letter-Word Patrol is in Pursuit2 takes a look at the negative aspects of swearing in the workplace and the push by some to clean up our language at work.

I have worked in offices where there was a zero tolerance for swearing and in other offices where swearing was common and acceptable. There seems to be a lot of controversy over this issue, but personally I think swearing is inappropriate for the office environment and comes across as unprofessional.

No matter what your position is, however, I would suggest you check what your office policy states to make sure you are in compliance and if your office has a zero tolerance for swearing you need to check your language at the door and be aware of what you are saying as it could affect your career.

1 Networkworld.com, http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/20718, (accessed January 11, 2008)
2 New York Times, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950CE0D81130F934A15755C0A9679C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all, (accessed January 11, 1008)

11 January 2008

The Filing Poem by Lynn Crosbie

I hope Lynn's poem on filing will motivate you to do this necessary but boring task. Enjoy!

Someone's Gotta do it.

To most people filing isn't much fun
But when locating a file is number one
You need to know that you can find
The file your boss has in mind

If your company has a policy, follow those rules
Otherwise, organize it in a way that's best for you
Whether it's numerical or alpha is your choice to make
But not having a good filing system is a big mistake

A lot of paper to file, or maybe it's just one
Do something everyday and eventually you'll get it done
It may be hard to get motivated and you want to leave it alone
But tomorrow's another day and there's more paper to come

If your desire to continue gets slightly diminished
Continue to forge ahead, you'll feel better when it's finished
Filing is something we all have in our workplace
Electronic or paper, eventually there's a file we need to trace

There's a sense of achievement you don’t want to miss
When you can find a file in five seconds or less
Keep on filing and smiling. Yes, it's something you can do
You've chosen this career and people are counting on you

Lynn Crosbie writes office ettiquette poems in Ottawa, Canada and has been an Administrative Assistant for over 25 years.

Is it E-mail or Email and does it matter?

The full name is electronic mail and I have seen it written either e-mail or email.

Judith Kallos of Netmanners.com has written four books on the subject of e-mail etiquette so I asked her and she said the correct spelling is e-mail and she got her information from the "Chicago Manual of Style".

So there you have it folks. E-mail is correct!

Whichever way you choose to write it you need to be consistent throughout your document. Your company may even have a preference on how they want it written.

Why doesn’t the IT Person Believe me?

Have you ever noticed when you are trying to explain a computer problem to an IT person they tend to look at you as if they don’t quite believe what you are saying. IT seem to speak a different language than we do. They are looking at it from a hardware point of view and we are looking at it from a software user point of view and sometimes we just don’t understand each other.

Please tell me the answer is not always re-install

I am almost afraid sometimes to call for help because I don’t know if I can handle another re-install and a change to my normal.dot settings. Sometimes there might not be a choice but to re-install, but I have had success finding the answer in other ways. Take the time to discuss the problem with the IT person and see if they can come up with other solutions to fix the problem, and if they do have to re-install, make sure they save your normal.dot settings before doing so.

Can we Communicate Better with the IT Department?

I think we have to recognize that the IT Department are the experts in what they do and I have no doubt they know the hardware and operating systems inside and out. I think where the communication fails is when they don’t realize that we as the users know the software programs we use and what we want them to do. I have found that some of the best IT people are those who were former assistants and users of these programs. They understand what we are trying to accomplish, not just why the computer isn’t working.

I was speaking to my brother about this and he had a good analogy. My brother is a great guitar player and has been playing since he was six years old. He told me he met a man who was an expert guitar craftsman. He knew everything there was to know about the guitar. He knew what wood to use, how to place the strings, everything to get the best sound. The only thing he didn’t know was how to play it. In order to know if his craftsmanship was successful he needed someone to play it and when he heard it being played by someone who knew what they were doing they both could appreciate that guitar better.

I think the same applies with the IT people and the end users. IT are the computer experts, but we are the users and we both know what we are doing. We need to respect each other’s expertise.

We are on the same team

The IT Department are a service department and are there to keep the systems running smoothly and to troubleshoot and get our computers up and running when they crash.

