17 December 2008

Anyone can be an Administrative Assistant, right?

Here are the top qualities that an assistant must have:

  1. Be organized. Can I say that again – BE ORGANIZED! There is nothing more important for an assistant. An assistant’s job is to organize the boss and in order to do that we must be organized ourselves.
  2. Be one step ahead of your boss. An assistant should pay attention and know what is going on in their boss’s world. Try to anticipate the need so you can have the file or the answer your boss needs, before he or she even knows they need it.
  3. Be protective of your boss’s time. Be professional on the phone and greet people who come calling, but not everyone needs to get in to see the boss. Be very selective and guard their time. In many cases the assistant can help or pass the request onto someone else to handle. The assistant is also the gatekeeper to manage the flow of paper through the boss’s office.
  4. Be prepared and think ahead. Maintaining a good bring-forward system is important to have things ready when needed.
  5. Be good at tracking things down. A good assistant knows just where to find the document or file needed, or they won’t stop looking till they do. Having a good filing system and keeping the file list up to date is something every assistant needs to be able to do.
  6. Be able to think on your feet. An assistant’s job is not routine. Granted, there are things we have to do day in and day out, but we are often called upon to fix a situation at a moment’s notice.
  7. Be creative. A cut and paste here and a bit of scotch tape there and you never know what we can accomplish. If the computer doesn’t do what we want -- trick it, it is amazing what we can do if we put our minds to it. As long as the end product looks good, at times we have to be creative to get there.

14 December 2008

What happens at the office Christmas party, stays at the office Christmas party...NOT!

I always have a hard time deciding whether to go to the office Christmas party. It is not that I don't like my co-workers, because I do. The problem is that they are the people I work with and it is often hard to change gears and all of a sudden become social with people I don't normally socialize with. You also don't want to get too relaxed and drink too much because even though you are at a party outside the office, these are still the people you work with and if you have plans for your career then what you do at the office party counts.

So why bother going?

The office party can be a good time for some networking with the different people in your organization. Interactions can be casual, but you also want to show your social skills and should try to greet as many people as you can. It doesn't have to be a long conversation, just a short introduction and if you work in a large company you might want to say which department you work in.

This can also be a good time to strengthen your relationship with your team members. It is nice to have that outside-of-work social connection to make working with someone more pleasant. You may also come to understand your co-workers better and find common interests. This will certainly help in your day-to-day working together.


If you are not able to attend the party, it is always a good idea to let the organizer know and your boss. You don't want to leave the impression that you don't want to be there, although some people choose not to go and that is perfectly fine. You just don't want your absence to become something it is not and give people a reason to wonder why you don't want to be a part of the group. A simple RSVP should solve that problem.

You are invited, plus a guest...

There is also the question about who to bring to the office party? Our party this year included our "significant other". I am single and don't have a significant other so my dilemma was, should I invite a date to the party or go solo? I think care should be taken on who you invite or whether to invite anyone at all. This year I went on my own and many others made the same choice. The office party would not be a good time for a first date.

Make plans to get home

There is never an excuse to drink and drive. Most offices have taxi chits available to make sure employees do not drive home if they have been drinking. If you do not have that option, then get a friend to pick you up or decide on a designated driver amongst your co-workers and have that person drive you home. There may also be other programs available to get people home such as Operation Red Nose. Whatever way you decide to get home, please don't drink and drive.

Enjoy yourself

We had a nice time at our party. I only started with this company in July so I don't know my co-workers that well, so it was a good time to get to know them outside of the office. It was held at my boss's home and was very casual and relaxed. The office party doesn't have to be dull and our wasn't, but you should be on your best behaviour.

Merry Christmas everyone and have a safe and happy holiday and a prosperous New Year.

12 December 2008

Are you worried about job security?

We are living in troubling economic times. The world economy seems to be having a melt down. Big companies are going down the tubes, people are losing their jobs and all of us are wondering what the future holds for us and is there hope that we will keep our job? The answer to all these questions is "we just don't know", but if your company is downsizing there is something you can do to show that you are someone they should keep around?

Here is my list of what I think you can do to make yourself indispensable and create your own job security:
  • Be available. Are you willing to take on new projects and new challenges? Don't brown nose, but you do want your boss to see you as someone who is not afraid of hard work.
  • Be noticed. You want to be noticed, but not negatively. If you are a complainer, stop! Be noticed for being pleasant and a good worker.
  • Be visible. Don't try and hide and stay below the radar. If your employer doesn't know who you are and what you do, it is very likely when it comes to making cuts, your position will seem like something they can do without.
  • Be a team player. You want to be seen as someone who can work with others.
  • Be the go-to person in your office. Get knowledgeable on how to work the various office equipment. Someone has to unjam the photocopier or know who to call if it is a bigger problem. Have that information so you can be a problem solver, not just standing around wondering what to do along with everyone else. Be the person who finds solutions.
  • Be social. Networking within your own company is a great way to keep your current job or secure a future one.
  • Be thankful. If you have a job, be thankful and hang on to it and work productively and to the best of your ability.
  • Probably the most important advice is - Be nice! A personable worker who shows respect for their co-workers is a hard worker to let go.

You may do all these things and still find yourself out of work. I was laid off once from a government position when the department went through downsizing. It was a union job and I was the low person on the years-of-service ladder. Sometimes we may find ourselves out of work even though we have done everything we can to stay employed. Don't look back, just look forward to what new opportunities may come your way. I can honestly say that even though it was a hard time to go through, I ended up getting a much better job and a better opportunity and can look back on it as a good learning experience. If you do have to leave, don't forget to ask for a reference letter. My former boss gave me an excellent reference on paper and by phone. A good reference can go a long way towards getting your next job.

I read an interesting article on what management can do to prevent lay offs. One of the things they stressed was to hire well. They advised not to be so quick to hire someone just to fill the position. Having the right people in the right job is a good combination and makes for a productive team. The same can be said for employees. Be selective and go for the job that is the right fit and that you have confidence you can do. There is nothing worse than having someone in the wrong job. They may be a perfect fit for another position, but if they are sitting in the wrong job, it is a bad situation all around.

If you are an employee who knows you have to make some needed improvements, don't wait for tomorrow. Start yesterday and be the most improved worker on the team and show you have the qualities they are looking for.

27 November 2008

Can you afford not to take a vacation?

I am going on vacation starting this Saturday and I need it badly. I am busy, busy this week preparing to leave because I don't want to leave any loose ends and I want to cover off on anything that might come up in my absence. I also know that when I come back I will have to work twice as hard to make up for the time that I am away... but I'm still going.

I think we all need to take a vacation from our jobs. A change of scenery and a change of conversation is good for us to recharge and just get away from it all from time to time. Talking about work all the time is not healthy for anyone.

On this vacation I will not be checking my work computer remotely. I am not taking a wireless phone with me and I am not going to talk about work with my friends where I am visiting. I can't wait! I was talking to someone about that this week and decided that if we talk to our friends about work while we are on holidays, then there is always the chance that they will want to talk about their work and oh no, I am not going there...

I enjoy my work, but there is only so much of it you can take. There is more to life than work.

I will be enjoying my time in Southern California where I am hoping for nice sunny, warm weather, but if it is cooler, I have a heated pool and a hot tub at the hotel I am staying at. Just give me a lounge chair and a book and I will be all set.

I always take a few days off after I return home from a vacation to get back slowly into the swing of things before jumping right back to work. That is also the time I will peek remotely to see what is going on at work. It will be a good time to clean up all the e-mails that will be in my Inbox. Oh dear, I even hate to think about that...but checking ahead of time will eliminate a lot of clutter when I return to the office. I can deal with most of the e-mails by simply pressing Delete, but some of them will need to be looked at and handled.

Some things I will definitely do before I leave is turn my Out of Office Assistant on in my e-mail account. You would be surprised how many people forget to do this simple thing, but how very important it is to let people know that you are not there and if their matter is urgent to give them another e-mail contact or telephone number to call. You should also do the same with your voicemail.

I will most likely work late tomorrow as well to clear my desk and have everything prepared for my boss for the time I am away. I also have to meet with the person who will be sitting in for me to get them up to speed on some things that might come up. Then and only then will I turn off my computer, breathe a sign of relief and finish my packing and wait for the alarm to go off that tells me it is time to get ready to go to the airport.

