31 December 2009

Office Confidential: Just for fun to start your New Year off with a laugh

These are excerpts from a presentation I gave to my local International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) Chapter dinner meeting.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did in the telling...

When I told my boss I had started a blog and was naming it Laughing All The Way to Work, he didn’t get it and said, "That doesn’t sound very professional Patricia." So I explained that it was similar to the phrase, laughing all the way to the bank. I told him it was a blog to give tips and to share my experience in the office in the hopes that it would help and encourage others. I felt if we were prepared and equipped to do our jobs, it could seem like we were laughing all the way to work...but I also like to have fun at work too.

MONTY PYTHON: One of my former bosses said at times working with me was like being in a Monty Python movie... My current boss says we get along like a house on fire. With references like these how can I lose?

ASSWORD: I had only been working in my new job for a few weeks. I was sitting at the front desk to relieve the receptionist when my boss walked by and asked what the password was on a site he needed to log into. The password was LRGPassword, but I told him to remember it was case sensitive and started to spell it out for him -- "Capital LRGP and then..." but stopped when I realized what the rest of it spelled. He looked at me with a knowing smile and said “Yes, Patricia, continue...”

ONE WORD CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING: It’s amazing how one word can change the whole meaning of something. I booked one of my former bosses on a flight to Toronto. I printed his e-ticket and had everything prepared for his travel. When I arrived in the office the next day I had an urgent voicemail from him saying, “PATRICIA! Who the hell is Linda and what is her name doing on my ticket?” Linda (our travel agent) was obviously having a bad day. She had put her name down as the passenger and my boss’s name as the agent. No doubt, he had a hard time explaining to the airport authorities that he was indeed the one who was supposed to be on that flight.

This boss also prided himself on being self sufficient and liked to type his own letters. I thought it was wonderful until I read one. He relied totally on Spell Check so you can imagine what typos were missed. He was a lawyer and in this particular letter he was writing to a prospective client. He wrote in one sentence that he had "expensive experience" instead of "extensive" and in another wrote "tits" instead of "its." Good thing I checked... I wonder what kind of service the client would have thought he was offering!

HIGH TECH? Years ago, when I worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), I took a training course on a Telex machine. During a break in the class, I was sitting at my assigned Telex and it started typing. This was such new technology back then and I was surprised that it was typing on its own.  I looked down and read, “I AM WATCHING YOU.” Which seemed a little spooky, and then it signed off --“GOD!” I must have had a complete look of astonishment on my face. Then I heard the snickers. I was the only woman in a room full of police officers who had conspired to play a trick on me. Needless to say -- it worked!

I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO WINNIPEG! Again, when I worked at the RCMP, I went on a training course for a machine to do criminal record checks. In those days it wasn’t a computer where you could see a face on the screen, but the information was printed out on paper and if you wanted a photo, it came in the mail a week later. Definitely not like the CSI shows of today. For fun, one of the officers asked me to put my name and birthdate in to see what came up. Well, apparently, there’s a hooker in Winnipeg by the name of Patricia Robb and with the same birthdate! For the rest of the day they kept teasing me, “Are you sure you have never been to Winnipeg?”

LOOK UP, LOOK DOWN: While an EA was talking to the CEO, her skirt slipped down and landed at her feet. Now how would you handle that situation? (I bet they never asked you that question at a job interview).  This girl didn’t bat an eyelash and quickly reached down and pulled up her skirt and continued talking to her boss as if nothing had happened. I can imagine what her boss said to his wife that evening, "Honey, you will never believe what happened at the office?"

AIRPORT RESTROOM: My friend was very tired. She had been commuting from Ottawa to Toronto and was on her last flight of the week. At the airport she went to the bathroom, but when she went to wash her hands afterwards, she couldn’t seem to get the sink to work until she realized the problem -- it was a URINAL! She quickly scooted out of the men’s washroom.

SUGGESTION BOX: We had a new woman working in our office and my friend and I were showing her around. My co-worker mentioned that we had an office suggestion box if she ever wanted to put ideas for improvement in it and told her it was in the kitchen. She seemed surprised as she said she had been in the kitchen a few times, but had never seen it. My friend said, “Yes, it’s in the corner by the fridge -- right over the, uh, GARBAGE CAN.”  Up to that point neither of us had realized the significance of its location.  This of course prompted me to write the following thought of the day on my blog, "The location of your Office Suggestion Box can give you a good idea of how important it is to your organization. If it is located near the garbage can, don't expect your suggestions to be taken too seriously."

OFFICE CONFIDENTIAL: I went to the gym after work on a Friday evening, worked out and went back to the office to get my purse. I always take my gym laundry home on Friday to wash over the weekend so on Monday morning I was madly trying to find them while scrambling to get out the door on time. Did I not bring them home? Where were they? I left for work thinking perhaps I had left them in my gym bag at work. When I walked into the office and got to my desk, there they were -- on my desk with my bra sitting right on top of the bundle. Ugh!

Since I got in at 9 and my boss was in an hour before me, I knew he had probably seen it already so decided to suck it up and just go in and ask him. In between spurts of laughter, he said he hadn't been to my desk yet, but I should go and see Anthony as he had sent him to my desk earlier to drop off a letter. I left his office to the sound of his chuckles behind me. What a start to a Monday morning...

HANGERS ON: One morning while walking from the bus to my office building, I noticed a woman in front of me with a coat hanger hooked to the back of her coat. She obviously didn't realize it was there, but I was wondering to myself how she could have sat on the bus and not noticed. I thought somebody ought to tell her, so I caught up to her and it turned out to be someone from my own office. When I told her she thought I was joking, but to humour me she reached back and with a look of surprise and dismay slowly brought out the metal coat hanger. The look on her face was priceless. Of course I had to tell everyone at the office.

I called someone in another office. Her voicemail said “Hi, I’m not at my desk right now, please leave a message.” She didn’t identify herself and I had no idea if I had dialed the right number because I had never spoken to her before. The woman who sat next to me told me I should have left the message, “Hi, call me back.”

At another office I needed IT assistance so sent an email requesting help. I received an out-of-office message from the IT guy saying that he was in Vegas partying, if he won we wouldn’t hear back from him, if not, he would be in on Monday.

BEAUTY SCHOOL DROP OUT:  As many of you know, I was a hairdresser for a few years in the early 90s, but left to return to the office.  Here are a few stories from that time.

KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS: When I was in beauty school, I was taught different ways to remove facial hair. I thought I had the best answer when I discovered facial hair bleach. No muss, no fuss and no pain. One day after using it, I was at a children’s club at my Church. A six year old boy was looking over at me curiously and finally blurted out, “Pat, do men have black moustaches and women have white?” Geez!

ADULTS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS: When I was working in a hair salon, if another hairdresser happened to be at the reception desk when a customer came in, they would take their name and say to the hairdresser who had the appointment, "Your Bob is here,"  or "Your Muriel is here," or whatever name was appropriate. I was cutting someone’s hair, but noticed one of my co-workers going to the counter to greet a customer. I was expecting my next customer so I knew it could be him. After taking his name and asking him to have a seat, my co-worker called out, "Pat, your John is here." -- You could have heard a pin drop as all the customers turned to look at me.  When I told my current boss the story, he said, “Good thing his name wasn’t Dick.”

You see, working can be fun. Enjoy your day!

28 December 2009

Now that is dedication...Executive Assistant donates kidney to her boss

My assistant sent me a link to a story about an Executive Assistant in British Columbia, Canada, who gave the gift of life by donating a kidney to her boss.  You can find the story at the following link:  http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/News/ID=1365276571

That certainly is dedication and remarkably they were a perfect match.  The EA said her family had gone through a similar situation and she didn't want her boss to have to go through what they did so decided to make the offer.

A nice Christmas gift to her boss who is a dad of five children.

19 December 2009

Meetings Plus: Taking them offline

I organize a lot of meetings in a day, week, month; heck, even into next year.  My boss is very busy and in demand to go here, there and everywhere.  So how do I keep them all straight?  My first plan of action is to take them offline as much as possible.  I have so much e-mail traffic that the more I take offline, the better I am able to keep track and oh what a relief it is to delete it out of my Inbox once I have responded to the e-mail.

When I receive an initial request for a meeting, I use a meeting form and write down the information I need: who is requesting the meeting, what is the purpose of the meeting, where it will be held and a phone number or an e-mail address and dates that are available.  As I hear from the different parties I can put a check mark or an X whether they are available or not.  Once a date is finalized I put it in my boss's calendar and confirm the meeting with the other participants.  If the meeting is internal, I send a meeting request, but for external meetings I tend to just confirm with them the meeting details by phone or e-mail. 

Sounds easy so far, and sometimes it is as simple as that, but normally it goes back and forth and back and forth again and again, but I never worry about it because once I take it offline, I am not trying to track down e-mails on who said they were available since I already have the information written down.