An IT person once reminded me, and I know it’s true, "We are so used to getting things done in seconds, that we get frustrated when the system slows down to minutes". I of all people, who come from the time of the manual typewriter, should understand that when the computer slows down it is still faster than it used to be. Maybe some perspective would help.

Communication on both sides will help us have a better working relationship with this very important and needed service area.

9 January 2008

Non-Verbal Communication: Are we Being Heard?

Many years ago when I was working in an office something happened that has made me think twice about what I say to people, or in some cases if I should say anything at all.

I was making my way to the photocopier and was intent on getting there, when I rounded the corner and there she was in the most ridiculous outfit I had ever seen. In surprise, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was - “Nice outfit”! My next thought was, “Oh no, now I’ve encouraged her to wear it again”. But the damage had been done, I couldn’t take it back.

I am sure we all remember our mother’s telling us, “If you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all”. If you are a parent you have probably said the same thing to your own children. Can we communicate by saying nothing? I think we can and by not uttering a word we can be heard loud and clear.

Take for example, if you get a new haircut and nobody, absolutely nobody, says anything about it. Don’t you get the impression that they don’t care for it? If you directly ask someone they might say, it’s nice, but remember you had to solicit the compliment and it doesn’t mean the same thing. People generally do not want to intentionally hurt the other person’s feelings so if we don’t like something we generally don’t say anything at all.

I take the bus to work and I notice when a bus comes by that is not the one I am waiting for, the bus driver and I communicate without saying a word. I turn my face a bit and take a step back or look down. He looks at my non-verbal language and assumes I do not want that bus and continues along his route.

I think husbands and wives and people who have known each other a long time have probably experienced this on a deeper level. They get to know each other so well that they can communicate with a glance, a slight nod or a smile.

What about at the office? Do we knowingly or unknowingly give non-verbal messages to our bosses and co-workers?

I remember at one job I was in it was extremely busy and I got to ‘sighing’ when my boss brought me more work. It became a joke between us until my performance appraisal time and one of the questions was, “how do I handle my workload?”. My boss had four options to choose from and yes, you guessed it, one of the options was “sighs loudly when given work”. My sighing could have given my boss the impression that I didn’t have time for more work and it wasn’t welcomed. I haven’t sighed since, but my boss and I laughed about that one for a long time.

I think we can communicate to our co-workers without saying a word by our smile or lack of it. A smile is welcoming and pleasant and people are drawn to you when you smile. By our smile we show ourselves to be approachable and pleasant. Your boss will not feel he is burdening you with his requests. On the other hand we can greet those who dare come to our desk with a ‘what now’ look and we leave people with the impression that we do not want to be helpful and don’t you dare ask.

Do you ever wonder if your boss is listening to you by his non-verbal communication? His eyes may be on the computer screen or he is not giving you his full attention in other ways. Most business professionals are extremely busy and sometimes they are thinking of their next task or a problem that needs to be solved. This probably would not be the best time for you to sit down and ask for a raise.

I might have done the woman with the awful outfit a favour by saying absolutely nothing and looking away and she would have gotten the impression that her outfit was not appealing to the eye. The next time you see someone with a loud or horrible outfit on you can blame me or someone like me for saying ‘nice outfit’.

Communication is important whether at work or at home, but remember we can also communicate without saying a word and that may be speaking louder than our words.

5 January 2008

Gossiping in the Workplace: A Poem by Lynn Crosbie

If your workplace buddies are "gossip friends"
Are they really someone you can trust in the end?
You think they're your friend and won't talk about you
But do you honestly believe that to be true?

People who gossip like to dig for "dirt"
They may go too far and someone gets hurt
They bring up rumours and hearsay too
But do you really care, even if it were true?

Forget the meaningless chitchat and childish chatter
Stop the gossiping and talk about things that matter
Do unto others, I'm sure you've all heard
And if you can't say something nice, don't say a word

Gossiping in the workplace is something to avoid
Don't do it to fit in, or if you are bored
The way to stop gossiping is to not participate
Just go about your business and don't help spread hate

Lynn Crosbie writes office etiquette poems in Ottawa, Canada. She has been an Administrative Assistant for over 25 years. You can contact her through this blogspot or by emailing me at pattyannrobb@rogers.com.