Oh yeah! I can't wait for my vacation...

22 November 2008

I got an e-slap on the wrist - Ouch!

Some e-mails can leave you with an impression that may or may not be what the sender meant. For instance, I recently received an e-mail and after reading it I felt the person had e-slapped me on the wrist for not following some procedure. The e-mail started out with "Firstly" and ended with "In the future." I am sure you are feeling my pain already...

E-mail has become the most widely used business communication tool and sometimes we are not very smart users of it. An e-mail like the one I received would have been better delivered face to face or by phone in order to get the tone of what the person was trying to communicate.

Why are we not speaking to each other anymore?

An e-mail can be quick and seem easier, but in the long run it can be more frustrating, send the wrong message and if you press Send too quickly it can cause misunderstandings. There are times that I really want a paper trail and e-mail is great for that, but now I stop myself at times when an e-mail string has been going back and forth and getting more complicated with each new e-mail. I stop the flow and pick up the phone. It is amazing how quickly a matter can be handled on the phone or in person.

I also think we are not as bold when speaking to someone in person. When you make eye contact with someone you are generally less inclined to lash out. With e-mail you do not have that personal touch so can write whatever is on your mind.

When you must send an e-mail...

I recently read a post that suggested e-mail did not require the same standards as letter writing and that you could get away with writing less formally by e-mail. Although I understand what she is saying, I don't necessarily agree. If you are writing an external business e-mail, then you should write it using the same care you would when writing a business letter. Spelling, grammar and punctuation should be paid attention to and you should keep in mind the tone of your communcation. Internal e-mails amongst co-workers should have a business tone to it as well, although less formal. The only time I would use an informal writing style would be when writing a personal e-mail to a friend that I know really well or family member (although I am sure in most cases they would prefer hearing from me, but e-mail at least makes a connection in the meantime).

At a recent meeting some assistants were complaining about all the e-mail in their Inbox and how frustrated they were getting trying to manage it all. I am sure we all have the same complaints. I know when I come back from a weekend or a vacation away from the office, I am bombarded with e-mails that I have to plough through. Usually hidden amongst the less important stuff are some really important and urgent e-mails from my boss. I have solved that problem by setting some rules in Outlook that send all my boss's e-mails directly to a folder on its own. However, I still have to go through all my other messages and clear them out of my Inbox at some point and it can be overwhelming at times.

Before sending an e-mail, think carefully about what you want to communicate and re-read it to make sure you are sending the right message. I would also suggest that you ask yourself if the message would come across better in person, especially when we are e-mailing co-workers who are probably in close proximity to where we sit. A good stretch to stop by someone's desk to ask them a question or a quick phone call can save a lot of time and avoid having to deal with another e-mail in your Inbox.

Try not to forget the art of conversation and communicating face to face in your office business dealings. A smile and a pleasant word can go a long way to building a strong team and good working relationships.


Why do we feel we have to immediately answer every e-mail that comes our way? Or, if we don't receive an immediate reply to our e-mail, why do we feel we need to send another one? When I have spoken to people who are extremely frustrated about the back and forth of e-mail, I have to wonder why they felt they needed to answer it so urgently in the first place. Perhaps we put a lot of the stress on ourselves because we feel that every e-mail has to be replied to immediately.

If you were quite disciplined and remembered to turn your out-of-office assistant on and off each time, you could put it on when you are too busy to answer e-mail and let people know that you will get back to them later in the day and if they need immediate assistance to telephone you. You would have to remember to turn it off however when you are back to business.
Sometimes you are in the office, but need a few uninterrupted hours and this would work well for that purpose. Sort of like closing your office door...
When you are away from the office you should always turn your out-of-office assistant on and refer people to someone else who can help. This will let people know you are not in the office, but that all is not lost because there is someone else who can assist them. The same can be said for voicemail. If you are not in, please let your callers know that and refer them to someone else who can help them in your absence.


Take a deep breath, relax and e-mail smart. Let's use the technology we have and make it work for us, not make work for us and please no e-slaps - they hurt!

16 November 2008

Writing when you don’t know what you’re talking about...

My boss tells me I should be able to write a letter or a report on something even if I don't know the subject that well. I used to call that BS when I was young, but maybe he has a point.

I wrote the article The Art of Minute Taking and I had only taken minutes a few times about 25 years ago. How did I do it? I interviewed my friend who is a minute taker. I asked her questions to prompt her and got her talking about minute taking while I took notes. At the end of it, I knew how to take minutes and could write about it. From writing that article I had confidence to take a job that required me taking minutes and it has turned out fine. What used to scare me, has now become something I can do. I will not say I am the perfect minute taker, but it is something I now have confidence in doing.

I have written many articles on my blog on subjects that I knew nothing about. I did do research however and read as many articles and books on the subject that I could and then I tackled the article and actually learned something while doing it. Writing on a subject you know nothing about is a good way to learn something about that particular topic. Being able to do that becomes helpful when you need to know the information for your job or some life experience. For instance, at one time I would not have been able to write about cystic fibrosis, but since my great nephew has been diagnosed with it, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know and yes, I could write an article about it.

I still have difficulty writing flowery letters with all the added fluff that I don't know about, but I am learning and in the end it does make the letter sound better.

A good way to learn letter writing and style is from someone who knows how to do it well. Read their letters and reports and see how they craft their words. There is usually a pattern. The opening is typically a general who you are statement. You then proceed into the purpose you are writing and what you need from them or want to tell them. You then want to end with something to tidy the letter up and end on a cordial note and let them know you appreciate the time it took them to read the letter.

I think once you learn the pattern it is simply a matter of filling in the blanks, but then again, I've just written an article that I know nothing about. See, it wasn't that hard after all now was it?

10 November 2008

We have a winner!

Well that didn't take long. The 10th person was someone by the first name of Tammy and once I get her address I will be sending her a copy of the book.

Congratulations Tammy!


9 November 2008


I am remiss. Just before my book was published I promised I would have a contest on my blog and someone could win a copy of my book. Here is how you can win:

The tenth person to e-mail me at pattyannrobb@rogers.com will receive a free copy of my book. Once I determine a winner, I will contact you to get your address so I can mail it to you.

Take care,


1 November 2008

It's Lonely in the Corner Office...

In my new job I sit in a corner office. I have never had my own office before and I can't say I like it, but I am getting used to it (sort of).

My boss and I share an office space. He actually has the real corner office, but we have an adjoining door. When he is in the office it is good, at least I have company. When he is away, it is very quiet and sometimes I just have to get up and walk around and visit someone or it feels like I am there by myself.

My company is moving to a new space with a more open concept and I am looking forward to it. I have always worked in an open concept and I like the interaction that goes on between the assistants.

I can interact where I am now, but I have to get up and go if I want to speak with someone and then when I get there I may find they are busy or on the phone so I have wasted my time. When you are in a cube you just stick your head up to speak to your neighbour and if you see they are on the phone, you go about doing something else until you hear they are free. Of course there is a down side to being able to do that. You have to be respectful of your neighbours. If you have ever worked in a cube you will know what I mean.

I have always liked to share and learn from my co-workers. I am good at some things, but not as confident in other things. For instance, I am horrible at collating. Where I used to work we had a Mailroom and I would plunk what I needed in a tray with a form to tell them how I wanted it to turn out and return to get it when it was finished. I liked that. Now I have to do it myself. Because I don't have the interaction that I had in the open space, I am not sure who to ask or who would know how to do it in a more efficient way. That is one of the advantages of the open concept. You see your co-workers at work and you can see their strengths. Most places that I have worked, people tend to work together and in an open concept I find the atmosphere lends itself to teamwork. You see a need and help out, or you see someone who does something really well and you say, hey can you help me out?

The disadvantage to the open concept is you or your neighbour can sometimes interrupt when you need some quiet time to get a job done. I appreciated my office and closed door one day last week when I had to get some minutes done and really needed to concentrate. It was wonderful to have that uninterrupted time to think and craft my words the way I wanted to.

There are advantages and disadvantages to either working environment, but I am looking forward to moving to our new open workspace and getting to know my neighbours.

26 October 2008

Repeating Headers and Footers while in Sections

Someone was asking on another site how to repeat a footer for just one section in a document, i.e. a table. I called my helpline (my sister) and she wrote the following instructions. She said it would be the same instructions for a table or a document in Word.

These are instructions for Word 2003.

