30 December 2015

Different Strokes for Different Folks

It's funny how as I have moved through my career from office to office the way I organize myself has changed. 

When I was at the law firm, I used tasks extensively and had a wait bin where I put things I was waiting on.  I had a lot of trigger dates I needed to remember such as when to file a statement of defence after receiving a statement of claim, or putting in a reminder when the mandatory mediation kicked in.  It was important that I pay close attention to my task reminders as these dates were critical to the lawyers I worked for.  I had a few mediation and arbitrations to set up and telephone calls to schedule with clients, but the bulk of my work was preparing documents on time and reminding the lawyers I worked for what needed to be done and by when.  I can count on one hand the amount of travel I arranged for them in the 15 years I worked there as their meetings were usually local meetings with clients or short flights to nearby cities such as Toronto, which is  only an hour's flight and rarely required an overnight stay.

When I started work as an EA to the CEO and Corporate Secretary of the Board of Directors of a non-profit organization , that didn't work as well for me so I had to adapt and use other methods such as meeting sheets.  I had so many meetings to keep track of that I needed a method of finding the details quickly from the various emails I had about the meeting.  The CEO also was a frequent traveller to cities near and far.  I became very familiar with time zones and making travel arrangements.  I started a travel sheet so I could remember all of the things that needed to be done, especially for international travel.   I very rarely needed to use task reminders, but did use them on occasion.  Colour coded file folders also became very important.  I managed a Senior Leadership Team meeting as well as the Board of Directors' and all of its Committee meetings.  Having different coloured file folders, certainly made it easier knowing which folder went with which meeting.

Now that I am working in a hospital, I am back to using tasks again and as soon as I get around to putting in a supply order, I will order a tray to put things in that I am waiting on.  I also use a stackable file tray and put folders in for the two meetings I organize.  Nothing as extensive as I used at the last organization, but it is still handy to have these meeting folders on hand.  I don't need colour coding though as I only have two meetings to manage.

I have found there isn’t a cookie cutter way of doing things.  What works for one office, may not work as well for another.  Or maybe you will use a combination of things that you have used in various offices.  But don't limit yourself to only the things you have used before.  I find listening and learning from my co-workers is a great way to learn new techniques.  If they have been in the job for a long time, I listen even closer. 

28 December 2015

Skeleton Staff

During the holidays it is important to have people in the office to keep things going.  I like working during this time because you can get so much done that you normally don't have time to do.  Here are some of the things I will be doing:
  • Cleaning out my desk drawers - I just started this job a little over a month ago.  The girl who was here before me was there for 9 years and before they hired me there were two temporary people sitting at my desk so you can imagine the desk drawers were very disorganized.  I like to have everything in its place to save time when I need something.  Some things that are nice to have on hand are a box of staples, various size clamps, extra pens and some highlighters.  Everything else should be in the supply cabinet, but having things on hand that you use regularly, makes it very convenient when you need them.  Even if you are not new, the drawers get messy over time so a good clean up really helps.
  • Organizing the desktop - I also like to have a clear desk with things I need in easy reach such as a stapler, staple remover, tape and some paper clips.  It is always good to have a notebook and pen handy to write a quick phone message or instructions from your boss.  Many times as my boss is walking out of his office to his next appointment he will remember something he wants me to do so tells me as he passes by my desk. 
  • Making yourself at home - I like to put some photos of my grandchildren on my desk so I can peek at those when I need a boost.  It is nice to remind myself there is more to life than work.  You probably have some nice photos from the holidays that you can display as well or cards from friends.  Anything to put a smile on your face is good. 
  • On-line housecleaning - It is also very important to make yourself at home in your online files, but also to do some clean up.  I was in my previous job for almost eight years so had things filed in a way that I could find them quickly.  Since I am doing similar work, I wanted to set it up the same in my new job.  Now when I go to get something, I can easily find it as it looks the same as what I was used to.  Some things that I have found in the existing on-line folders are either gems or throw aways.  I don't actually trash anything unless I am absolutely sure, but I put it in a folder which I call OLD and will put things I don't think I need in that folder and will either ask someone in the office whether I need it or just leave it there so I can go looking another time to search for things.  Sometimes you don't know you need it until later when you become more familiar with your job. 
  • Getting into a routine.  It is always nice to have a routine.  The first thing I do after I log into my computer is to quickly scan my emails for anything that needs my immediate attention, but then I immediately go to my boss's email account and go through his Inbox, Sent and Deleted items.  I want to see what he's been up to since I checked previously.  I usually check about three times throughout the day.  I set up his Inbox with various folders and move items for READING, TIME SENSITIVE and things he will want to be reminded to FOLLOW UP on.  This cleans out his Inbox so all that is left are information items that he can quickly look at or respond to.  My boss is off for two weeks so I want it to be nice and clean when he gets back.  I then look on my to-do list for what I need to do.  I either have things to do that pop up in my task reminders or they are on my desk stacked in order of what needs to be done first.  A routine helps you to know where to start and keeps you focussed on what needs to be done next.  This is especially important when there are only a few people in the office.  I find it hard to keep myself motivated otherwise.
  • Preparing for when everyone gets back - I have a meeting on the Friday after the holidays so will prepare the draft agenda and any materials so my boss can look them over when he gets in and then I will be able to quickly prepare the meeting package and send it out and then prepare the minute template.
As you can probably tell, I like being part of the skeleton staff.  It is also a nice time to get to know the other co-workers who are in the office.  At one office I was in they ordered pizza for us to show their appreciation for those who stayed behind.