Voicemail is a two-way street

Incoming Call!

I called someone on their business phone and their voicemail greeting said, “Leave a message and I’ll get right back to you”, but they didn’t identify who they were. I had never met the person so had no idea by that message if I had the correct number. As a joke a co-worker suggested leaving the message, “Hi, call me back”.

Recording your Message

A good tip for recording your voicemail greeting would be to write it out beforehand and then read it when you record it. The following should be included in your greeting:
  • Your name, title and who you work for, but you could also include your company name.
  • You should let people know if you are in that day and, if so, that you will return the call when you return to your desk.
  • If you are on a planned time off you should give the dates you will be away and leave the name of someone to contact in your absence. Please don’t dead-end your voicemail! Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean your company is. You should also plan with your team who will be taking calls during your absence. Don't surprise your co-worker by choosing them without asking first.
  • If you are on an unplanned day off you have the option of changing your own voicemail message from home, or you can have a co-worker do it from the office on your behalf.
  • Consider using the "temporary" out of office voicemail greeting. This way you don't have to change your original message each time and it automatically comes off on the date and time you want.
  • A suggested voicemail greeting would be: “Hello. You have reached the voicemail of [name, title]. I am either on the phone or away from my desk at the moment. Please leave a message and I will return your call as soon as possible".

Leaving a Message

One day, my sister picked up her voicemail messages to learn that she had five messages. She got her pen and paper ready only to find out that each message was a "hang-up". She wondered who was trying to get in touch with her, but couldn't do much about it since a message wasn't left. She got home that night to her husband telling her that he had been trying to reach her and he wondered where she'd been all day.

  • Please don’t hang up, or if you prefer not to leave a message, hang up before the beep so the person does not go to the trouble of retrieving the message only to get a hang up
  • State your name, number and purpose of your call. If you leave the purpose for your call, many times the person will be able to get the information for you and even if they get your voicemail when they return the call, they can leave the information on your voicemail. This avoids telephone tag
  • I personally like it when people leave the date and time of their call, however, there is always the option of turning on the date and time stamp on your voicemail
  • Repeat your phone number at the end of your voicemail, especially if you are calling from a cell phone. Cell phones are not as clear as land lines and it is sometimes hard to make out what the person is saying

Voicemail is great if used properly.

By Patricia Robb and Lynn Crosbie

4 January 2008

Blogging, Social Networking and Work: Do they mix?

We live in a day and age when we can go on the Internet and open a profile on a social networking site or create a blog or even post a comment on a site that puts our name and, if we choose, our photo out there. There is no cost and it is relatively easy to do, but is it always in our best interests to do so and can it have a negative impact on our career?

What some people are writing

On an interactive forum for administrative assistants someone wrote that they had posted a comment on another site (including posting their photo) and had made a negative comment about their boss. The person felt bad about it and was worried that this was going to affect their employment. They had a valid concern.

On another social site someone named the company that they worked for and had written very specific information about some internal things that were going on in their organization.

Can what you write in a public forum get you fired?

If you do a quick search on the Internet and type in “Blogging can get you fired”, you will get many hits with articles about cases where people had blogged about their employer and it had caused them problems at work and in some cases got them fired. There is even an article about children who had written negative posts about their parents on social networking sites that had affected their parent’s employment.[1]

If you are a blogger or are on social networking sites it would be worth it to check these articles out. You need to be very careful what you write in a public forum as anybody, including your employer, can and does read them.

Some common sense rules to blogging and social networking:

If you are on a public forum you should never write about specific incidents at work, but be very general in what you write.

Never name anyone from work on a blog or on a social networking site without their express written permission and, even if you do have their permission, carefully consider whether it is in everyone’s best interest to post it.

Unless you are a contributor to a corporate blog, it is probably a good idea not to name your employer on your blog or social networking site.

Never plagiarize someone else’s writing and if you quote them give proper acknowledgement and citations, including getting permission to quote them.