"I had a 6 page table and I changed the footer on page 2 and then again on page 5.

In this example, I did the following:

Go to the end of page 1, i.e. the last cell (bottom right), or after the last word on the page.

  • Insert
  • Break
  • Next Page
    your cursor will bump you to the "next page" (page 2).

    When on the next page (or page 2)
  • View the footer
  • In the View footer pop-up menu you will see an icon that looks like eyeglasses (formally called the "Link to Previous" button)
  • Click on this icon so that it is not depressed (or selected)
    Once it is unselected, you can type whatever you want in as your new footer and it will not change page 1
  • Close the footer pop-up menu. You will see that the page 2 footer continues on until you change it again, i.e. I wanted to change the footer on page 5 as well so I went to the end of page 4 (last cell bottom right - or if in a Word document, then after the last word on a page...)
  • Insert
  • Break
  • Next Page
    the cursor bumped me to the "next page" (page 5)
    and I was able to type in a different footer which continued on until the end of the document.

    Repeat this for each page that you want a different footer on.

    NOTE: This is the same way you change a header. If you want to change the header on separate pages, you have to do the same as above, only select header instead of footer. "
    Lynn Crosbie

Hope this was helpful. I haven't tried it because I have Word 2007 and the instructions did not work for me.

I am not sure why the Comments sections is not working on my blog, but a reader e-mailed me with this Comment:

"The reason it did not work for you is that you have to create a “Section Break”, not just a page break. In Word 2007, you go to Page Layout, Breaks, Section Breaks.


14 October 2008

October 15th, Blog Action Day: Poverty

I am participating in Blog Action Day and the theme this year is Poverty.

I previously wrote an article on Charities in the Workplace and have seen an increase in the participation in charities at offices I have worked in. I think by rallying together around a cause whether it be poverty at home or abroad, or any other good cause, it is important for an office to be part of their community and show the world we care.

One of the charities I personally support is WorldVision, who lend support to children who are thrown into poverty by war, by their geographic location or any number of reasons. Children are so innocent and are often the victims when they lose parents or live in a poor area of the world. How fortunate we are in North America, but even here there are people living below the poverty line.

I support three children through World Vision and feel although it is a small drop in the bucket, many drops will fill the bucket to overflowing so I would encourage others to look into charities that help relieve the sufferings of people in poverty around the world.

One office I worked in together sponsored a child as a workplace charity project. We all participated by writing to our sponsored child and contributed money towards supporting her.

There are many things we can do as employees to better our world, even while at work. Take up a cause today at your office and rally your co-workers to reach out and touch someone who is less fortunate than yourself.

10 October 2008

Working for the Disorganized...

I was recently reminded by a reader of what it can be like to work for someone who is completely disorganized. That definitely can be a challenge.

In all my career I have only worked for one person who fit this description. A wonderful person, but totally disorganized and always waiting for the last minute for everything.

How can the assistant cope? The argument could be said that the role of the assistant is to assist and keep your boss organized so we shouldn't complain when we have to do it. For the most part I agree with that but when it comes to working for multiple bosses this can sometimes be a daunting task when one or more is very disorganized. I have found the best way to cope is to keep yourself organized. Keeping yourself organized will give your boss assurance that everything is under control and they will feel more secure that you are handling things for them. You will also feel more in control of the situation and less stressed.

  • A disorganized boss will oftentimes leave more things in the assistant's hands to get done on their behalf because they see that you are good at it and can handle it, which makes for a more interesting job. Although you have to be careful they don't pile everything on you.
  • Disorganized bosses are also very appreciative of the way we can make order out of chaos so there is a lot of job satisfaction when you are appreciated and needed.

In my reader's example, the problem was the trials of working for multiple bosses when one or more of them is disorganized. In today's working world it is probably the norm that we are going to work for more than one person, the question is how to balance it? When I worked for multiple bosses, while the one was a proscrastinator and disorganized, the other one was excellent to work for and could fend for himself. The unfortunate part of this was that the person who was organized tended to get less assistance because the most time was spent on the disorganized person.

If you get along well with your bosses then that makes it more bearable and you are also more able to discuss the problems with them. Sometimes bringing the situation to their attention may help. It probably won't help the disorganized get organized, but they will at least have an understanding of what you are coping with and hopefully keep that in mind when they are giving you work.

Here are some things I would suggest to help:

  • Have regular meetings with your boss. If that is not happening, schedule yourself in their calendar. If you do arrange to meet with them, be prepared with questions and information so they will see the benefit.
  • Read all incoming correspondence and if you have access to their Inbox, read their e-mail as well. You want to keep up to date on their working life and all they have to do.
  • Keep up to date on their calendar and look ahead to see what is coming up and what your boss might need to prepare for that. A good bring-forward system is a must for this as you will want to bring forward items they will need for meetings and conference calls.
  • Put reminders in their Tasks or Calendar of anything you know is coming up with enough lead time so they will have time to complete it. Remind them verbally as well when you meet with them.
  • Keep an organized filing system and file list. You will be the one they go to if they want something.
  • If your boss tends to misplace things when they get it, make an extra copy for your file before giving it to them.
  • Your co-workers may be able to lend a hand when things get too overwhelming. Return the favour if you can.

To my reader I say, we sometimes put a lot of burdens on ourselves to perform perfectly. Sometimes we just have to accept that we can only do so much in a day and leave it at that. If you are a hard worker, that will be noticed and appreciated. So keep yourself organized and do the best you can do and that is all anyone can expect from you.

4 October 2008

Kings and Queens of the Office

A friend was telling me about an Executive Assistant who has taken on a superior attitude at work and seems to think she is the Queen, looking down her nose on all her subjects, the other assistants. How can you survive in this kind of a working environment?

Of course we know that people like this are not the Queen and their self-importance is only from themselves, but they can sure make your life miserable while you are in their kingdom.

The head of your organization can often set the tone for how the rest of the office functions. If they are a team player then that filters down to the staff, but if they are the King of the Hill, then that also starts to filter down and people start to feel more important than they should and a lot of power struggles start happening and back-biting.

Even though you may have someone in your office that is like this, that does not mean you have to become involved. To work effectively, I have always found working as a team is the best working situation. Everyone helping each other and working together to achieve the goals of the organization. Here are some ways that I have found can help:

  • Be friendly and pleasant to all your co-workers;
  • Do your work to the best of your ability;
  • Find co-workers you can work with and develop good working relationships with them and help each other;
  • Keep good records, you never know when you will need them to cover yourself. Kings and Queens like to blame others when they fail;
  • Evaluate your own behaviour and make sure you are not part of the problem;
  • Try to keep a good work/life balance and know that your job is only part of your life, not all of it.

Take a deep breath. It is only work and there are more important things in the big scheme of life. Start a new attitude at work, beginning with your own and see how your good attitude can spread throughout the office. Perhaps even on a little royalty as you pass their way.

29 September 2008

Cystic Fibrosis

Hello Readers,
My great nephew Owen has recently been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. He is just eight months old and will have a lifetime of treatments ahead of him. What I wasn't aware of was the many changes the family will have to make to their home to make it habitable for young Owen. I am planning a local fundraiser to help the family with the costs on November 15th, but of course it will be in Ottawa, Canada and I know most of you are elsewhere.
In the meantime, I have decided to donate the royalties on any sales of my book to the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. They raise funds for research and to support Cystic Fibrosis clinics. For more information on Cystic Fibrosis please click here. Donation information is also available if you are interested in making an online donation directly to the Foundation.
My book is currently available on Amazon. Please click here for Canadian orders and here for the States and other countries.



28 September 2008

Using an electronic Check Box - Check! Check!

When you are searching through Word, perhaps looking for something else, you may be surprised at what you find. My sister and I were refreshing our skills in Word at the advanced level and found this neat little checkbox. Not the checkbox you can insert from Symbols (Insert, Symbols, scroll down until you find Symbols and then choose your checkbox and press Insert), but this is a checkbox that you can use electronically to either put a check mark in it or unclick it. Here is how you do it in Word 2003 and in Word 2007:

Word 2003
  • View - Toolbars – choose Forms – go to the icon that looks like a checkbox and click on it. A checkbox will be inserted into your document where your cursor is.
  • To check the box, go to the left of the box and double-click – when the pop-up appears, go under Default Value, click either Not Checked or Checked. Unchecked is the default for a box.
  • To take the shading off the checkbox, click the [a] icon in the Forms toolbar, it is a toggle for shade and unshade. Shading is the default for the checkbox.