I also have what I call a Scheduling Bin and I put all my meeting forms in there.  It is located by my phone and near my computer, so whether I get a phone call or e-mail, it is within easy reach.  The good thing about keeping them all in a central spot is I always know where the paperwork is and can easily grab it when I need it.  Much easier than searching in Outlook and less stressful.

When a meeting is finalized, I put the scheduling sheet in a completed file.  My boss's meetings tend to get resurrected often and what I think is a final date will come back because someone had to go out of town on urgent business, or one of the key participants is ill and can't make it or they just decided to change the date, so it is handy to have this file where I can go and revive the meeting.  After the meeting happens, then I can safely throw it in the recycling bin or shredder as appropriate.  Another benefit to writing it down is if your boss asks you to cancel it or to quickly tell you when the meeting is, you can look at the sheet rather than trying to search for it in your calendar. 

I tend to keep my scheduling sheets in chronological order and each morning I go through them to see if there is any action I need to take, i.e. follow up to ask for an agenda or see if I can start scheduling.  There are some meetings that are currently on my radar for next summer and beyond, but I still have a sheet for it and move it up the pile as the date for planning gets closer.

Once the date and location is finalized, if it requires flight and hotel, then I put a travel sheet on top of the meeting sheet and start to go through that checklist to see what I need to do, from getting the passport ready, contacting the travel agent and arranging for a purchase order, etc.  I don't want to miss a step so always go through the checklist on the travel sheet.

Taking it offline is a neat trick a friend of a friend of a friend showed me.  Never underestimate what you can learn from other assistants.  There are a lot of good organizing tricks out there and whenever I find one that works, I pounce on it and it becomes something I can't work without.  Keep a lookout what your colleagues are doing.  Most people are happy to share when they have found something that works.  Learning from each other is a necessity.  By the same token if you have discovered something that works, let others know so they can benefit too.  After all, the goal is to have an efficient office and it works better if we are all working together to make that happen.

See on the blog sidebar under Meetings for some electronic meeting scheduling sites such as doodle.com and other tips.

12 December 2009

On the job tips for new Admins...

I started this blog to share the knowledge I had picked up over the years either from other administrative assistants, my bosses or from trial and error. Here are my top six things I would recommend you do well:

  1. Write it down
    When your boss asks you to do something, write it down, send yourself an e-mail reminder or put it on a sticky note, but if you don't write it down it will get lost and probably not get done.  You may think you have a good memory and why bother, but there will be so many little things come across your desk that it is easy to forget and writing it down is a good habit to get into.  It also eases your boss's mind when they see you write it down, it gives them confidence it will be taken care of.
  2. Bring Forward System or Using Tasks in Outlook
    Have a system to follow up on items your boss has asked you to do or things you know you need to do. This can be as simple as having hanging file folders marked from January to December and then you just put items in the appropriate month that you need to bring forward for your boss. I put a sticky note on it, or write, the day I will need it, i.e. bf Dec. 15. I love this system and at the end of each day I go through my folder and pull out what I need for the next day. I also use Tasks in Outlook to follow up on electronic items. If I send someone an e-mail asking for something, I drag and drop the the e-mail into my Tasks and set a reminder for when I want to follow up. It is easy and I never lose track of things.
  3. E-mail
    Always ask yourself why you were copied on an e-mail. Is there an action that you need to do? Is it for your information or something to put in your tasks to do later? My boss will sometimes cc me to keep me in the loop of what might be coming up. I read it and either put it in my tasks to follow up on it or take the appropriate action. I have daily meetings with my boss so sometimes I print the e-mails that I have questions on and put it in a folder and then we go through each item and he lets me know what, if anything, I need to do. If he is travelling, I send it by e-mail, but it has been my experience that I will get better results with a face-to-face meeting.  He can ignore e-mails, but it is hard to ignore me :)

    When you are copied on an e-mail, read the whole message, don’t just skim it. There could be a message for you. i.e. My boss will send an email with a cc to me and on the last line or buried in the message he will write something like “I have copied Patricia to set up a teleconference at a mutually convenient time.” So it is important to read the whole message.

    If you are sent an email with a request to do something either asap or later, did you do it or have you diarized it to do it later? Do you track your e-mails by either putting them in folders, or in your tasks? If your boss has to continually go back and ask did you do this or that, then they may as well have done it themselves in the first place.

    If you have been asked to do something and don’t fully understand what is expected of you, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes e-mail is not the best way to communicate and it needs to be followed up by a phone call or face-to-face short meeting.
  4. Letter mail
    OUTGOING MAIL: If you are given a letter to finalize for your boss's signature, make sure you put the correct date on it and read it over for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Print it on letterhead with the appropriate sized envelope and ensure if there are any enclosures, they are attached. Put it in a folder for your boss’s signature in completed form, i.e. envelope clipped to letter and attachments. If you are waiting for attachments, but need to have it signed because your boss will not be in the office by the time you get the attachments, prepare it for him or her for signature and put a sticky note on the letter to remind yourself to attach enclosures or make copies for anyone you are copying on the letter, but also to let your boss know you know it needs to be done and have reminded yourself to do it.

    If you are sending the letter by regular mail, courier or registered mail, make sure you have the proper postage, courier slips or forms filled out.  I usually put a sticky note on it for that as well.

    INCOMING MAIL: As with e-mail, you should read the letter to see if there are any action items for your boss (or yourself) and diarize them or put the appropriate dates in the calendar.

    MAIL LOG: Keep a log of mail that comes in and goes out. For incoming mail, if your boss delegates it to someone else to respond to, put who it was sent to and what action is to be taken in the mail log and then follow up to make sure it has been done.
  5. Telephone
    Always work with your boss on what their preference is for taking calls and messages, but here are some things that have worked for me.  Do not let a caller know where your boss is. Just say that they are unavailable and take a message. If they say it is urgent take their name, telephone number and purpose of their call and tell them you will give your boss the message as soon as possible. If your boss is away from the office on business or vacation, it is all right to say they are not in the office, but you can take a message for when they return. The information will normally be in their out-of-office assistant already, or on their voicemail so it is appropriate to give the information, unless stated otherwise by your boss.

    If a person calls to speak to your boss, and you are responsible for taking their calls, ask for their name and telephone number, but I always ask them for the purpose of their call. If they do not want to give it, that is fine, but at least you can say to your boss that you asked.

    If a person calls wanting a meeting with your boss, ask for their name and telephone number and the purpose of the meeting request. Let them know you will need to check with your boss and will get back to them. I always ask my boss if he wants to have a meeting with this person or would a teleconference be sufficient. Sometimes your boss will pass this on to someone else to do or not want/or be able to meet. You will then need to get back to the person. Never say your boss doesn’t want to meet with them, but rather that they are unable to meet with them and would they like to leave a message with your boss. Sometimes if you know your boss does want to meet with a particular person, you can go ahead and schedule it for them at a mutually convenient time and e-mail your boss to give them a heads up it is in their calendar.
  6. Drafting a letter
    If your boss asks you to respond to a letter on his or her behalf, draft it as if your boss was going to sign it, i.e. have it set up properly with the date (or [Insert Date]) and the address correctly filled out and then either send it by e-mail or print it for his or her review. Draft it to the best of your ability and include the letter you are replying to when you give it back to your boss, so he or she knows the context of your reply.

    A good rule of thumb in writing the letter is to acknowledge the letter you are responding to, i.e. Thank you for your letter of [insert date]. Then state the purpose of the letter, i.e. We are pleased to enclose the requested forms and would ask that you fill them out and return them at your earliest convenience. Then end with a closing sentence i.e. We look forward to serving you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Have the letter properly signed off with a closing such as Yours truly or Sincerely yours and put your boss’s name and title below that. If the letterhead has the name of the organization on it you do not have to repeat it again under the name and title, unless that is your boss’s preference.

    If your letter goes to page two, do not leave the signature line on its own on the second page. Take some text over with it, but you still want the first page to be centred and look good.

    Keep names together, i.e. if a name gets split at the end of the sentence i.e. Edward
    Smith. If you press Control, Shift and the Space bar after Edward and type Smith. They will stay together on one line.

    If the letter has multiple pages, number them, i.e. .../2 at the bottom of page 1 and -2- (centred) , or Page 2, at the top of the next page, and so on.

    Eyeball the letter for appearance and proofread it for accuracy. Do not rely solely on Spell Check. If you say you have attachments, make sure they are there and indicate at the bottom of the letter that you have enclosures. Some organizations like you to list the attachments, i.e. Enclosure: 2008 Annual Report.

    If you are copying someone on the letter, make sure you send them a copy. If you are blind copying someone, make sure that name is not typed on the original letter, as the intent is that you do not want the person to know you are sending a copy to someone else.  [cc = courtesy copy; bcc = blind courtesy copy].
Well that is my brain dump for the weekend.  I hope you find it helpful. Next week I would like to talk about meeting planning and give you some scheduling tips that have worked well for me.