My family all live close by so I never feel the need to take vacation days as the stat holidays are enough for me.  Some people do have to travel though or just like having the consecutive time off between Christmas and New Years so it is nice for them that we are in the office so we can provide some backup for them.  They will need to be sure to put an out-of-office message on in case someone calls during this time so they will know who to contact in their absence.

If you are on the skeleton staff, use this more relaxed time to get things done.  It will pay off when everyone gets back and are going through their emails and trying to get organized after the break.  You will be just one step ahead of the game.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year.  I know I am.  I will be two months into my new job and settling in to how most things are done and looking forward to whatever other challenges come along.

19 December 2015

Working 9 to 5

Dolly Parton's Nine to Five hit no longer applies to me.  I've become an early bird.  For those who know me that will seem almost impossible, but I've done it.  At least during the work week and it's proving to be very interesting.

I was always a 9 to 5 person, but would typically arrive a few minutes late.  I always felt guilty about it and would sometimes get looks from the other girls or they would make a joke about me being late again, but I was a late night person and always worked well past 5, but for some reason that didn't matter.  One girl even nicknamed me '10 after 9 Pat' because that was when I usually arrived. 

Now I start work at 7:30 in the morning and it has been very enlightening. 

The first thing I noticed was that the early birds don't arrive on time either, but no one is in to notice!  For some reason when your work day starts at 7:30, coming in 5 or 10 minutes late is no big deal.

I'm not sure why that is, but I think it might be because by 9 o'clock the work day is in full swing so if you come in a few minutes late it is really noticeable, but when you come in early it is a slower pace and you have time to get a coffee, socialize a bit with your work colleagues and then prepare for the day.  When you come in at 9 you are usually trying to hurry and catch up to everyone else who has been working for at least an hour already.

Coming in early has other advantages.  The traffic is much better with no bumper to bumper traffic jams that the 9 to 5ers have to contend with.  It is a much calmer commute.  I didn't realize how much stress there was just trying to make it in to work in the morning until I didn't have to do it any longer. 

And best of all you get to leave when it is still early in the day.  One thing I've noticed is that early arrivers almost always leave on time. 

I think I prefer coming in early.  It is a lot less stressful and you can get a lot done without any interruptions.  And if your boss comes in at 9, it gives you a lot of time to prepare for their arrival. 

And take it easy on those who come in at 9 (or a little later).  They've had way more time on the road than you did and because they work later they have to fight traffic all over again going home. 

What really matters is not what time you come in, but making the most of the time you are there.

17 December 2015

New job, new culture, new language

Starting a new job is more than just changing where you work.  You have to learn a whole new way of doing things, from how to log onto the computer to filling out a purchase order form.  There is a new work culture to adapt to and a new language of acronyms to try and sort out.  Even though they can seem like small things, at the beginning you are trying to do your best to impress and can feel a bit helpless when the phone rings and you realize you don't know how to answer it.  Many organizations provide orientation sessions for new hires, which is helpful, but doesn't usually cover the little things. 