Not everything that is written on the Internet is true! Before quoting something you have seen on the Internet, check out the source to make sure it is a reliable site. You can avoid embarrassment and lack of credibility by verifying your information, especially if you are using your blog to showcase your skills and expertise.

Never write when you are angry, including posting comments on other people’s blogs and interactive forums as it can come back to haunt you.

It is a good idea to put a disclaimer on your blog that the opinions expressed are those of the author only. There are other things that you will need to consider writing in your disclaimer to protect yourself and if you simply do an Internet search and type in “writing a blog disclaimer” you will get lots of useful information to help you.

Consider turning the 'moderate comments' on in your blog. You don't want to get in hot water by what someone else writes as a comment on your blog. Moderate them and then press 'delete' if the comments are not appropriate.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

Not so with the Internet. Think before you post about your personal life! Be aware that if you have taken a sick day off and then blog about the fun time you had at the party you went to that day, keep in mind that your blogging audience can be anybody who happens to click on your site, including your boss or co-workers.

Can blogging be good for your career?

Social networking can be fun and used properly can be a great tool to market yourself. It is not all bad news, but you need to be careful.

Using a Blog as a Marketing Tool

It seems everybody is doing it! Have you noticed when you go on a corporate website that many times there is also a link to their blog. Corporations are setting up blogs as a link to their websites as it can showcase their company on a more human level and depending on the content of the blog can make their website a very popular place to be: Which is good for business.

Some popular corporate blogs are Kodak’s One Thousand Nerds[2] and Delta Airlines’ Under the Wing,[3] and news websites almost always have blog links with a variety of blogs by their newscasters.

Politicians are also blogging, especially in this election year in the States and even the government is getting in on the action with different government departments blogging. For example, in the United States the Department of Homeland Security have sponsored a blog called the Leadership Journal[4] and in Canada the Office of the Privacy Commissioner[5] have a blog spot, and there are many others.

What about us? Can setting up a blog site to market our skills be viewed as a positive marketing tool by a potential employer?

Blogging can create many opportunities to advance your career! Employers do check the Internet when they are interviewing potential candidates, therefore, having a well-written blog with knowledge sharing about your specific area of expertise can showcase your skills. An employer can get a good idea of your style and personality by the things you have written.

In order to write articles on your blog you will need to do research on many subjects in your field and as a result you will become more expert at what you do. It will test your knowledge and skills in order to write and will sometimes change the way you do things to be more effective in your job.

You will be amazed when you notice the number of visitors you have had on your blog, even visitors from different parts of the world. People are watching and reading.

Enjoy the social side of the Internet, but be careful and don’t get so comfortable that you let your guard down. Educate yourself on what you can and cannot do and Blog smart!

[1] Today's TMJ4, Milwaukee, Diamant, Aaron, Parent Trap, http://www.todaystmj4.com/features/onyourside/10723141.html, (accessed December 26, 2007
[2] One Thousand Nerds, Kodak blog, http://1000nerds.kodak.com/ (accessed December 26, 2007)
[3] Under the Wing, Delta Air Lines blog, http://blog.delta.com/ (accessed December 26, 2007
[4] Leadership Journal, Department of Homeland Security’s sponsored blog, http://www.dhs.gov/journal/leadership/ (accessed January 1, 2008)
[5] Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s blog, http://blog.privcom.gc.ca/, (accessed January 1, 2008)

3 January 2008

Fear no typo

Is it just me or do you immediately cringe and think you did something wrong when your boss mentions there is a typo in a document?

I noticed that the other day when someone mentioned to me there was a typo in a document I was working on. Their definition of typo, however, was not the same as mine. The typo they were referring to was they had used the wrong word in a sentence and wanted it changed, not that I had spelt it wrong. Whew!

What is a typo?
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines typo as, “a small mistake in a text made when it was typed or printed”.[1] It is usually an “unintentional error”.

I find I make the most mistakes when I go back and change something and then forget to take another word out or after making a change neglect to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense.

Play it again Sam
The best way to avoid these types of errors is to proofread. I wish I had a quick fix, but you can’t beat proofreading, especially when you have gone back and made changes, you really need to read that sentence or paragraph again. A fresh set of eyes can be helpful as well. Another assistant might be able to quickly read it over for you if you have looked at it just too many times.