5 December 2009

Do you like what you do?

CONFUSCIUS SAID, “Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life.”  How true that is! Here are some ways I have found to enjoy what I do:

Make it a conversation. You are interviewing them too so ask questions. Take notes during the interview so you don’t forget what you wanted to ask. And realize you are not suited for every job or office. If you don’t get it, it wasn’t the right job for you or the right time. I have never regretted any of my employment situations. I keep looking forward to new experiences.

It may not be the perfect job, but you are employed.  I wrote an article awhile back called On the Outside Looking In.  I went through a time of looking for a job and it seemed I wasn't getting anywhere.  Finally I landed a job and have been working ever since, but I still recall that time of not working. 

Respect your boss as a person, but also for the position they hold. It is much better, and we will be happier, if we work well together and that starts with respect and loyalty. The assistant/boss relationship certainly is one of the closest working relationships with some comparing it to that of a work wife.

and find out early on who you can go to and trust. I have a network of assistants that I call friends, although some are just phone colleagues, but we help each other. We are not an island. It works better if you have a whole pool of resources with different strengths to call upon. Makes your work life much easier...

Last year I took a questionnaire to see what my strengths were. When the results were in, I met with the person who administered it and one of the things it showed, other than the fact that I ranked very high in administration, was that I work best on short-term projects where I can see the end in sight. I had never thought about it before, but it was true, I like to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I’ve been able to plan and complete a project successfully. I will have all kinds of energy to work on a project if I know it is ending at one point. But if it is a job that goes on and on with nothing to show for it I get bored. This is an important thing to know. If you know what works best for you and if your job is 80/20 on what you like then you can put up with the small stuff like filing and filling out expense forms.

We do spend more time at work than at home, but we should try to keep a balance and when we go home, we should be in home mode and when we take holidays, stay away from work (remotely or physically).

21 November 2009

The Little Engine That Could...

Have you ever heard of negative and positive self talk? I just recently read an article on it and was surprised when I really paid attention to the messages I was sending myself that some of them were negative.

I know so many people who are great at what they do, but when I hear them talk about themselves they are very negative and keep telling me how they can't do it. When I look at them however, I see someone who really knows their job and I know they could do it if only they would forget about what they can’t do and concentrate on what they can do. I know that is easier said than done because low self esteem may be the roadblock. I found this link to the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale which has some questions we can ask ourselves to see where we are on the self esteem scale.

I wrote an article awhile back called Just Say Yes and in it I wrote that when I was in my 40s I decided to say Yes to things that I really wanted to do, but was letting fear stop me from trying. When someone asked me to speak or do something at work, I would say "Oh, I could never do that!" But when I turned 40 I told myself that I would regret not doing it if I didn't try and what was the worst thing that could happen anyway? So I started to say Yes and it was a real confidence booster. I started telling myself more positive messages and it empowered me to try. It also helps that I have had three really great bosses in the last decade who have encouraged me and helped me to see that I really could do it. They could see something in me, that I couldn't.

The next time a new challenge or opportunity comes up at work, pay attention to what you tell yourself -- are you being positive or negative? The little messages we send ourselves each day can have an impact on what we think about ourselves and how we perform in our jobs. If you keep telling yourself you can't do it, then of course you won't be able to, but if you say I don't know if I can, but I am going to try anyway, or I know I can do that because it was what I was trained for and then go ahead and do it, it will open all kinds of doors for you. (Or it also may be that you have negative people around you who do not help you to see the best that you can be, perhaps you need to have a heart to heart with your friends or find new ones).

Don’t let self doubt take over. Once you start doubting yourself, it is hard to bring yourself back up. Think about your strengths, not your weaknesses. I think everyone feels insecure at one time or another, but I find you can't let insecurity get the best of you. This is the time you need a lot of positive self talk. Ask your network of assistants for their opinion and feedback and then believe them!

I recently was at a friend’s place and her husband has an elaborate train set. He has the village all set up with the tracks running in and around it.  As I was looking at them, I was reminded of the story about the little engine that could. What a great story of encouragement to keep trying and not give up. Let’s take a lesson from that little engine...”I think I can, I think I can.” Now that’s positive self talk...

8 November 2009

Preparing your boss for meetings away from the office or at home

I had a good tip from my boss that I have used to help me prepare him for meetings whether they are away  or at home. He advised that I ask myself the following question for any meeting he is asked to attend:

What would I need if I was going to the meeting?

From that initial question, I have developed questions I ask myself before I schedule meetings for my boss that I thought I would pass on in case it would be useful to some of my readers:

1. What is the purpose of the meeting?

2. Does your boss need to be at the meeting? Can someone go in his or her place if they are not available?

3. What dates and times does he or she have available (keeping in mind time zones for away meetings)?

4. If the meeting is accepted -- What does your boss need for the meeting and who will be in attendance?

  • Secure the date and time in his or her calendar, taking into consideration travel time if outside the office.
  • State the purpose of the meeting in the calendar appointment as well as who will be at the meeting (i.e. Meeting with Mr. Brown and Ms. Smith to discuss strategies for upcoming marketing conference).
  • Follow up with the meeting organizer to request agenda and/or meeting materials, pre-reading, etc.
  • Where is the meeting being held?
  • If it is an internal meeting, has a meeting space been booked? Do you need to book it or were you provided with location. Enter it in calendar.
  • If it is an external meeting, but local, enter location of meeting in calendar, provide your boss with address and directions, contact phone number, taxi chit.
  • If outside the city, make travel arrangements: are flights required, train or will he or she be driving.  If flying, which is the best airport to fly into, is a hotel room required, is a map required for directions once they get there.  Provide a contact number.
  • Ensure that prior to the meeting you have received everything your boss will need, which may require follow up with meeting organizer.
  • Prepare a meeting package for your boss and bring forward prior to the meeting to give them adequate time to review (hardcopy or electronic depending on your boss’s preference).
If your boss calls the meeting...
If your boss has called the meeting then you need to find out when the meeting needs to be held by, who needs to be there, purpose of the meeting and what materials they will need. Once you have those details you can start the scheduling process to find a convenient time for everyone.

When the meeting date is secured, provide participants with location and time, purpose of meeting and ensure space is booked.

Depending on how formal the meeting is, you may need to draft an agenda for your boss’s review and forward to meeting participants in advance of the meeting.

7 November 2009

Too much information...

Some people like to talk. When they write an e-mail they do the same thing and instead of getting to the point they explain and explain and explain. Ugh! I feel I have to dig to find what is required of me. Too many times I have received one of these long e-mails only to miss the real purpose of the e-mail. One time my action item was hidden in a P.S. AFTER THE SIGNATURE LINE!

We can't control the e-mails we receive and sometimes they do require some digging on our part, but below are some things I try to do when communicating by e-mail to make it easier for the recipient:
  1. Consider your audienceE-mail is not meant for long conversation. It is a quick way to communicate and has changed the way we do business because of it's speed in getting a message across, but we are busy so don't abuse your co-workers' or business associates' time with lengthy e-mails. Also consider whether you really need to send the e-mail to the CEO or the President. Sending it to their assistant might be more appropriate. Just because you can, doesn't always mean you should.
  2. SalutationIt is easy to misunderstand the tone and intent of an e-mail message, so best to open with a friendly hello or hi. Without a salutation it can come across as a directive. I have received e-mails from people in Europe and they tend to be more formal and address me as "DearPatricia." I like it, but in North America I think that would be considered overly formal, so consider who you are sending to and where they are from.
  3. What is this about?A quick explanation will get you off to a good start. Something as simple as "Further to our conversation this morning," will let the reader know you are continuing the conversation and will allow them to recall your conversation and continue without much explanation.
  4. What do you want?Next, state the purpose of your e-mail. What are you e-mailing them about? Do you have a question or do you want to pass information along to the person. For example, "Further to our conversation this morning, attached is a template letter that should meet your needs."
  5. Does it require any further information or explanation?I love to write, as you have probably noticed in some of my blog articles, so I try to keep that in mind and keep my e-mails short, but sometimes you need a little more information. I may want to give a brief explanation after I have stated the purpose of my e-mail.
  6. Point being...If you have a few ideas or requests in your e-mail, it is best to set it out in point form so the person does not have to dig for it. For example, "Please send me the following information:
    - A photocopy of Ms. Robb's driver's license;
    - A completed application form; and
    - a cheque or money order in the amount of $10 made out to the Ministry of Heath."
  7. The End
    Depending on the purpose of the e-mail, I might end with, "I look forward to your reply" or a simple "Thank you." If I know the person, I usually type my name before the signature line, just to make it more personal.
That's all folks!

31 October 2009

A twelve step program to survive as an Admin

My grandson has started walking. He turned 1 year old on October 8th and shortly after that he just took off. He has a unique way of walking. He takes about 12 steps, squats and rejoices in his accomplishment, then he gets up and walks another 12 steps and squats again to repeat the process. He loves his newfound freedom and spends his days going back and forth from one end of the room to the other exploring as he goes.

