15 March 2009

When you need it later: The Bring-Forward System

My boss likes me to keep him organized and the way I do that is to have a system to bring forward items, which I then bring to his attention when he needs to see it.

The system I use is quite simple and has been around for a long time. They taught this system when I was in highschool and it is still being taught and used by many assistants today because it works!

Tried and True Method:
I set up 12 hanging file folders labelled January through to December. If my boss is going on a business trip in April for instance, I put his ticket, passport (if necessary) and any material he will need for his trip in the April folder, with a bf date on it i.e. April 6. If there are forms that need to filled in and it has a due date in June, I put those forms in the June folder with a bf date on it for a week before it is due.

Each day before I leave for the day, I go through the appropriate hanging folder and look through it for any items my boss will need the next day. I then put the items in a two-fold file folder with his calendar printed out on the one side and the items he will need for the day on the other side. This really works for us and is so easy to use.

Reminders for Me:
For reminders for myself I tend to use Tasks in Outlook a lot. Many of my tasks come from e-mail requests from either my boss or others so I want the e-mail to be in my Tasks so I can set a reminder. Depending on how you have your Outlook set up, below are the steps:
  • you can either *drag and drop the e-mail into the Tasks folder or open the e-mail and choose Move to Folder and choose Other Folder and scroll down until you find Tasks, highlight it and press OK
  • the e-mail contents will now be in your Task, but in the Comments section
  • in the Subject line I write whatever it is I need to do and put [OPEN] so I will know to open the Task to read the e-mail below
  • I set the appropriate date I need to do it by and set a reminder.

Other Tasks:
If you need to set yourself a Task further to a phone call request or just to set a reminder to do something at a future date, highlight the Tasks folder by clicking on it once and from your Outlook Toolbar press New and it will open a Task for you and you can then proceed as above to set your dates and reminders.

Where can I put this paper?
For paper things that I need to remember to follow up on, I put the letter or document in my Wait Bin (which is a tray for things I am waiting on). I create a corresponding Task reminder and write something like this: WAITBIN need to prepare form for production by March 23rd. Then I put a reminder for a few days before. Because I have WAITBIN in my Subject line, I will know that the item is in my Wait Bin when I go to look for it.

Waiting on someone else:
Sometimes I have a Task that I can't do anything with until I hear back from a co-worker. When I get my reminder for the Task, and if I haven't heard back from my co-worker, I follow up with an e-mail to ask them the status and depending on the response, I re-set my reminder for a later date or once the Task is completed, I delete it from my Tasks folder.

I don't want to miss anything:
I have access to my boss's e-mail account and usually schedule a time in my day to look through his Inbox, Sent Items and Deleted Items. I tend to do this at the end of the day, but depending on your boss's needs, you can do it first thing in the morning or beginning and end of day. I look for action items he has requested from someone or they have requested from him. I then *drag and drop these e-mails into my Tasks to follow up on or print them and highlight what he needs to do and by what date and put it in his bring-forward system. Unless you schedule a time to do this, you will be in the account all the time not wanting to miss anything, but that is not an efficient use of your time. My boss knows I just check his account once a day. He will forward or cc me on items he wants me to take action on sooner.

Depending on where you work and who you work for, you may use a combination of these bring-forward systems or may prefer one method over the other. When I worked for a law firm I found using the Outlook Tasks exclusively worked for me, but now that I work as an Executive Assistant to a CEO, the bring-forward hanging file folder system works best, along with setting Tasks as described above.

You have to find a system that works for you and your boss and then use it over and over until it is so routine that you will automatically know where to put something and know what to do to find it later.

I find communicating with your boss about how you are following up and what system you are using will help in how you work together as a team. They will have confidence that you have a plan and that things won't slip through the cracks and will be able to relax and let you do your job.

*When you drag and drop an e-mail from your e-mail account (or your boss's) into Tasks, it does not remove it, it just copies the e-mail contents into the Task Comments Section. The original e-mail stays intact in the folder you got it from. If you drag and drop an e-mail into a folder or subfolder however, it will move it from the one place to the other.


Anonymous said...

I take the bring-forward system up one level by also having folders numbered 1-31 so that within the current month, I can place items that need to be addressed on any given day that month. If it something that needs attention after the month ends, then it goes into the monthly folder. The first day of each month, I go through the monthly folder and sort the items into the appropriate numbered file to be processed through the course of the new month.

Patricia Robb said...

That's great! Whatever works for your particular working situation. That wouldn't work for me because I don't have that many paper documents to bring forward, but I can see it being necessary if you have lots of items. The bring-forward system is easily adjustable to different needs in the workplace and oh so easy to use, but very necessary.