Word 2007

You will need to activate the Developer Tab.

  • Click the Office Button (top left of ribbon), at bottom right there is a box called Word Options, Click on that, choose Popular (at top) and then click Show Developer tab in the Ribbon

To add a checkbox:

  • On the Developer tab, in the Controls group, click Legacy Tools (you will need to hold your cursor over the icons to see which one is Legacy Tools, on mine it is the last icon)
  • Under Legacy Forms, click Check Box Form Field (or the icon that looks like a checkbox)
  • To take the shading off the checkbox, click the [a] icon in the Forms toolbar, it is a toggle for shade and unshade. Shading is the default for a box
  • To check the box, go to the left of it and double-click – when the pop-up appears, go under Default Value, click either Not Checked or Checked. Unchecked is the default for a box.

19 September 2008

Using a Bring-Forward System to Help Organize Your Boss

Of all the articles I have written, the one I wrote on the bring-forward system by far gets the most views. When I wrote it I was writing from my perspective of working in a law firm and most of the things I had to bring forward were 'me' generated. Only occasionally would I have to bring forward something for my boss.
Fast forward to my new job and my focus has turned completely around. I still have things that I need to bring forward for myself and I still use the techniques I wrote about in my previous article, but to a lesser degree. As an Executive Assistant to a busy CEO, I have to organize my boss and I needed a bring-forward system to meet his needs.

I have always believed in communicating with other assistants to get ideas and to share tips and tricks of the trade, so it was no surprise to my friends when I started my new job that I wanted to tap their brains for anything they could give me to help me adjust to my new role. One of my friends was able to help me with many things I needed to know. A tip she passed along had to do with the bring-forward system and has been a great tool for me. It is actually the same bring-forward system that I learned in high school, back in the 1970s, but in all my career had never needed to use until now.

I use hanging file folders labelled from January through to December. They are legal-sized folders, because I like a lot of space, but letter size would work just as well. My boss will give me items that he wants brought forward on certain dates and I just put it in the appropriate month he wants it with a note on it with the date, and sometimes time, he needs it by and it is as simple as that. Every afternoon before I leave for the day, I go through the hanging file for that month to see if there is anything I need to bring forward for the next day.

Another bring-forward and organizing tip my friend shared with me (that she picked up from another assistant along the way) is using two-fold folders, with inside pockets.  The folders are labelled from Monday to Friday. On Friday afternoon I take out the Monday folder and start to fill it with what my boss will need on Monday. My boss likes me to print his weekly calendar on Monday so he can see at a glance what he has for the week so I clip that to the front of the folder. I then print his daily calendar and slip that in the left pocket of the folder and on the right side I put everything he will need for the day. I put it in the order of when he will need it and flag anything that he will require for teleconferences, meetings and travel. I do this for each day of the week.

Looking ahead on your boss's calendar will be important so that you can put the appropriate information in the folder. For instance, if your boss is travelling on the Monday, you will have to give him or her everything they will need on Friday.

It is a simple system, but works really well. My boss is now organized for the day and I can relax and get on with my other work.

I am sure I will hear from some readers about the electronic age and getting with the program, but I have not found a more uncomplicated system than I use right now. I do however use my Tasks and Reminders in Outlook throughout the day for my own deadlines and projects, but for organizing someone else, this system beats even that for simplicity and it just plain works!

For a boss who is on the road a lot you can use the electronic method of dragging the e-mail or whatever they will need for their meeting into the calendar date, including directions on how to get to the meeting, flight numbers and times, call-in numbers for teleconferences, agendas, e-mails, etc. I always put (OPEN) in the Subject of the meeting so they will know to open the calendar appointment for more information.

Having a good bring-forward system and keeping your boss organized will go a long way to make both of your work lives better.

13 September 2008

Why I love my job?

OK so I don't love it, but I do enjoy it.

I have always enjoyed the places I worked. When I interview for a job I interview the person interviewing me and try to get a feel for whether we will work well together. That has always helped me to determine whether I take a job.

Good boss, bad boss

On one interview I went on, when I met the two men who would be interviewing me, I met the first one and thought, "OK, so he seems like a nice man and I could work with him." When the next man walked in I thought, "Absolutely not, I could never work for him." When we proceeded with the interview it was the second man however that I connected with. It taught me never to judge a book by its cover. Once he opened his mouth I found he was entertaining, smart and easy to get along with. Both men ended up being great to work with. Unfortunately, both of my bosses have since moved on and I was put in another area that I didn't feel was challenging enough so I decided to look for another job.

Now I have gone on another interview and I hit it off right away with my new employer. He is smart, funny and seems to not only need an assistant, but appreciates having one. Those are some of the main ingredients for a fulfilling job in my books. Your boss can make the difference on how much you enjoy your job.

But I don't know everything yet...

My new job is filled with challenges. I took the job knowing I would have a learning curve in a few areas, but that has made it more interesting. Sometimes doing something that is a little outside our comfort zone ends up being just right.

One of the things I am required to do is take minutes and I have avoided having to do that for 25 years. But guess what? I found that I enjoy it. Who knew?

Whistle while you work

I don't mind hard work, but I do like to have fun while I work and when I can I like to joke around with my boss and co-workers. I think it makes it more interesting not only for me, but for those I work with.

That is the message I try to give my readers. We all have to work, but we can have fun too. We spend too much time at work for it to be boring and ho hum all day long. There is a time however when we have to knuckle down as we are running around in many different directions, but at the end of the day we can laugh with each other and enjoy having accomplished a job together and with good humour.

The first thing I noticed about this new job is that they pay attention to what I think in areas of the office that are typically the administrative assistant's expertise. At many offices I find they make decisions without our input and then wonder why it doesn't work. I am enjoying being taken seriously as a professional.

So why do I like my job?

It has all the ingredients that I want in a job. It is challenging, but not too much out of my area of expertise. My input counts so I feel needed and appreciated. There is room to grow in my profession, but most importantly, I like my boss and that makes all the difference in the world.

6 September 2008

Going Checklist Crazy

I am organizing a Board meeting and I have checklists and to-do lists coming out of my ears. I'm sure my assistant must think I am the Checklist and To-Do List Queen.

Making a List, Checking it Twice

The Board meeting I am preparing for is a two-day event and I don't want to forget anything that I need to do leading up to it, or anything that I need on the day of. I have a checklist for each day with a list of things I have to remember to bring or do before and after the meeting.

On Day 1 we have Committee meetings so there is a list of things I need for those. In the evening is the Board dinner with a checklist of what I need to bring to that: menus, name cards, seating map, myself...

On Day 2 is the actual Board meeting, but because I have checklists I only have one item to put in my Outlook Tasks the day before the meeting, "Don't forget to bring my checklists!!!"

It is so easy to forget the little things and sometimes the bigger obvious things that you think you won't forget -- you forget.

I like to take minutes on a laptop (yes, I did say minutes). Some of you may remember my article called The Art of Minute Taking where I bragged that in my almost thirty years as an assistant I had never had to take minutes. Well, now I am the Minute-Taking Queen.

If I forgot to bring my laptop with me to a meeting out of town, that would be an almost disaster for me because I prepare my minutes ahead of time on my computer and basically all I have to do at the meeting is fill in the blanks. As an aside, pen and paper will suffice if I have to, but you can see that the checklist can help avoid any unnecessary stresses from happening.

Another thing to put on your checklist if you are using a laptop is a memory stick. A memory stick is my back up if my laptop and I part ways. I can always rent a laptop, or the venue may supply one for a charge, but with the memory stick, I still have all my data that I need to make my job easier.

Being organized helps de-clutter any task and makes it more manageable and doable. I think I feel another checklist coming on, gotta go...

31 August 2008

To do or not to-do? Managing with the to-do list

My sister told me she once worked with a manager whose first question when meeting with her staff was, "What does everyone have on their plate?" Everyone looked at each other and mumbled something or other, but nobody was really prepared for the question. The manager then told each member of the team to go back to their desks and type up a to-do list of everything they were doing and the status of each item. She told them that each time she met with them she wanted them to bring their to-do lists so she would know who she could give work to and where everyone was at. She was then able to prioritize jobs and know what everyone was doing and what other jobs they were able to take on.