I know the newness of it all will be gone soon and it will just be a normal thing that he is a little walker, but for now it is cute to see him learn this new skill. When I told my boss he said it must be my grandson's version of the 12 step program. I laughed, but started to think how the 12 step program has been such a help to so many people. There are 12 step programs for many groups designed to help people, so why not for us. I recently met with another administrative assistant and as we were discussing an upcoming admin conference, we started to talk about our role and how we are the do-all and go-to position in our offices. How do we keep it all together? I wrote what I thought would be a good 12 step program for our profession:
  1. Be clear on what your role and responsibilities are and if you have questions about your job, ask to get clarification.
  2. Respect your boss as a person, but also because of his or her position in the orgranization.
  3. Make a decision to listen to and hear what your boss has to say.
  4. Regularly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Admit your mistakes and try to learn from them.
  6. Schedule meetings with your boss regularly, but at the very least annually, to identify areas that need improvement and also for encouragement in areas you are doing well.
  7. Come up with a plan on how you are going to improve in the areas you identified as needing improvement.
  8. Treat your co-workers with respect.
  9. If you have treated anyone unfairly, take the time to apologize and try to make things right.
  10. Accept that you can't do everything yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help and guidance from others.
  11. Maintain a good work/life balance.
  12. Review these steps regularly and practice them in your day-to-day work life.

11 October 2009

That is not in my job description...

We have all heard it from our colleagues at one time or another when they do not feel a certain job is their responsibility. And sometimes it isn’t, but from my experience if you read an administrative or executive assistant job description there is usually a phrase something like this, “providing administrative support.” But what does it mean exactly and does that include everything?

Providing administrative support is a big statement and can be anything from arranging a meeting, making a reservation at a restaurant for a business luncheon, bringing items forward for action, following up for your boss, making travel arrangements, data entry, taking minutes, drafting letters, preparing correspondence for distribution, typing reports, proofreading documents, organizing a filing system, photocopying and assembling documents, faxing, scanning, organizing events, managing information lists and the duties can go on and be varied from office to office and from job to job. In my experience I have found that providing administrative support is whatever is needed to support your boss and make the office function efficiently.

What might be considered more than what your job description requires is running personal errands for your boss, but even then it depends on your working relationship with your boss and the requirements of the job. Some people hire a personal assistant to do everything for them. In that case personal errands would be part of the job. Many stars hire personal assistants who do everything from arranging dinner engagements and parties to bringing the children to daycare. That is why I suggest when you go to an interview you should ask questions and find out exactly what “providing administrative support” means. Most assistants however will know that their jobs can change from day to day depending on the need and personally that is what I like about it. I am not stuck in a job description box. At times I have been pushed to do something that I didn’t think I could do and found it was something I really enjoyed, such as minute taking.

Providing administrative support can even lead you to another area of work. I know of three administrative assistants who have taken on the challenges of doing different types of work within their admin role and it has led to a new career. One assistant was very good at technology and was always finding solutions to software problems. She very easily moved into the IT field and is very good at her job and her administrative background makes her a favourite among the other assistants because she knows what we are trying to accomplish and can help us get there. Another colleague worked in an accounting firm and volunteered to take on some small accounting jobs to get her feet wet. Her office encouraged her when they saw her knack for numbers and she pursued further education and is now a junior accountant. Another woman started as an executive assistant, moved into the communications field and became the director and now owns her own business.

Whatever you are doing as an administrative assistant, don’t be afraid to try new things and expand your knowledge. I find that generally administrative assistants are good in a lot of different areas and are in a unique position of being in a close working relationship with management that could open doors to new work experiences and better overall job satisfaction.

There are some assistants however who enjoy the organizing and the business of being an administrative or executive assistant and they are good at their job and get great satisfaction in what they do. They don't want to change their career and that is all right too. A strong administrative assistant provides a solid backbone to any office and are the go-to people and provide a needed service.

Whichever way you decide to go, the possibilities are endless on what you can do, so don't get boxed into "that's not in my job description" or you could miss out on a satisfying job experience.

What if I have too much to do?
There is always the possibility that it is not that you don't want to try something new, but your plate is too full and you just can't take on anything else. This also can be a problem and should be handled with your boss.

I find making a list of everything you do and determining how much time you spend on each task can help you, but can also show your boss what your workload is and your capacity for taking on new tasks.

Prioriting your work can also help to show your boss what is the urgency to some of the work you are doing and what is getting left behind because of it.

It's all in how you handle it and how you present it to your boss. "It is not in my job description" comes across as whiney and it looks like you don't want to do your job. If you approach your boss in a professional manner with the problems clearly set out and possible solutions, it will come across much better.

6 October 2009

When you suspect a co-worker has a substance abuse problem...

A person I worked with had a problem with alcohol and the whole office knew about it except me. I can't smell so I didn't notice what the others did, but in a way that was a good thing. It seems as soon as we tag someone as having an alcohol problem, we don't seem to see anything else about the person, just the problem.

I sat next to her and worked with her for a few months so got to know her. I thought she had the potential to be a great assistant except for her low self esteem and she would put herself down when she made a mistake. I tried to encourage her, but she couldn't seem to see her own potential. One day she just up and quit. I was mentioning to some colleagues that it was too bad she left as she could have been good with some encouragement. They seemed surprised that I didn't know she had an alcohol problem because they told me you could smell the booze off her every day, but of course I hadn't noticed.

I know another assistant who is a recovering alcholic (I'm told you are never fully recovered) and she said I could share some of her thoughts below:

"There absolutely is a stigma still attached to being labeled an alcoholic or a recovering one.. it requires a firm culture that discusses recovery openly and strongly support it -both in action and written policy. This is usually a lot of "talk" in companies..but little real support for it... in my experience.

Most alcoholics are under the perception that no one notices and that they are very clever in hiding their drinking.. does the company have random drug testing.. ? This is one way to snag folks.. One of the biggest issues surrounding substance abuse in the workplace are the lies required to keep up the front that everything is ok. It impacts memory, ability to focus and TRUST. Co workers and employers will eventually stop trusting your word and believe your ability to complete the job and work with others... I am not sure about tell tale signs.. One for sure.. is tremors in the morning.. if their hands shake and they usually do not rally much before 11am.. but some alcoholics are VERY functional.. One item I've noticed is mood swings...

I guess from a personal perspective.. my advice when you suspect a co-worker has a problem with drug or alcohol is to alert HR...but have some specific examples available. Their supervisor should be noting if they are late often or have too many sick days. If I felt really compelled to talk to them.. my approach would be.. something along the lines of.. "You seem like you have a lot on your mind lately and seem kind of distracted.. is there anything I can help with.. ?" Or, if they put you DIRECTLY in a dangerous position because of their drinking/drugging- as in they come to pick you up for a meeting drunk- you absolutely can confront them then.....

As a recovering alcoholic myself.. I feel comfortable asking people if they are ok..because I've been in recovery a long time..and my anonymity is not as vital to me as helping others.. but that is an individual choice. Usually recovering addicts or alcoholics can sense a peer within their firm.. but really it does become the responsibility of HR and the firm to handle the issue with the employee.. and hopefully, they have supportive procedures and policies in place to help them..."

My father was an alcoholic and I now work for a not-for-profit that does research into substance abuse issues so I hear and read a lot about it, but I am certainly not an expert.  My purpose in posting this article is to bring this topic up for anyone who is strugging with this problem or knows of someone who is. http://www.peacehealth.org/kbase/topic/symptom/alcpb/overview.htm

4 October 2009

Confessions of a Micro-Manager

Who would want to work for a micro-manager? Someone who is on your back for every little thing. Did you do this? Did you do that? And always checking up on you. Working under those conditions would make anyone nervous and question whether you are the problem and maybe you just can't do the job. Here are some reasons I think managers can get possessive:
  1. I'm not sure I can trust you. Your boss has to trust that you will be able to get the job done in order to reliquish some of their control.
  2. Do you know what you are doing? A manager has to have confidence that you know how to do your job. If they don't, they will hover until they are sure.
  3. This is the way that it is done. Some managers like to have things done their way and if you don't do it their way, they think you are doing it wrong.
I never wanted to be a manager. I had been for a short time years ago and thought it was just something I was not very good at, but years later, I became a manager again. I was nervous about it because I didn't think it was something I did well. I also worked by myself for many years and wondered if I would know how to share.

So how did I handle it the second time around? I admit it -- I micro managed and for many of the reasons I mentioned above. I just did not have confidence that this person was going to be able to assist me. You have to have the right fit in a job to make it work. I don't think it is wrong for a manager to ask themselves some of the things I noted above, but I think the answer lies in how you handle it.

Some managers don't want to deal with the situation so they let it go on and continue to micro manage, but that doesn't help anyone. You are not doing the person who is working with you a favour if you don't deal with it because perhaps they would work better with someone else or in another position. You are not doing yourself a favour because believe me, being a micro manager is hard work. You feel you have to do everything yourself and you can easily burn out. The best situation is if you work together as a team, but how can you get there?