My former boss gave me some good advice when he knew I would be taking a new job.  He cautioned that I was running a marathon, not a sprint and I should pace myself and not be too hard on myself if I didn't know everything right away.  That has been good advice.  When you start a new job, your new employer is not expecting you to know everything on your first day.  They know it will take time to get oriented and for you to feel at home in your new surroundings and with your new responsibilities, but there are some things you can do to speed things along.

Once you learn a new task, write it down 
This has been a real help to me in the initial first days on the job.  I was surprised after a week how much I had written in my job manual.  This helped me see that I was picking things up quickly, but if I forgot something, I could go back and check in my manual. 

I organized the manual with information about the organization and the area I worked in.  I wanted to know how I fit in and that helped me to see my role more clearly.  I then set out some of the responsibilities I knew I had such as scheduling meetings and organizing and taking minutes at meetings.  I also included instructions on how to use some of the equipment that I needed to use such as the telephone, photocopier and fax. 

Gone fishing
Next, I started searching through hardcopy files at my desk and electronic ones on the server.  It is amazing how much you can learn by what I call 'going fishing'. Once I found something that seemed relevant, I bookmarked it so I would be able to easily find it again.  In the folders I knew I would have a lot of work to do in, I organized them to suit my style of working.  And other times I just read as much as I could. 

Organizing folders
For the meetings I organize I like to have three folders:  Agenda, Handouts and Minutes.  I file everything by date (YYYY/MM/DD) and everything files chronologically so very easy to find and everything relates to the date of the meeting.  The agenda will be named 2015-11-19 Medical Advisory Committee Agenda.  Each of the handouts will have the same date with whatever the name of the item is, and the final minutes will be named 2015-11-19 Medical Advisory Committee Minutes.  This way when I want to find everything for a particular meeting, it is very easy to find.  It is very important that you feel comfortable with where everything is.  There is enough different around you, that you need to have something that looks familiar.

Ask questions
I also learned a lot by speaking to my co-workers and asking questions.  They all want me to be successful as usually when someone leaves, the others have to fill in the gap until someone new is hired.  So they are very happy to see me there and want to see me get up to speed as quickly as possible so don't be afraid to ask questions.

If you are a new employee, be patient with yourself.  It takes time to adjust to a new office, boss and co-workers.  If you have a new employee in your office, take time to show them the ropes and point them in the right direction.  At first I didn't even know where the restroom was.  And pretty soon you will be the person showing the next new person the ropes. 

5 December 2015

I'm back!!

In 2008 I took a job as an Executive Assistant and Corporate Secretary to a non-profit corporation.  My daughter had just left home and I was an empty nester so I had time to try something different and put some time and effort into a new position.  This position was certainly different than anything I had ever done.  When I took the job, I had never taken minutes before and I had a Board of Directors' meeting in two months that I had to prepare for.  What did I get myself into was a question I wondered a lot in the beginning, but I kept on putting in lots and lots of extra hours to learn my new job.

I'm a Baby Boomer though and come from an era where we have a strong work ethic and will try to get the job done no matter the odds.  So I worked hard in those early months learning everything I could about minute-taking, boards, governance and everything else in between.  The CEO I was working for at the time was very busy and my meeting scheduling skills were put to the test.  He was also an international traveler so I had to learn everything about time zones, flights and everything else when your boss travels to a foreign country.  And travel he did.  In the last year I worked with him he was away from home travelling for at least 80 nights and for the most part it was international travel.  He even made the super elite travelling club (which means he had travelled over a million miles).

It was certainly exciting at first and my boss was great to work for.  Fast forward to last year and that was when things started to change for me.  My boss left for another opportunity and couldn't take me with him so now I was working for a different person.  She was very nice and I respected her a lot being a woman and taking on that role, but with my other boss leaving, all of a sudden I was starting to see a little clearer and with a different perspective.  I noticed that the things I used to do and enjoyed in my personal time had somehow gotten gobbled up with work.  One of the first things that got put aside was blogging, but other things as well.  I just didn't have time anymore because I was putting in 60 to 75 hour work weeks.  Sometimes it takes something like a big change to be able to see clearly. 

So I took a long hard look at what my life had become and realized that some very important things had taken a backseat to my job.  My work/life balance was definitely off balance. 

One day when I was riding the bus to work I wondered why I was continuing the pace so made a decision right then and there that I was going to quit my job.  I was calling it early retirement for lack of a better term.  I had no idea what I was going to do, had no other prospects for work, but I knew if I didn't leave this job it was going to kill me.  I told my friends I did not want to end my days with "She was a good worker" on my tombstone.