It made sense to me and I have been using to-do lists ever since. A to-do list for yourself can be an invaluable tool so items do not get forgotten, but it can be an even greater management tool, whether you are working in a team of two or many more.

As my sister's manager suggested, it is a good idea to meet regularly with your team and go over what everyone is doing. One of the greatest benefits of doing this is to keep everyone on the same page and to ensure the manager knows what each of their staff is doing. It can also be a great accountability tool to keep everyone on track and progressing through each job.

I find it is best to put your to-do list in electronic form and typed in order of top priority. I do print out my list occasionally, but I update it electronically on a regular basis. If you are working with someone, it is nice that each of you can go through the list together when you meet, but also if you are both updating and revising the list electronically, then you are able to get updated quickly when you go on-line to check the list.

I also like the to-do list as a reminder come appraisal time of everything I have done throughout the year. It can also be a tool to evaluate how the other members of your team are performing and if they are meeting deadlines.

Try to make your to-do list simple and easy to follow. If you make it too complicated it will not be useful. I use a table format and put the Item #, Task Description, Due Date, Responsible Person and Status.

I have different to-do lists for many projects. I usually put a subfolder in my project file for the to-do list, or if it is a small project, I staple it to the inside of the folder.

I have always found the to-do list to be a great tool to keep myself organized, but recently have found when working with someone else, it helps us to work as a team and to follow up on items. It is also a good way to keep track of who you asked to do what and when and if the job was completed.

As our mother's used to tell us, "Try it, you'll like it!" And in this case, you probably really will...

24 August 2008

Locker Room Etiquette and more...

Is there an etiquette for the locker room? If not, I think there should be. I think camera cell phones should be banned from locker rooms. It is an invasion of our privacy. I have often gone to the gym and while changing notice someone on a cell phone and it makes me feel uncomfortable. How do I know they are not videotaping us in the changeroom in our state of undress? Will we end up on a porn site or on YouTube in some embarassing pose? It is so easy to take a photo or video without us knowing.

Restroom Etiquette

What about using a cell phone while in the restroom? I read an article about cell phone etiquette and they listed this one as a no-no. The restroom (or "washroom" as it is called in Canada), is a private place and you are invading your neighbour's privacy if you do it. Your call may pick up flushing, tinkling, conversations at the sink etc. etc. that are private and potentially embarassing. The washroom is a place to do your "biological business", touch up your make-up and hair if you are a woman, wash your hands and get out.

If you need to make a private call and are not in an office where you can close the door, go outside and use your cell phone. The restroom should not be used as a phone booth.

If you want to join a discussion on OfficeArrow on this subject click here and let us know what you think or leave a comment on my blog.

If you are not a member of OfficeArrow you can view the discussion, but if you want to make a comment you need to log on. It is easy to sign up as a member and then you can log on and join discsussions like these and more.

23 August 2008

Working 9 to 5: What a Way to Make a Living!

I’m sure you all remember the Dolly Parton song Working 9 to 5. I think it was our anthem for a time because we could all relate, especially if you were in the role of office worker. I bet I've even got you humming it right now...

I thought the words described our working day to a tee. Here are a few song titles and lyrics that connect to those who have to get up and go to work each day. I salute each of you and encourage you to enjoy your day at work as much as you are able. You spend a lot of time there, you might as well enjoy it...

Working 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton - “Tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen”

I am not a morning person. I don’t mind staying late at work, but please don’t ask me to come in early.

She Works Hard for the Money - Donna Summers - “She works hard for the money, so you better treat her right”

I don't know about you, but most administrative assistant jobs I have been in were lots of hours and hard work.

Temporary Secretary – Paul McCartney - “All I need is help for a little while”

I got back into the workforce through a temp agency. It is a foot in the door. When you are temping, act as if you are on an interview every day.

Friday on my Mind – Easybeats - “Monday I have Friday on my mind”

You know you are going to have a bad week when you think it is Friday on Monday. That’s the kind of week I was having last week. Every day seemed like Friday. It was the longest week I’ve had in awhile.

Five o’clock world – The Voids
“But it’s a five o’clock world when the whistle blows”

Don’t you just love it after putting in a full-day’s work you feel you’ve accomplished what you needed to get done? That is a day I can say I put in a good eight hours.

16 August 2008

Happy Blog Birthday and more...

It is hard to believe that it was only last year that I started my blog, but it was August 2007 when the idea first came to me to write a blog for administrative assistants.

It has been a very interesting year. I have learned so much and have enjoyed the writing and the interaction with other bloggers and my readers.

The last few months I have been busy compiling my articles into a book that will be published by Inkwater Press and should be available by mid- to late September, 2008.

I am very excited about the book. It has been a lot of hard work. Sometimes I wondered if I would have time to do it all, but finally it is completed and I will anxiously await my first copy.

To celebrate the completion of the book and my one-year blog anniversary, I am going to have a blog contest and offer a copy of the book to the winner. Stay tuned for more on that.

Thanks to all my blog readers. You have encouraged me to keep writing.

Here is what I wrote on my back cover that will give you an idea of what I tried to accomplish with the book:

  • Laughing All the Way to Work: A Survival Guide for Today’s Administrative Assistant is the result of a combination of a sense of humour and thirty years of secretarial experience and living to tell the tale.
  • Laughing is not a secretarial manual, but is a guide. A manual is useful, but a guide you will read.
  • Laughing and Survival are key words in the title because without the one you could never do the other.
  • Laughing is filled with common-sense practical and useful tools for the secretary that are not taught in the classroom but come from experience on the job. It is an easy-to-read book that entertains as well as educates.
  • Laughing is not all about work however. There is a section called The Rest of Your Life to help the busy office worker with after-work hints and tips.
  • Laughing will appeal to both the student just entering the administrative assistant field and the office worker already on the job.
Contributing authors are my sister Lynn Crosbie, who has been an administrative assistant for over 25 years, and my daughter, Krysta Anstey, who has written some of the chapters in the last section called "The Rest of your Life: Keeping a Balance."

I will keep you posted on the contest and on the book.

10 August 2008

What is D A T?

Maybe this only happens in my little world, but I have noticed when myself or my co-workers print a page with a Watermark on it, for instance DRAFT, it looks fine on the screen, but when printed it looks like D A T. Every second letter is missing. If you have experienced the same thing, here is what I discovered will fix that.

To create a Watermark in Word 2007:

  • On the Toolbar (or Ribbon) go to the Page Layout Tab – click the arrow down beside Watermark and choose Custom Watermark. The screen below called Printed Watermark will open.

Click on Text Watermark and then choose the text of the Watermark you want. Unclick the Semi-Transparent box located at the bottom right-hand corner. I then choose a lighter colour for the Watermark so it will print lighter, but will still be visible on screen as a Watermark. (You will see the Colour choice to the left of the Semi-Transparent box). Press Apply and OK. You will now see DRAFT on screen and off.

Perhaps there is another way to fix it, but this works for me.

4 August 2008

Four Reasons why Outlook should be called -- Lookout!!

Someone I know said they thought Outlook should be called Lookout because of the speed in which you could mess up. Here are some reasons why I agree:

  1. It is easy to send mail to the wrong recipient. The e-mail memory feature can be helpful when you don't want to look up someone's e-mail address, but if you aren't paying attention you may pick Susan in Accounting and you meant to send it to Susan in HR and you were forwarding your performance appraisal.
  2. Recall doesn't always work. It is a handy feature to have and if you read my last post you will see how it works, but it does not consistently work. It usually works when you are doing a test run, but when you really are hoping it will work, "Please, please, work..." -- it won't.
  3. E-mail can bring in viruses. Remember the I Love You virus. People came in to work in the morning and when they opened their e-mail thought, "How sweet," and opened an e-mail they thought was from a loved one and ended up shutting the whole company e-mail system down for a day.
  4. It is too easy to make user errors and reget it. A lawyer I know pressed Reply on a message, but he meant to press Forward and ended up giving the other side in a law case his strategy. He thought he was forwarding the opposing lawyer's e-mail to his client with his advice on the settlement, but instead pressed Reply. Oops!

3 August 2008

Don't press Send and Regret it

I'm sure we've all done it at one time -- pressed Send on an e-mail and put the wrong recipient in the To box. No matter how diligent you are, sometimes these mistakes happen. Thankfully, there is an option to Recall the message.