If you are a micro-manager, ask yourself if there are areas you are trying to hold on to that could easily be given to someone else and then try giving over a few duties. It might seem hard at first and you can put some task reminders in Outlook to help you keep track of what needs to be done, but once you see the job is completed, try to give a few more things away. You will see it makes your work life much easier.

Hire smart! Make the interview count and ask the right questions. Ask yourself what things really matter to you and ask questions to bring those things up in the interview. It is good to get expectations out right away and then the person applying for the job will know what is going to be required of them and evaluate if they think they can do the job.

Here are some things an assistant can do to help their boss have more confidence in them:
  1. Repeat back what your boss asked you to do so they know you understand the request and ask questions if you don't. You should never be afraid to ask questions. I always appreciate it when people ask me questions because it reassures me that the person is on the same page as me when we have had a chance to discuss it.
  2. Have a pen and paper handy and write the task down. I always have more confidence something will get done when I see it being written down.
  3. Once you have completed a task, send your boss a quick e-mail to let them know you have done it or cc them on your email. It might seem unnecessary to you at first, but in the long run will help the situation. It saves your boss asking if you got it done and in time they will not ask because they will just know you have handled it.
  4. Take initiative and do some tasks that you know need to get done. Show your boss that you want to contribute to their success and to the organization.
Your boss may dislike being a micro manager as much as you hate working for one. It's worth trying to work it out. Since I've been on both sides, I thought I would share.

20 September 2009

The Advertising Game

Advertising is effective thats for sure. How many of us ask for a Kleenex rather than a tissue or call our MP3 player an iPod? We are bombarded with advertising at home and at work, but what works and what doesn't? Here is my list:


It is annoying to get telemarketing calls at home, but I have even had them call me at work. I recently met a telemarketer on a bus when I was in Atlanta. When I found out what she did for a living, the first question I asked her was how does she handle the rejection. She said that out of 100 calls she probably gets one or two sales. So why do companies continue to do it? What a great way to lose customers -- annoy them, but they must be making some money at it or they wouldn't continue to do it. Telemarketing is my number one annoyance in advertising and as soon as I answer the phone and get that few seconds of dead air, that is my queue to hang up.

Fax Blasts

I remember someone from my IAAP Chapter asked me to fax the notice of our Chapter dinner to a list of about 60 companies to promote it. I refused because I didn't see it as an effective way of reaching out to other assistants and/or businesses. I don't know about you, but when I get these "flyer" type faxes, they go immediately in the recycle bin. I don't like them because it is a waste of paper, it clutters up the fax tray and becomes another job I have to do to separate the legitimate faxes from the unsolicited faxes or they are addressed to someone who no longer works there or to nobody in particular. To me this shows me the company has not done their homework on updating their contacts and are not considering the environment.

E-Mail Blasts

I don't mind receiving e-mail updates from companies where I have subscribed to their website or blog. It is usually a business I am interested in and I want to know when new courses or products are offered. If I find my Inbox is getting too cluttered and I am not reading the e-mails from these companies, I simply unsubscribe.

I had an experience where I unsubscribed and then received an e-mail back from the website owner asking me why I was unsubscribing. It took me by surprise because normally I unsubscribe with no feedback from the website. I answered back that I just didn't have an interest in the e-mails at this time and received a further e-mail asking me if there was something they could do so I would subscribe again. This was starting to get annoying. After the third e-mail back and forth I finally just told the person I was not interested and to please stop e-mailing me. I understand a company would be interested in knowing why people unsubscribe so they can improve their business, but a quick voluntary survey back would have been more appropriate. On my blog if someone unsubscribes I am notified by e-mail that they have unsubscribed and they are given a few choices as to why. Nine times out of ten the reason is "Other or will not disclose," which is a perfectly legitimate reason and I think people should be respected and not bothered.

Television ads

I remember being in a grocery store and a young child said to their mother, "Mommy, I want the margarine where I get a crown on my head." I know I am dating myself with this ad, but advertising does influence our decisions on what we purchase. Although, nowadays we have the option to fast forward through the commercials so they are having to come up with more creative ads to keep our attention and you must admit, some are pretty funny.

Going, going, gone...

I still get some flyers by regular mail and I do still appreciate them when it is a menu from a fast-food restaurant, money-back coupons or notices of courses in my area, but otherwise I throw them in the recycle bin.

In anyone home?

When I e-mail a company I like to hear back right away so I know the website is still active. Normally I receive an automated message saying that someone will get back to me within one business day and that is acceptable. There are so many companies to choose from that you really need to hear back in a reasonable amount of time or you just move on to to next one. Once I have a company that I know I can rely on, I put them in my Favourites and then continue to use them.

Give me something and I will look further

In the past companies used to promise you the world, but when you would click on their ad, they didn't really tell you anything except to say, pay a certain amount of money and then you will get the answer. I want to know that I can trust the company first. If I read an article from a company with good tips and things that I can use and they have their weblink attached, I will normally check out what else they have to offer and will feel more comfortable buying their product or service because they have already proven to me that they have expertise in that area.

An offer of "free products" will interest me, especially if it is a new product because I want to try it out before buying it. I don't particularly like trial offers because then I normally have to do something after 30 days: either send it back or go on the website to decline the offer. Recently I was offered a free upgrade from my cable provider and it was easy, after 30 days if I didn't want it, it would automatically expire. If I did want it, then they sent me an e-mail reminder asking me if I wanted to sign up. It was easy and I got the benefit of trying the service before signing up.

Make it simple

I like things simple! Perhaps it is my age, but I like to go on a site, get what I want and then get off again. I think it is because there is just so much to do in a day that I don't want to spend too much time on a website. Many times I have ordered products and then have had to abandon my order because it just got too complicated and I wasn't sure how to get back to my order. If a company wanted to monitor anything, I would suggest monitoring when an order is abandoned. Is there something about the website that could be improved to make it easier to make a sale?

I'm a people person

The first place I go on a website is the Contact Us link. I want to know that there will be a person I can speak to if I can't complete the order myself or if I have questions after the purchase. When I booked tickets on my recent trip to Birmingham, it was becoming evident that I would not receive my tickets before I left on holidays. Thankfully, there was a 1-877 number and I called and arranged to have the tickets delivered to my hotel instead. It was nice to have the immediate contact.

18 September 2009

Atlanta, Georgia: The City that Smiles

I recently arrived in Atlanta, Georgia to attend OfficeArrow's Lift Summit on Social Media. It was an amazing conference. If you have never heard of OfficeArrow I would recommend you check them out. They are a team of office professionals for office professionals. Whoever had the idea to put the templates on their site should pat themselves on the back. Once you log on click on the tab Productivity and you will see on the right Templates. Click on that and you will find a wealth of templates from a resume, cover letter, minutes, agenda and many others. I believe someone mentioned there were almost 500 to choose from.

I am now leaving Atlanta to travel to Birmingham and the impression I am left with is I have never been in a city that smiles so much. Everywhere I went people have been smiling and so helpful. From the young cadet who waited while I got my subway pass and directed me to the downtown core, to the man who recommended the High Museum and Atlanta Aquarium and gave me directions on how to get there.

I followed their advice and saw both and I must agree they were a delight to visit. I especially enjoyed the Renaissance Art exhibit at the High Museum. It was amazing to see paintings that were done in the 1600 hundreds with images of people so vibrant they looked like they could jump off the canvass. Quite remarkable.

The Aquarium that houses the whale sharks was spectacular with huge stingrays, sharks and scuba divers in the midst of it. Yes, I did say scuba divers! I was told that for a mere $250 you could have the privilege of swimming among these giants. Yikes! Better them than me, but it was very neat to watch.

Now I am off to Birmingham, Alabama home of Taylor Hicks. I am looking forward to his concert on the 25th, but until then I will be relaxing at my hotel beside the pool and taking one day to visit Nashville -- Hee Haw! I can hardly wait.

7 September 2009

We live in an Acronym Happy World...

Does anyone even know what CNN stands for? I don't! It has become such a common initialism that it is recognized immediately and everyone knows what it is. And who bothers writing out the words e-mail, TV, ASAP or FYI when everyone will know what you mean anyway?

I recently received an e-newsletter from Jane Watson regarding Acronyms and Initialisms, which I thought was timely and wanted to share with you. Each organization we work for will have their own acronyms that we have to get familiar with fairly quickly if you want to know what they are talking about. Depending on how acronym happy your office is, it can be like learning a new language. Just when I think I am starting to understand my new office's language they throw in a new one that I have never heard of before. Back to the drawing board...

Coming from a legal background, we were always taught if you are using an acronym or initialism in writing, on the first use you should spell it out and then put the acronym in brackets, which makes a lot of sense and saves a lot of head scratching and searching the document to figure out what the person is referring to. After the first use, then you can feel free to use the acronym throughout the document.