I have also found turning on the ‘Check Grammar While you Type’ useful as it will highlight sentences that do not read right or have incorrect punctuation and will flag it for you. (Tools, Options, Spelling & Grammar and click Check Grammar as you Type).

Another useful tool is Autocorrect. In the Options for Autocorrect make sure you click ‘Replace Text as you Type’ and it will automatically correct commonly misspelled words.

You also have the option to turn your ‘Check Grammar With Spelling’ on as an added measure, but I don’t find that as useful and it really slows the process down when doing a Spell Check. I do however use Spell Check on emails and all documents that I type.

We all make mistakes
Be as careful as you can be, but if you make a mistake, go back and make the change and go on to your next task. Don’t dwell on your error, but epending on the error, you may need to tell someone about it.  Be honest -- we all make mistakes!

To avoid common mistakes, I have a quick mental checklist I go through while proofing my documents.
  • Is the date correct? Especially as we change to new year, is it dated the correct year;
  • Do the addressee and salutation match? It is easy when you are using an old document to have the correct addressee, but in the salutation the wrong name;
  • Do I have the correct signature line and initials?
  • Is there a c.c. or b.c.c that I have to remember to send? If you have a blind copy, make sure b.c.c. is not typed on the original letter.
  • Check to see if it is to go by fax, courier, regular mail, registered mail or email, and then make sure you send it that way?
  • Are there any enclosures?  Make sure you attach them.
  • Is a Draft or Copy watermark on the final document and does it need to be removed before printing.
  • In email before I press Send, I check to make sure I am sending to the right person and if I say I have an attachment I make sure it is actually there and open it to verify again that it is the correct attachment.
Some mistakes are more costly than others, but when we make a mistake, and we undoubtedly will, we can learn from it and we normally won`t make it again.

As for me, I think I will always cringe just a little when I hear those words “there’s a typo”, but proofreading and going through my mental checklist will help me make fewer mistakes and less often.

[1] From Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary

1 January 2008

Cross Border Spelling

As my American friends and friends from other countries will notice I use Canadian English throughout my blog and quite frankly I did not even think about it until I started emailing with someone in the States and they remarked on my spelling of certain words. You will note in my blog I write “My Favourites” whereas in the States they would write “My Favorites”, and I am sure in my articles as well I have used the Canadian spelling. However the Internet is without borders and because of that we are doing business back and forth between countries more frequently and with greater ease.

Does it Matter?

I know as a Canadian when I receive correspondence from the States and I notice their way of spelling a word, it is not a big deal as phonetically it is still the same. I think however as a common courtesy if you are writing to someone in English outside of your country it would be correct to spell in their “language”. In particular, if a Canadian company were corresponding with an American company and they were trying to get the other company’s business, in that case I would take the extra step of writing in American English and the same vice versa.

Watch your Language - Settings!

The default language setting in Microsoft Word is American English. I would suggest that Canadians set the default to Canadian English then if you are doing a document that you need to send to the States you could just set the language to American English and do a Spell Check and it would automatically pick up all the Canadian words and you could easily change it to the American spelling.

To set your language in Word in Microsoft Office 2007, go under the Review tab and pick Set Language, click on the language you want to use and then at the bottom there is a Default button and you have the option of setting this language as your default. If you do not have the new 2007 office package then from the Toolbar under Tools, choose Language, Set Language and then the process is the same as above.

I would do the same when sending documents to other countries who speak English. It is an easy process to change the language and if you look in your Set Language under English you will notice there are quite a large selection of English dictionaries: United States, Belize, South African, United Kingdom and more.


For the purposes of my blog, however, I will stick to my Canadian spelling and hope my readers will understand.

P.S. For those who won't get the last heading, there was a popular beer commercial in Canada a few years back and that was the mantra. I AM CANADIAN! You would almost feel like standing up and putting your hand over your heart and saluting when you would see the commercial! Well, at least in a Bob and Doug McKenzie, Great White North, sort of way. I'm sure the government wished they had thought of the idea first to boost national pride.