In Outlook 2007 this feature works much better than the 2003 version. In 2003, the recipient still gets the e-mail and has to agree to let you recall the message. They will receive a message in their Inbox that you want to recall the message, but it's up to them whether they agree or not. In Outlook 2007, you get the option to recall the message directly from the recipient's Inbox. If the recipient does not have Outlook 2007 or has already picked up the message this feature will not work.

To recall a message in Outlook 2007:

Go in the Sent message that you want to Recall. In the Message tab under Actions, you will see Other Actions in the Toolbar. Click on the arrow down and you will see the option to either Delete Unread copies of this message or Delete unread copies and replace with a new message. You should also click the box Tell me if Recall suceeds or fails for each recipient.

Regardless of whether you think you will ever need this feature, keep the instructions close at hand. The sooner you can perform the action after you press Send, the more successful you will be.

Recall is an option, but the best defence is to carefully look at the recipient name and don't press Send until you are sure.

30 July 2008

The Future of the Administrative Profession: Where do I Think We Are Headed?

As a secretary I typed letters, answered the phone and did the filing. As an administrative assistant I manage my boss's practice so he can do his job. I draft letters, schedule his time, set reminders for deadlines, bring forward items, make travel arrangements, make some business decisions, arrange conferences, manage client relations and some bookkeeping. An administrative assistant can be indispensible to an executive. An executive assistant does this and more, including taking minutes and organizing board meetings.

Where do I think the secretarial profession is headed? The role of the secretary/assistant has always followed the needs of management. With the advances in technology, management's role is changing and ours most certainly will follow suit.

New executives are computer savvy and are comfortable on a keyboard. They also rely on their wireless hand-held device for access to their e-mail account and voicemail. Why hire an assistant? With the pressure to be available 24/7 however these new working habits are not sustainable without help. As they try to juggle the role of doing their job and the administrative part of the work as well, that makes for a heavy workload that could easily be handled by the administrative assistant.

But how can we help?
The up and coming assistant will need to be knowledgeable and skilled in what they do and assertive in doing it. Their role will be to assist and manage executives to become the best they can be. A good assistant should be able to free the executive up to pursue their expertise and not be burdened down with the day-to-day running of an office. 

In the past the Administrative Assistant was the face and voice of the organization to anyone who called or visited the office. An assistant would often be the professional gatekeeper as to who gets in to see the boss and how quickly they get to speak to them on the phone. No longer are people only going through the assistant to contact the boss, many times they are going directly to the boss through the wireless hand-held device.Some professionals out of necessity have given their assistant access to their Inbox so the assistant can screen messages and weed out what they do not need to look at, or things that the assistant can handle on their behalf.

It is becoming increasingly important to read e-mails thoroughly to look for action items or dates that need to be put in the bosses' calendar and handling requests for information. The ability to be organized has taken on a whole new meaning for the assistant as we turn our attention to helping our professionals cope with the demands.

Our roles are changing and I believe e-mail management will be a key role for the assistant as well as document management and time management. These are the areas where I believe the need will be the greatest for assistants. Having advanced level software skills will also be a must.

I believe satellite offices and working remotely from home will become more prevalent. With technological advances we will be able to file everything electronically and have the office at our fingertips at home and still be in direct contact with our bosses and co-workers through e-mail and the wireless.

The services of the virtual assistant will be something we will utilize a lot more and will be a great tool to delegate work. The administrative assistant will be a key player in managing that delegation process for the executive.

The US Department of Labor reports that the demand for administrative professionals is going to increase. Are we ready?

29 July 2008

Mistakes: We all make them, but how do we survive them?

Early in my career, I made travel arrangements for my boss and had him flying into New York City to one airport, but the meeting room and hotel were across town closer to another airport. I got a geography lesson when he got back.

I remember helping with a conference at another place I worked and as we approached the day of the conference we noticed that the attendance was low. It was discovered that someone in our Marketing Department forgot to send the invitations out.

My boss left me a frantic voicemail from the airport. The travel agent had mixed up his ticket and had her name down as the passenger and my boss’s name as the travel agent. He was having a hard time trying to convince security that he was the person that was supposed to be flying to Toronto.

How can we survive a mistake at work?

I have found that a sense of humour can be a real help when something goes wrong. My boss and I still laugh about the voicemail he left me from the airport, “Who is Linda and why the hell is she on my ticket?”

Timing is important however. He wasn’t laughing when he called, but eventually he did see the humour in it. I had checked the ticket for the time and date of the flight and to make sure he was flying into the correct city, but neither of us noticed the name switch at the top of the e-ticket.

Don’t let it happen again

Learn from your mistakes. Accept that it happened, take responsibility and don’t let it happen again is my best advice. You can be sure that I always check tickets with a fine-tooth comb after that incident. I have found that a lesson learned after making a mistake is usually a lesson that you will never forget.

Mistakes I have almost made

Sometimes the mistakes that I have almost made have left a big impression as well. My boss gave me a letter to send and told me that it was fine to go. I decided on my way to the fax machine to read it over and found a big mistake that would have been hard to take back. I now never let a letter go without my proofing it -- no matter what my boss has told me.

It is so easy to press Send on an e-mail, but have the wrong person in the To box. Some names come up automatically in the memory of your To box and if they have a similar name it is easy to pick them and not notice.* You should always check that the person's name and company name is correct before pressing Send.

*To delete those deliquent e-mail addresses, use the arrow key to move down until you highlight the address and then press delete.

Trust your instincts

If you think that you should take the time to proof a document, then do so. If you hesitate before sending an e-mail because you are not quite sure, then don’t send it until you check. If you have questions on a letter your boss has asked you to do and are not quite clear, get clarification before sending it.

We all make mistakes

Sometimes we make typos and they get by us. With the computer, we tend to re-use letters and save the new information over it, but sometimes we leave the old date on it or the letter is addressed to Mr. Smith, but the salutation says Dear Mrs. Brown. I have received many letters that have these errors in them and I have made similar mistakes myself. I have gotten into the habit of going through a mental checklist before I send a letter or e-mail out. Is the date correct? Is it the correct recipient and is there an enclosure referenced and have I included it?

Depending on the position you hold and who you are assisting, your mistakes can be more costly. Be careful and always take the time to check everything that leaves your desk.

Mums the word

An error in judgment when revealing confidential information is a mistake that will cost you and could result in you losing your job. Read your confidentiality agreement and make sure you know what your responsibility is to your boss and to your company. If in doubt, don’t say anything is my advice.

27 July 2008

Office Lingo: Learning the language of a new office

I am starting a new job tomorrow and with every new job there comes the new words, phrases and the dreaded acronyms. We get used to some things and start referring to them by our pet names. We don't even notice it, because we all know what we are talking about – except of course the new person. When they are on the scene you start to realize your office talk is not as easy to understand as you thought.

In both law firms I worked at we called the different files we worked on matters. We generally referred to the file number as the matter number. When I first started there I didn't know what they were talking about. You get it after awhile, but for a new person it is all so different.

I remember at the last place I worked, my bosses were all at a conference on PIPEDA and PHIPA. And that is exactly where they told me they were going. How the heck would I know what that meant? I just nodded my head as if I knew what it was and then frantically started searching on the Internet to find out the meaning. I now know what they mean: Personal Health Information Protection Act ("PHIPA") and Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act ("PIPEDA"). Thank goodness for Autotext. Instead of having to remember all the time I just put them in Autotext and press enter or press the spacebar and voila, there is the word I want.

I have noticed in the States they refer to something called a 401 when they are discussing pensions. I noticed it on an interactive site and wondered what they were talking about. Where I live the 401 is a major highway that I take to get to Toronto. What is a 401? I looked it up on the Internet and the closest I came is something called a 401(a) Money Purchase Pension Plan, which is probably what they were referring to. They all knew what they were talking about, but I sure didn't.

Our choice of words and acronyms can depend on our place of work, which city we live in and also which country we are from, eh?

In a law office we use words like sine die, prima facie and other latin words quite often. I still haven't figured out what most of them mean, but I know how to spell them at least.

At my new job I have things like UNGASS, NGO, UNODC, VNGOC to learn the meanings of. They also use terms like ad hoc and ex officio and other terms I am not accustomed to using. I have been doing my homework however to find out the meanings. There is a lot of preparation you can do before starting a new job that will make your first day less overwhelming.