We do get used to our acronyms however and they become words to us and sometimes forget that others may not understand. Take for instance on my first day in my new job, these were the acronyms that were being tossed about in conversations at a meeting where I was taking minutes: DOCAS, DRE, LHINS, NAGWD, OCRI and DAC to name a few and these of course are all pronounced as words. I didn't have a clue what they were talking about and at first thought I had landed on another planet. Not to mention the initialisms such as CIHR, ORCC, OHRI and even in the news WHO, H1N1 and SARS. It can get confusing.

I appreciated Ms. Watson's distinction between acronyms and initialisms. It certainly made it clearer to me. Speaking of initialisms, have you noticed that in many offices, in the e-mail salutation, they refer to people either by their first initial or first and last initial, i.e. Hi P or Hi PR. I refuse to use it because it makes e-mail even more impersonal than it already is and as a new person, sometimes it is hard to figure out who C is if they are only referred to in a sentence. Ugh!

I suppose we better get used to it as it seems to be a trend and start to learn the language of acronyms and initialisms. In our own correspondence however, try to use the person's first name in an e-mail and in a letter consider your audience and spell out your shortforms on the first use. It will make life easier on the receiving end as the end goal of speaking and writing is still to be understood by our audience.

29 August 2009

Managing your Boss's Inbox

Nowadays our bosses are busy almost 24/7 and in order to cope they need our help managing their e-mail account. This in turn makes us very busy as well. I can hardly keep up with my own e-mails at times let alone someone else's account, but that is part of my job.

Having access to your boss's e-mail account is a big responsibility and keeping things confidential is very important. It is a trust we have been given and shouldn't be abused or shared with anyone. This is particularly important given the ease in which we can share information on social networking sites.  If you don't keep it confidential, you won't be keeping your job very long.

Below are some things I try to do to carry out the management of my boss's e-mail account:

  • Meet with your executive and get on the same page on what they are expecting you to accomplish when going through their e-mail account. Do they want you to monitor their Inbox and bring urgent things to their attention or do they want you to take control of it? Be very clear on what is expected of you.
  • Read the e-mails! It is worth every minute that you spend to read the e-mails quickly, but thoroughly. Get familiar with the issues discussed. My boss expects me to not only read his e-mails, but to open and read the attachments as well. Many times I need to proof text and comment with my thoughts before he even looks at it. Of course my comments are limited because the subject matter is not my expertise, but he relies on my input and corrections to make the document look good.
  • If you are the minute-taker for meetings, you will be better prepared to take the minutes and use the correct terms in the right context because you will actually know what they are talking about.
  • I also find that when someone calls for my boss, I know what they are looking for and can assist them better. Although, I must say I rarely get telephone calls anymore -- everything comes in the e-mail!
  • Flag items that are urgent or print them for their attention and action. If there are any deadlines or appointments, put them in your boss’s calendar or task list with appropriate reminders. You don't want them to be surprised to find out they have a speaking engagement and haven't had time to prepare.
  • You may need to reply to e-mails on your boss’s behalf to let the person know that someone is looking into it and will get back to them. Speak to your IT Department. If you have the proper access to your boss’s e-mail account you can reply on their behalf and it will appear in the From line. For example, Patricia Robb on behalf of [boss’s name].
  • Get any files they may need as a result of the e-mail correspondence.
  • Check with your boss and if agreed, unsubscribe from any unnecessary e-mails that may be cluttering their Inbox or create subfolders and drag and drop these e-mails there for your boss to check when he or she has the time to review them. Your role may be just to unclutter their Inbox so they can better manage the important items.
If you pay attention to what is going on in their Inbox, you will not be taken by surprise when things come up. But don't stop there, I check the Sent and Deleted items too. You will not believe how many e-mails I have found in the Deleted items that I needed to take action on. Or in the Sent items and my boss wrote, "I have copied my assistant, Patricia," but he forgot to copy me.

Questions to ask yourself when reading your boss's e-mails
  1. Is there an action for me to take?
  2. Is this something I need to diarize or bring-forward at a later date?
  3. Is this something he or she will need and does it have to be printed for a meeting?
  4. Does it raise a question for you to follow up with your boss? For instance, "Are you really going to London in February -- do you recall that we have our AGM meeting on those dates and you are the Chair?"
  5. If my boss cc's me on an e-mail, I know he particularly wants me to pay attention. I always ask myself why did he copy me and what is it that he wants me to do and then look for the answer in the e-mail. Do I have to make a reservation, book a boardroom, call someone or bring something forward? He is copying me for some reason, but sometimes it is just to keep me in the loop, but if you read it, that will be evident and if not, ask.
  6. Is this something that I can Delete to unclutter his Inbox?  Some emails are obviously junk.  For instance I just received an email from a lawyer who said he has an inheritance of $4 million, but he needs me to send him some money and once he receives it, he will send me the money.  DELETE!
Keep communication open
Because I read his e-mails, I find it especially important to have regular one-on-one meetings with him to ask any questions about any of the information I am not sure about and to get clarification on any action I need to take. He can tell I've been reading because when we are discussing a matter, we are both on the same page. That is when I know I am doing a good job in the e-mail department.

Schedule a time to troll
My boss calls it trolling when I go through his e-mail account and that is a good way to describe it. I could be in there every minute of the day if I let myself, but that would not be a good use of my time. Find a time that works for you to check your boss's e-mail account.

I like to check it first thing in the morning and just before I go home at the end of the day. If I am waiting for something, I will check it mid-day, but I definitely feel out of the loop if I don't check it at all, so schedule a time and make it a regular part of your day.

Some things are private
Even though we have been given access, some e-mails are private. My boss told me when I first started working for him that e-mails with his wife and family are private and I skip right over them. Actually, I have too much to do with my own e-mails and his to want to read something that I don't have to. If your boss does want some e-mails to remain private, he or she can set their delegation settings to not let the delegate see private items, then they can send messages, set appointments and receive messages marked private and the assistant will not be able to see them.

Having worked in law firms for many years, it was always understood by staff that it was not our personal e-mail account, but rather the firm's account that we were using to do our jobs. Don't think of your e-mail account as yours, because it isn't. It is owned by the company and should be used for work. That is not to say you cannot have personal communications, but be aware someone could be watching. In my boss's case it's me, but you just never know who is checking, so keep it business as much as possible.

Last but not least...
Don't forget to check your boss's junk folder.  I found a few important emails that way as they had gone to the junk folder, but were in fact from legitimate senders.  I check it once a day.

Happy trolling!

23 August 2009

Nice ways to say, "Hurry up!"

I hate waiting! Sometimes I need to do a job, but I can’t move forward until I get an answer from someone else. For instance, waiting for a meeting participant to choose a date, waiting for someone to order something that I need to do my job, waiting for someone to call me back, waiting for someone to get back from holidays and then to top it off they don’t put their out-of-office assistant on so you have no idea why they haven't gotten back to you. A co-worker once commented that I was like a dog going after a bone when I wanted information -- she said it as a joke, but it's true!

So how do you word your follow-up e-mail so as not to come across as impatient? I use the following phrases that seem to get the message across, but in a more gentle way than screaming:

  • I am following up on my e-mail of…
  • I look forward to hearing from you regarding my e-mail of …
  • I have not heard back from you regarding my request for...

It is OK to follow up, but be nice...people have a lot on their plate and your request is probably not the only thing they have to do, so be understanding, but be persistent. While waiting for the answer, you can go on to other tasks and bring this item forward another day to get it off your desk, but don’t let it go off your radar. Put it in your Outlook Tasks with a reminder to follow up.

16 August 2009

Warning! Warning! Incoming text message...

There used to be a t.v. show called Lost in Space. The space crew had a robot that waved it's mechanical arms and yelled, "Warning, Warning, alien approaching" or such other thing to protect and inform the crew. Sometimes I wish I had something to warn me when I am with someone with a cell phone so I can know that we are going to be interrupted. I find it frustrating when people either text while in a conversation or are constantly taking phone calls. Doesn't it make you feel as if you are not important?

But isn't it rude to interrupt?

Apparently not, when it's by phone... A person I know does this all the time. I am sure it is not intentional. She just thinks she has to answer her cell phone every time it rings.

My boss, like most bosses these days, is very tied to his BlackBerry and if we are having a meeting and his phone rings, he just can't help but look and see who it is. At least in his case if he has to answer it he will ask if I mind if he takes the call. Other times we will be talking and I notice his eyes moving to his BlackBerry and I will see he is no longer paying attention to me, but reading emails instead. I usually snap my fingers and say "Hey, over here!" We joke about it, but it is distracting.

