29 July 2009

Monty Python Officeland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 July 2009

Frustration Busters!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

20 July 2009

I look like that!!

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

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

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

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

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

11 July 2009

The importance of having someone to talk to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 July 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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