Be your own boss...now there's a term I could get used to.

23 July 2008

Are we in the budget?

A good question to ask your office manager or HR person would be, “Is there a budget for the administrative staff?” Here are some things that I have often wondered about, but was always afraid to ask:
  • Is there a budget for education for the administrative staff? Some organizations have this in the employee benefit package. At some places I've worked I was able to take work-related courses up to $500 a year as part of my work benefits. If you don’t have this as a benefit, would your company pay for you to further your education so you can be a better assistant?
  • Is there a budget for joining professional associations? Our bosses join their associations and they don’t have to pay. What about the assistant? We have professional associations that we can join. I think we need to educate our employers and ourselves on what is out there and how it can benefit them and us.
  • Is there a budget for work-related conferences? It is a nice perk and certainly a boost to your working life if you can go to a conference one or two times a year.
  • Is there a budget for magazines and newsletters related to your profession? We can always learn something new by reading about what others in our profession are doing. It is usually not expensive to subscribe, but have you asked?

I think that sometimes it is just a matter of asking. They can only say no, but who knows, they may even say yes. Take a chance and ask – I’m going to…

22 July 2008

Having a good working reputation

Some people say it is who you know that gets you the job. Networking and knowing lots of people is a good thing, but I think the reason some people know so many people and have good connections is because they have a good reputation and people think highly of them. The two work together.

Having a good working reputation is important. You will be the first person that comes to mind when an employer is looking to fill a position.

Here are some things I have found help to earn a good reputation at work?
  • Be a hardworker
    My first job back in the workforce, my new boss gave me a chance in a field I had no experience in, but he said he wanted me to work hard. I took that literally and polished up my work habits. I was eager to learn and tried to focus on what I needed to do. After my three-month probation was over my boss remarked at what a hard worker I was. I was glad it showed, I had really tried to do the best job I could.
  • Be available
    I have found if you are available in a crunch that will go a long way. Be available to work overtime when required. Work through your lunch hour if there is a pending deadline to get something done. Be the first on the scene to volunteer your services if a need arises. You do not have to give up your work-life balance, but when something urgent arises, try to be available to assist or come up with other options that might work.
  • Be a teamplayer
    Where I work we cover for each other when any of us are away on planned or unplanned leave. I find when someone is away it is a good courtesy to go to the boss who is without assistance and let them know you are there to help if needed. They will appreciate it and your co-workers will appreciate being able to rely on you and vice versa.
    When you are having a slow day or if you see your co-worker is swamped, give them a hand. You never know when you might need the help yourself.
  • Be friendly
    If your company’s customers and clients like you and can depend on you, that goes a long way in the eyes of your employer. Be helpful, friendly and courteous when you meet clients or speak to them on the phone.
  • Be a professional
    I love to have fun at work. It makes my day more enjoyable. I laugh and joke when I can, but I am also a professional and take my role seriously. There is a time for fun and games and then there is a time to get to work. Know the difference and keep a good balance at work.

20 July 2008

Outlook Rules that Rule: Start to take control of your Inbox instead of it controlling you

I have finally taken the time to create rules for my Inbox. It was getting out of control. I knew the rules option existed, but I never took the time to check it out. What I discovered is a time saver and e-mail management tool that is a best-kept secret. Sometimes taking the time is the biggest hurdle, but this one is well worth the effort.

I have written previously that to manage my work e-mail better I asked friends and family to send e-mails to my home rather than work. This has been a great way to clear up a lot of unnecessary e-mails at work. I also subscribe to feeds to my home e-mail account. Even though they are work-related, I rarely have time to look at them so it is easier for me to do that from home. Bottom line is -- my home e-mail account is now like Grand Central Station. I get home at night and regularly find 40 new messages in my Inbox that I have to sift through. Some e-mails are useful, but I don’t always have time to deal with them right away. This is where the rules feature has come in handy.

Here is an example of some sub-folders and rules that I have set up that would work for a work e-mail or home account:
  • I now send my subscribed feeds to a sub-folder that I can look at when I have the time. They are now at my convenience, rather than being in my face every time I look in my Inbox.
  • I have set up a folder for Google Alerts to keep me updated on what is new in my profession. With my new rule they go directly to that folder.
  • I have set up a folder for some personal e-mails that I receive that are special and I want to keep them together. I have also set a sound to play when they pop in so I will recognize when they arrive and who they are from.
  • I have set up another folder for a personal acquaintance who is forever sending me joke e-mails and dire warnings. I have asked this person not to send them at work, which she has done and now sends them to my home. They are just as annoying to receive at home however, but for the sake of our friendship, I have set up a folder and they are dumped in there as soon as they come in. This has helped tremendously and with little effort on my part and no offence to my friend. I can then check the sub-folder at the end of the day and delete all the e-mails I don't want to read and just read the ones that are relevant.
You can still be notified when these e-mails arrive by setting a sound rule. The sub-folders where they are sent are bolded to indicate there are new messages in it. Don’t worry, these e-mails do not get lost or are completely out of sight. They are just put out of the way until you have time to deal with them. I would recommend keeping your Inbox folder expanded so you see the sub-folders and are aware of what is happening in them.

I now only have e-mails that I need to see come directly in my Inbox. Everything else is at my convenience and that is good. You can do the same thing with your work e-mails. You will notice your Inbox will be less crowded and easier to manage. I have also set a rule to send e-mails from my boss to a sub-folder with a special ring when it comes in. What a great timesaver if I am waiting for a reply from him. I just listen for the ring and go to that e-mail immediately.

I have also set up a To-do sub-folder which I drag and drop items in if I am waiting on a reply or need to do something with it. Some things you do not want to set up with a rule, but you don't want them sitting in your Inbox either. Flagging these items and setting reminders would be a good idea. I have also named the sub-folder *To-Do List to ensure it is at the top of my alphabetical listing of sub-folders. Putting the asterisk makes sure it is first on my list.

There are many other things you can do with rules so take the time to check them out and feel your way around. It will be worth the effort.

Share what you have learned with your boss. Most executives I know want the help and this would be a great way of organizing them. If you have access to their Inbox you can set them up. Always be in communication and agreement with them however on what is best before forging ahead and changing everything. Otherwise, you will have a very frazzled and frustrated executive on your hands. A simple system is best as they are normally on the move and cannot take the time to figure out elaborate filing systems. I would suggest a folder for News, and set a rule to move all their feeds into that sub-folder, and perhaps a Junk Mail folder that they can later go through to determine if they want to delete the item or unsubscribe.

Keep in mind that sub-folders are not always accessible with some wireless hand-held devices so I would be very careful about moving everything to a sub-folder, just things that are not urgent and can be looked at later. I am sure your boss would be very happy to have an uncluttered Inbox with only things that need their attention. On a semi-related matter, I read a tip on OfficeArrow.com that you should keep in mind -- setting flags on your e-mails are not visible to users on their wireless.

Normally the assistant does not have a wireless and therefore we don't realize the limitations. It is a good idea to have that discussion with your boss before trying to organize their Inbox.

My Inbox is now empty
If there is an e-mail that I haven't looked at in awhile and regularly press delete when I get it, that is my queue to unsubscribe. Wow! It feels like I just went through my closet and threw a whole bunch of clothes out that I never wear. It's great, but I am so used to having e-mails popping into my Inbox that now I am wondering, "Where have all my e-mails gone?" I am having withdrawal symptoms... I better go and check my new sub-folders, but at least now it is at my convenience.

It is simple to set up a new rule in Outlook 2007
From your Toolbar, drop down the Tools menu and click on Rules and Alerts, click on New Rule. For a simple rule to send e-mails from a particular address to a folder, do the following:
Under Step 1 Stay Organized, choose Move messages from someone to a folder and in Step 2 click on people or distribution list and highlight the e-mail address you want. Press the From button and press OK. Then while still in the Step 2 portion, click on specified and choose which folder you want it to go to. Click Finish, then Apply and OK to seal the deal. And voila it is done. Scroll through the options you have for other rules.

When e-mails are received and sent to the sub-folder, it will be bolded and the number of e-mails will be written beside the box so you will know you have new mail.
Before creating the rule you need to put the e-mail addresses of your feeds (or whatever you want to create a rule for) in your contact list and open a sub-folder that you want things like this to go to in order to complete the process above.