It's funny how things just seem to fall into place when you make up your mind about something.  What a relief it was when I handed in my resignation.  I gave them lots of notice and was going to 'semi-retire' in three months.  Now that the decision was made, I started putting my mind to what else I could do. 

I have two lovely grandsons so they were definitely going to be in the picture with Granny spending a lot more time with them instead of continually saying "I'll be with you in a minute, I just have one more thing to finish for work" as I madly tried to draft an agenda while babysitting them on the weekend.  Then when they were in bed for the night, I would get on the computer and start working again until the wee hours.  Needless to say I was pretty exhausted the next day and turning on cartoons for them as we cuddled on the couch (and Granny cat napping throughout) was a way to cope.

I had also started a book a few years ago and put it aside because I just didn't have the time or energy to put into it.  Now I had time again to think about these things without it making me exhausted.

I was still pretty busy though and all I wanted to do initially was finish up my previous job and then rest, rest and rest, and worry about what I was going to do later when I could breathe again.  That was when I received an email from a friend with a job opportunity.  It was for a position starting right away so not in my timeframe so I promptly deleted the email.  Later on that week I looked at it again and decided that it was a good opportunity and perhaps I shouldn't let it pass me by.  Fast forward to today - I went for the interview and accepted the job and left my other job sooner than expected.  I recall the HR Director saying to me that she thought I was semi-retiring and was only going to take a part-time job when I left.  I had to shake my head because my new job working 37.5 hours a week seemed like a part-time job to me.

Even though I left my other job earlier, I was loyal to them and wanted to leave them with as much information as I could.  I had started a job manual when I first started that job, which I recommend everyone does.  It is not only a great help to you as you learn your new job, but it makes it so much easier when you leave to pass on the information to the next person.  All I had to do before leaving was update it.  I also had to get ready for a Board of Directors' meeting earlier than expected, but I did it and my boss negotiated with my new boss so I could go to the final board meeting to finish off that aspect of my job.  Our board members come from all over Canada so it was nice to see them in person to say goodbye.  Finally I could leave with a good conscience, but I was tired.  I worked till late at night in my old office on the Sunday before I started my new job.  Definitely not recommended if you want to be fresh and able to take in all you need to learn in your new job, but I survived.

Now I've been in the new job for four weeks and am loving it.  At first I went home after work and crashed each night as I was so exhausted from the last job, but gradually I started perking up.  It is nice to work hard during the day, but leave it at work when I go home at the end of the day.  And to have two days off on the weekend was a novelty I had not enjoyed in a long time.  After the period of rest was over though, I have to admit I was a little bored.  I couldn't remember what I used to do before work took over, but now that I have the time, things are coming back to me.  I just signed up for an art course in January and am looking forward to that.  And Christmas and New Years will seem so much different now that I am not working during the holidays.

What I would recommend to anyone else who finds themselves in a work-crazy environment is not to wait too long to do something about it. I spoke to my doctor (my friends insisted I go and were going to hold me accountable to do it).  They worried that I was burnt out and wanted me to get it checked out.  My doctor was very supportive and said that because I had still maintained my sense of humour and could laugh about it all, I was fine, but he recommended that I leave as soon as possible and not look back.  He said he had patients who had waited too long and it was messy.  As I was leaving his office his parting comment was that no salary, no pension, no job was worth your health.

I'm sure some of you are wondering why I didn't work with my past employer to try to negotiate a better working condition.  Sometimes when you just keep doing it, they don't realize that maybe they really do need two people to do that job, so I think in that respect I was my own worst enemy.  But that is certainly something you can do.  Sit down with your boss and document the extra hours you are putting in and what you are doing in those hours and come up with a proposal of what might work better.

So here I am back to being an Administrative Assistant.  Back to my roots and back to where I want to be.  I am still busy during the day supporting my boss and have two meetings that I organize and take minutes for, but I can leave it at the end of the day and go home.  I enjoyed my time as an Executive Assistant and because I was single was able to devote lots of time to it, but I left at the right time and am not looking back.

I am sure I will have challenges in my new job that I will tackle and learn from and be able to blog about, but for now I just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

BTW, I am speaking at a conference in June in Florida.  This is one of those things I always wanted to do, but didn't have the time. I hope to see some of you there http://www.adminproforum.com/?campaigncode=APF16PR