Here is some common-sense etiquette:
  1. Screen your calls: Subscribe to call display. If you are a parent and want to take calls from your children, you will be able to see who is calling. And please tell your children only to call in case of an emergency, not just because little Johnny won't let Susy have the t.v. remote!
  2. Take it later: Subscribe to voicemail, then if you are in a conversation with someone and your phone rings, you can check your messages at a more convenient time. Nothing says we have to be available 24/7.
  3. Silence is golden: Try setting your phone to vibrate, then just get in the habit of regularly checking your messages. Yes, believe it or not the world will not fall apart if you don't take a call.
  4. Don't be rude: If you feel you must take the call, excuse yourself, but make the call short and tell the person that you are with someone right now, but will call them back when you have a moment. At least you are letting the person you are with know they are important.
  5. Don't text and talk: Texting can give the feeling of talking behind your back. At least with a phone call you hear one side of the conversation, but with a text you have no idea what the person is writing. For instance my friend could have been texting, "I am at a very boring lunch right now, please rescue me and say I am needed at home!"
  6. Smile you are on candid camera: Just because you can take a picture with your phone, doesn't mean you should. Always get the person's permission and never post someone else's photo on a social networking site such as Facebook without asking the person first.
  7. Things are not always as they appear. As I was watching a man on the bus talking on his hands-free cell phone, I couldn't help but be amused. An elderly woman was watching him out of the corner of her eye and you could tell she thought he had some mental issues. I had to admit, it did look pretty funny as he was very animated as he spoke.

In an emergency, the cell phone is a useful tool. How many times in the past ten years has help been on the way sooner because of a cell-phone call ? There is a good purpose for them and they are definitely useful in a business setting. However, I think our etiquette hasn't caught up with the technology. The next time your phone rings, ask yourself if the time and place is right to answer it.

8 August 2009

It's all in how you feel

Remember when you were younger and got a new pair of running shoes? I do! When I put those new runners on I felt I could run faster than I've ever run before.

School will be back in full swing soon. I recall the first day of school feeling so smart in my new clothes as I proudly walked to meet my friends. I was eager to open my brand new book bag and get my pencil and write the first words in my new scribbler. You can be sure my writing was neat with no spelling mistakes in those first few days.

What about when you go to the hairdresser and they work their magic and you come out of there with your hair all shiny and bouncy. I love it when I can feel my hair bouncing as I walk and for a brief moment I feel like a model.

Sometimes it is all in how you feel isn't it?

It can be that way in your professional life as well. How you present yourself and what you wear to the office can help how you feel about what you are doing. If you are in a smart suit with appropriate shoes and hair done, you feel professional and act and speak accordingly. It puts you in the right frame of mind for what you are doing and then you can get down to business.

The same applies if you have a job interview or a new challenge at work. Buying a new outfit or wearing a freshly dry-cleaned suit will go a long way to increasing your confidence level. Of course you have to be prepared and know your stuff, but knowing you look good when you walk in the door will do wonders on how you present yourself.

What about your work space? Is it neat and tidy? Is everything organized and in the proper place so when you need it you can just grab it? Sometimes the state of my office reflects how I feel and how I do my job.

I feel buried and out of control if my office is not tidy and I don't like working in those conditions. It is hectic enough without my space looking hectic as well. Why not take the time to tidy up a bit. Clear your desk as best you can. Keep things orderly. Buy a plant to add some life and colour to your office. Make it a comfortable work area to free you up to do your job well.

The next time you have a big task at work or a new opportunity that is exciting but a bit frightening too, it might be time to wipe down your desk and go out and buy that new suit and walk in and wow the socks off everyone.

29 July 2009

Monty Python Officeland

One of my former bosses said working with me was like being in a Monty Python movie... My current boss says we get along like a house on fire. With references like these how can I lose?

It's not that I'm funny, because I'm not, but I find a lot of things funny. Both of these positions were in the busiest offices I have ever worked in, but when the going gets tough, humour seems to abound!

Humour is a powerful stress reliever if done in good taste, but timing is everything. I think because I am over 50 I am not afraid what people think as much as I did when I was younger. I actually have fun at work, but I work hard and consider myself a professional. Really?

Even though I don't consider myself funny, funny things seem to happen to me. For instance, I went to the gym after work on a Friday evening, worked out and went back to the office to get my purse. I always take my gym laundry home on Friday to wash over the weekend so on Monday morning I was madly trying to find them while trying to get out the door on time. Did I not bring them home? Where were they? I left for work thinking perhaps I had left it in my gym bag at work. When I walked into the office and got to my desk, there they were -- on my desk with my bra sitting right on top of the bundle. Ugh!

Since I got in at 9 and my boss was in an hour before me, I knew he had probably seen it already so decided to suck it up and just go in and ask him. In between spurts of laughter, he said that he hadn't been to my desk yet, but I should go and see the junior lawyer because he had asked him to put a letter on my desk earlier. I left his office to the sound of his chuckles behind me. What a start to a Monday morning...

Proofing documents can also be funny. My former boss prided himself on being self sufficient and liked to type his own letters. I thought it was wonderful until I read one. He relied totally on spell check so you can imagine what typos were missed. He was a lawyer and in this particular letter he was writing to a prospective client. He wrote in one sentence that he had "expensive experience" instead of "extensive" and in another wrote "tits" instead of "its." Good thing I checked... I wonder what kind of service the client would have thought he was offering???

While walking from the bus stop to my office building one morning, I noticed a woman in front of me with a coat hanger on the back of her coat. It was hooked to her belt loop. She obviously didn't realize it was there, but I was wondering to myself how she could have sat on the bus and not noticed. I thought somebody ought to tell her, so I caught up to her and it turned out to be someone from my own office. She thought I was joking, but to humour me she reached back and with a look of surprise and dismay slowly brought out the metal coat hanger. It was a fun way to start the day and when the people at the office got wind of the story, we had a great time laughing with her about it.

When I was working as a hairdresser, I noticed one of the other hairdressers going to the counter to greet a customer. I was expecting my next customer so I knew it could be him. After taking his name and asking him to have a seat, my co-worker called out to me, "Pat, your John is here." You could have heard a pin drop as all the customers turned to look at me.

You see, working can be fun. Happy working everyone!

26 July 2009

Frustration Busters!

It is sometimes hard to determine what needs to be taught or shared because what I might take for granted as basic, others may not know. We as assistants probably know a little bit of this and a little bit of that because we work with so many programs and in some programs we know a whole lot because we use it regularly, such as Word and Outlook.

Recently I was working with someone on an Excel document. They sent an e-mail wondering if any of the assistants could help them export a document from Excel to Word. Sometimes I find a simple procedure can be made more complicated than it really is so responded that a cut and paste from Excel to Word should do the trick. It worked and through explaining the process to her I added a column at the end of the table in Word by tabbing over, which automatically creates a new row. She was amazed. All this time she had been right clicking and choosing Insert row each time she needed another row. She did not know how simple it could be by just tabbing. She wanted me to show her other tips and thought I really should do a lunch and learn on these shortcuts. But how do you know what you don't know? What is simple to me, may not be to others, so I decided a blog article on things I have picked up in the various programs may be helpful to somebody out there and it was worth sharing. With new technology I think we are all overwhelmed at times as to how to make certain things work and it can be frustrating.

These instructions are for Word 2007, but lower versions of Word are usually comparable or easily figured out from these instructions.


To make a return within the cell without going to the next row. Press Alt Enter to go to the next line within the row.

To make changes in a cell. I had a lawyer ask me this one once so I know some people don't know how this is done. Double click on the cell and you will then be able to make any changes to the content.

To do a word wrap in a cell. Click on the cell, On the Home Tab choose Format (on the far right), arrow down and click on the tab Alignment. Click on Word Wrap and then press OK.

If your cell height is too short and you can't see all the words. Click on Format, Row height and a dialoge box will open. Put in a higher number and press OK.

To repeat a header row on each page. On the Page Layout Tab click on arrow to open at bottom right. Choose the Sheet tab. On Rows to Repeat choose the line and row that you want to repeat i.e. A1:J3 (or highlight row you want repeated). Unlike Word you will only see the header repeated when you do a print preview or print the document.


To open a new task and include an e-mail in the comments section. Simply drag and drop your e-mail on Tasks and a new task will open with the e-mail message in the body (if the e-mail has attachments these will not be in the body). If you want to attach the e-mail with attachments, in your Task, click on the Insert Tab, choose Attach Item and you will then be able to choose the e-mail you want attached and the whole e-mail with attachments will appear as an icon in the body of the Task. On the right, make sure Attachments is clicked. Or if you want to attach a file, choose Attach File. I always set reminders on my tasks.


Tab within a table cell without going to the next cell. If you press Ctrl. tab you will tab within the cell, if you click tab, you will go to the next cell.

To create a section break. If you want to start a new section, go to the Page Setup section and choose Page Layout, arrow down on Breaks choose the appropriate section break (Next Page is a good choice). If things are still continuing from previous section i.e. watermarks or page numbers, look in the Header and Footer and if it says Same as Previous toggle Link to Previous.