17 July 2008

The Crazy Days of Summer

Does this sound familiar?

I find as an AA that my day is not mine to control. My boss e-mails me or phones me to do this or that so I have to pay attention to the pings that let me know I have another message in my Inbox. I need to check my voicemail when I see the red light is flashing on my phone.

An AA does not have as much say about planning their day. We are "at your service" so to speak, which is the nature of the AA position. This is commonly referred to as multi-tasking or juggling your workload.

I think it is important however in the midst of all these urgent interruptions to prioritize your work and put it in some kind of order. In a typical day this is how I prioritize my workload.

  • Composing letters and e-mails.
  • Scheduling meeting dates and making business phone calls on behalf of my boss.
  • Making travel arrangements.
  • I try to fit in arranging for photocopying and binding documents throughout the day depending on the urgency.
  • Lastly are the administrative tasks like filing, doing expense reports and cheque requisitions.

Of course, if something urgent comes up, then these are all put on the back burner. Such is the life of an AA. Is it Friday yet?

There is no typical day

A friend of mine went on a job interview and they asked her what she did in a typical day. She started to say some things and then stopped and said, "Wait a minute. There is no typical day." That was the answer they were looking for and she got the job.

Admins in the Spotlight: Assistant walking 60 miles to raise money for a cure for breast cancer

Marsha Johnson will be walking in a 3-day event in Tampa, Florida in October 2008 to raise money for a cure for breast cancer in memory of her friend, Cindy Craig, who died of breast cancer. She is going to walk 20 miles each day for a total of 60 miles.

If you are interested in reading about it or sponsoring her, click here. All the best Marsha!

15 July 2008

The pronouns you use can reveal a lot about where your head is

One of my co-workers told me that I was already using "we" and "us" when referring to my new employer. I am physically still in my current job, but my mind is already on my new one. How do you keep focussed on your current job when you know you are leaving?

Sometimes it has been hard. My mind is already planning the next Board meeting and how I will organize my desk and the filing at the new place. I have also had a lot of visits from my current co-workers as they hear that I am leaving. They want to know about the new job and wish me well. I will miss them, but I have work to do and the time is getting short.

I am very particular about what I leave behind when I leave a job. When the new assistant starts, I want to leave a good impression. I want all my filing to be up to date and my desk to be neat and tidy. I want to tie up any loose ends. I don't want them to be surprised by anything after I am gone.

Here is my list of seven things that should get done before you leave a job.

  1. Filing - We all have filing to do and when you are leaving it is even more important to get it done. You can't expect somebody new to know where to file your old filing. If you have an opportunity, clean up your old files and put them in storage if you no longer need them.

    Update your filing list. I keep a current file list and a closed list. When I move a file to storage I put it on my closed list. You don't want the new person searching the cabinet looking for a file that is no longer there.

  2. Whatever you are putting off ... - If you have any jobs that have been hanging around waiting for you to have a minute to do it, you need to knuckle down and get at it. Do you have expense reports to do or what about paying that invoice? The new person should not have to figure out why they are getting a past-due account.

  3. Meetings - Are you in the middle of planning a meeting? Have you called a few people and are waiting to hear back from them. I keep a meeting scheduling form at my desk. I know exactly where I am at with the meeting planning just by looking at the form. Have that available for the new person so he or she can step in and continue where you left off.

  4. Calendars - The new person will be starting with a fresh calendar. Take anything off your calendar and write it down for them so they can transfer it to their calendar.

  5. Put it on paper - If there is an overlap and you get time with the new person to train and orient them that would be the ideal situation, but that doesn't usually happen. Write down instructions and things you think they will need to know. Give them insights into what your boss's preferences are. Your boss however may take the opportunity to introduce new practices after you are gone. Nothing is cast in stone, but it is a good idea to give the new person a heads up on what they might expect.

  6. Clean out your desk - My desk drawer is a mess. I would never want anyone else to see it. It is my junk drawer with clips and staples and just about anything I might need during the day. Clean up your mess and just leave the basics for the new person. They will want to set up their desk and drawers in their own way.

    When I leave my desk I want it to be fresh and waiting for the new person to make it their home. I always love it when I start a new job. Sitting at my new desk and putting things the way I like them. Making myself at home in my new environment.

  7. Keep in touch - Leave your phone number if you can and tell them to call you if they have a question or just can't find something. It is always good to leave a job on good terms and help to make the transition smooth.

On that note, I am going to bed. I have a busy day tomorrow cleaning up and finishing up and I want to be as well rested as I can be. My motivation to stay focussed will be to prepare the best I can to make the new person feel at home and my bosses to feel confident that I have done everything I needed to do before I leave.

13 July 2008

Does anyone know what time it is? Calculating time internationally

Here is a tip that someone from my office gave me for calculating time internationally. I am not a proficient enough blogger to know how to put these images in my post without you having to click to enlarge it, but I am learning.

To set your clock to a different time zone in Word 2007, click on the time on your computer in the bottom right-hand of your screen. This pop up will appear:

Click on Change date and time settings and choose Change time zone.

Here are the instructions for setting the time zone that comes with the Help Feature in Microsoft 2007:
  • To change the time zone, click Change time zone.
  • In the Time Zone Settings dialog box, click your current time zone in the list, and then click OK.
  • Note: If your time zone observes daylight saving time and you want your computer's clock to be adjusted automatically when daylight saving time changes, make sure the Automatically adjust clock for Daylight Saving Time check box is selected.
  • Click OK.
  • Set up additional clocks
    Windows can display up to three clocks: one for the local time, and two for the time in other time zones.
  • Click to open Date and Time.
    Click the Additional Clocks tab.
    For each clock, select the check box next to Show this clock. Select a time zone from the list, type a name for the clock (you can type up to 15 characters), and then click OK.
Instructions for Word 2003
In Word 2003 the instructions are similar. Double click the time shown on your Task Bar. When the pop-up appears, choose the Time zone tab. Select the appropriate Time Zone and choose Apply. The time in your selected Time Zone will then be shown on your Task Bar. You will have to reverse the process to return to your own time zone.

Is it ever OK to tell someone how much you make?

Someone asked me the other day what my salary was. I was taken aback. Then she proceeded to tell me how much she earned. I was even more surprised at that. What bothered me the most however was learning she was making more than I was for the same job.

Years ago we were taught never to reveal our salary. We might be quite happy in our job until we learn someone else is making more money, then we suddenly are not so happy anymore. I thought the biblical story of the Parable of the Workers was a good demonstration of that very thing so I thought I would include a link to it.

I remember when I started my first job in the mid 70s. I was so excited about getting a steady salary that I wrote the amount in my calendar on each payday. I was making $137 every two weeks. That may seem like a little bit of money today, but when you consider my rent was only $50 a month, it really wasn't that bad for a young girl right out of high school. When my boss noticed what I had written, he took me aside and told me that I should never write my salary down for others to see. Have things changed in this new generation of transparency and having everything out in the open? Is it now OK to tell what you earn?

I think employees are torn about what is the best thing to do. While I was considering this question, it did cross my mind that by not being open about my salary an employer could then pay employees whatever they wanted and none of us would be the wiser. We don't know what the other person is making so we have no idea if we are getting what we are worth. I think it is to the employer's benefit that we don't discuss salary.

I wondered what others thought and posted the question on AdminSecret.com. I wanted to write about it, but wasn't sure if what I thought was just something that I was influenced to think or if I had a valid point to keep it secret.

Coincidentally, the next day I noticed on my blog roll that Penelope Trunk had just posted about that very topic and she was taking the view that salaries should be transparent.

I am not so sure I agree with her. On the one hand I can see her point, but on the other hand I really don't want others knowing what I make. That is my own business. What I would like to see being more transparent is the salary range for different positions and the benefits that a company has to offer. At least you would then be able to see if you were close to the mark or not.

Recently someone sent me a job posting which I forwarded on to someone I thought might be interested in the position. Before I passed it on I asked the salary range so I could give that information to my friend. I was told they do not give the salary range out, but that it was something potential employees negotiated with them when an offer was made. My friend didn't want to bother with sending her resume unless she knew it was going to be worth her while. She didn't want to go to the trouble of trying to get an interview only to find the salary and benefits were never in her range to begin with.

I am not sure what I will say if I am ever asked that question again, but more than likely I will reply, "I'd rather not say".