What to do if you remove your borders on a table and then can't see your gridlines on the screen. Click Design tab and choose the little icon for borders (this is also usually on the Home tab for convenience). Arrow down and at the bottom there is View Gridlines, click on that and it will change the default to View Gridlines in your document.

To automatically insert a new row at the end of a table. As I mentioned above, just tab over and a new row will be created.

Here is a link to a previous article that might be helpful with more tips.

Once I know how to do something, I write it down. It has saved me a lot of frustration on the job.

20 July 2009

I look like that!!

It is always weird for me to see myself on video. I can't believe I look and act like that.

I was in a workshop today on presentation skills and one of the things they had us do was present something to the group while they filmed us. I just finished watching the DVD they made of my presentation and came to the following conclusions:
  1. I should have started my diet six months ago rather than only last week;
  2. I will never wear a sleeveless dress again without a jacket;
  3. I really need to spend a little more time styling the back of my hair and not just the front.

Other than the reality check of the above three items, it was a great way to see how I project myself and how other people see me. If we could all see how we act with each other, I wonder if that would change the way we behave in the office.

At times I have wondered why a colleague has taken something I've said the wrong way or gotten a certain impression about me. Now I think I have a better understanding of what may have happened. Perhaps I had a look in my eye or my tone was sharp or any number of things in my mannerisms could have given the impression that I was angry or frustrated with them. Of course, the reason could have been that I was up all night with a sick child or wasn't feeling well myself or I just had an argument with my spouse and was still stewing about it. Sometimes the way we act with our colleagues has nothing at all to do with the situation at hand or with that person.

Now that I've seen myself on camera, I am going to be a little more mindful about how I might be perceived by my co-workers. I am also going to have a complete makeover, but that's another story...

11 July 2009

The importance of having someone to talk to

Recently, I met with a former colleague for an inpromptu lunch. It was very timely that we met because I had a lot of things on my mind that I needed to vent about and it turned out so did she. Sometimes we just need someone to be our sounding board and an outsider to the situation can often see things more clearly.

The admin profession lends itself to taking on new and sometimes challenging projects. If something needs to be done at the office that doesn't fit anyone else's job description, it is usually the assistant that is asked to do it because, well, we are the assistant and our position is not cast in stone. (In all honesty, that is what I like about the job, but sometimes it makes it a little difficult).

This is where an assistant network can come in handy. I often reach out to my network to get answers to problems that come up at the office or just to lend a sympathetic ear. Having the opportunity to hash it out with another assistant is a great resource. We can all help each other.

For instance, I found it challenging when I first started my new job. I had a big learning curve going into it and I didn't know any of the other assistants so I felt all alone with my challenges. I can tell you my friends and colleagues got a lot of phone calls in those early days and it was a wonderful resource and help to me.

Below are some things that I have found helpful to build my network:
  1. Join a professional association such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). IAAP is a group of assistants who get together and encourage each other in our jobs and careers. Sometimes I go to our dinner meetings and take polls at the table I am sitting at about some office procedure I am thinking of implementing and get their feedback on how they do things in their offices.
  2. Read professional magazines when you get the opportunity. IAAP has a magazine that comes with being a member called OfficePro and it has very useful articles. When I receive my copy, I circulate it to the assistants in my office for their information and reading. Another one I like is Administrative Assistant's Update, but there are others.
  3. Sign up to some interactive Admin Assistant sites such as OfficeArrow, Admin Secret and DeskDemon. They have discussion boards where assistants write their questions or concerns and assistants all over the country (and world) read it and if they have an answer, try to help. It is surprising how similar our situations are, no matter where we are from.
  4. When you leave a job, you don't have to leave your network behind. I am still in contact with people from many of the offices I have worked in over the years. It is nice to keep the connection for our mutual work benefit.

One of the reasons I like having outside networks is since they do not know the people or history about a particular work situation, they can look at it with a neutral eye. We do have to keep our company privacy in mind when sharing and never give specific details, but it is easy to give a general work situation and no one is the wiser as to who it is about and no company secrets are shared. The problem that sometimes occurs with sharing with current co-workers is it can turn into office gossip. Some situations however need to be kept in-house and only those who are involved would benefit from discussing it and understand what it was about. This is where a strong assistant team is nice to have. Since our positions are so similar, it is to each other's benefit to work together and help each other.

Perhaps, you are reading this and thinking some of these things can be a big time commitment. I understand! We do need to have a life outside of work so I find the best thing is to pick a few that work for you. Check out some of the sites and organizations and see which you would find to be most useful. Ask yourself if you have the time to go to a meeting once a month. Perhaps those with young families do not, so gear your outside activities to what you have time for and what you can afford.

The nice thing about on-line sites is for the most part they are free, but what they don't charge in fees they can take up in time, as many of us have experienced with sites such as Facebook. You can spend a lot of time in front of your computer.

Work life balance is always the best way to go, but if you need a hand or a listening ear, just reach out. There is help out there and it is usually closer than you think.

5 July 2009

Psst! I'm in a bad mood, pass it on...

I was at the cottage with a friend and she was cranky and started to get wound up about something to do with her husband. The longer she couldn't get in touch with him, the angrier she became. When she finally did reach him she started off really nice. "Hi, how are you?," she said sweetly. Then you could see it progressing downward from there. She had an agenda and was going to let him have it. By the end of the call her husband had caught her crankiness and it ended up with them both being angry.

What happened?
Crankiness and bad moods can be passed on. I am sure after that call her husband got off the phone and kicked the dog or was cranky with a sales clerk at the grocery store. I have been at the office in a perfectly good mood going about my business and getting a lot done. Someone comes in my office and starts in on me about something or other. At first I am taken aback, wondering what the heck happened, and then I get angry and because I couldn't get it off my chest with this person, the next person I meet will probably feel my crankiness and then they will wonder what happened and pass the bad mood on to the next person.

This happens with e-mail as well. The worst time to write an email is when you are angry. My boss calls these types of e-mails "crankograms." I am sure you know what I mean and have received them yourself and felt the sting of it. I wrote about it in an article called I got an e-slap on the wrist.

What can be done about it?
As I watched my friend get angry with her husband, I got a clearer view of what happened. (It is easier to see when you are on the outside looking in, rather than the one who is angry). She was frustrated. She couldn't get an answer so she slowly started to get worked up and by the time she reached him, she was already angry and he didn't have a hope. He reacted to her anger by being angry himself. Both of them probably didn't really know what they were angry about, but were each left with a bad feeling.

Same thing at the office. Your boss might have been sharp with you and you are wondering what you did wrong. You are frustrated and so the next person who crosses your path will probably feel the brunt of it. I think some good tips would be:
  1. Don't come up with your own conclusions without communicating with the person first. My friend assumed since she couldn't get in touch with her husband, he was ignoring her. It ended up that the phone lines were down because of a thunderstorm in town and he had been trying to reach her since early that afternoon.
  2. Never send an e-mail when you are angry. I often write the e-mail and get my frustration out and then send the e-mail to myself. When I open it, I get a better idea of how it will be received and often re-think what I write. Thank goodness the Internet was also down so my friend couldn't e-mail her frustration to her husband. It is always worse to have things in writing and harder to take back.
  3. I find talking it over with a friend can be a good way to organize your thoughts. Once my friend had calmed down we started talking about it and she realized she had jumped to conclusions and shouldn't have reacted as she did. She ended up calling her husband back and apologizing for her bad mood. The good thing about apologizing is even though a bad mood was passed along, saying you are sorry goes a long way to making things right. (I wouldn't recommend talking about a co-worker with someone at the office or it ends up being gossip and spreads a bad feeling about that person. Talking to a third party who is totally uninvolved is much better.)

The bottom line is to think before communicating, but do communicate. And remember, bad moods can be passed along so stop and ask yourself if that is what you really want to do.

27 June 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the office...

I have been asked to speak in December and I am supposed to be funny. How do you plan to be funny in December? With me it is a hit and miss sort of thing and sometimes I am funny, sometimes I am melancholy. How do comedians do it?

I went to a writing workshop and the woman who was presenting said that comedians are only as funny as their writers. If you have very funny writers around you, your material will be great. If not, then be prepared to be booed off the stage... Yikes!

So how am I going to be funny in December? Perhaps you can help. Do you have any funny office stories that you want to share? Let me know at pattyannrobb@rogers.com

The only one I can think of is something a friend of mine told me about a woman at her office. This woman was speaking to the CEO and her skirt slipped down to her ankles. My friend said it didn't seem to faze her and she quickly pulled up her skirt and kept talking like nothing happened. Hmmm! I wonder what that CEO was talking about that night with his wife. "Honey, you will never believe what happened at the office?" HA HA

This assignment of course is a result of "Just say yes". Someone asked, it's something I've always wanted to do, but my fear kept me from saying yes. Fits the criteria, so I will plunge on and hope for the best.

Now I am off for a week's holiday at the cottage with my daughter and grandson. Yippee!