5 December 2010

Does it matter if we go to the office party?

I used to think it didn't matter if we went to the office party and rarely would go.  I'm single and I don't like going to parties alone, especially the office party?  At our local IAAP chapter dinner we heard a speaker from an etiquette protocol company Savoir-Faire and she suggested that it was very important to go to the office party because it was more about protocol and networking and how you are viewed as a team player than socializing.  And by golly, I  think she is right! 

Going to the office party is a good way to connect with your boss and other work colleagues and because your boss has to go (it's their party after all), they do notice who is not there.  She also suggested being prepared when you go to the party.  Have an agenda of things you would like to speak about and people you want to talk to.  And by all means try to make a good impression.  It is not the time to over indulge in alcohol and dance on the table.

Another misconception I think is about bringing your spouse or partner to the office party.  My idea was always how boring it would be for a spouse to go to a party where they don't know anyone, but if they go with networking on their mind then it becomes a whole different scenario.  If your spouse is unemployed it becomes even more important for them to go and bring business cards.  I wouldn't suggest being aggressive about it, but since it is a work party, inevitably talk about work will come up.  You might be embarassed because you know someone will ask your spouse where they work, but even this can be used as an opportunity and they could say something like, "I have just finished an assignment and am looking for another opportunity."  They can then give a mini resume and be sure to pass along a personal business card.  Now all of a sudden the office party has become a little bit more interesting.

This year again my first instinct was to say no I am not going, but I think I will change my mind on that and  go.  How about you?

For more food for thought, read this article on why etiquette is important.

6 November 2010

Acting the part...

We can't know everything, but our boss's certainly don't need to know that.  It's a bit of an act isn't it?  Inside you may not have a clue what the answer is, but usually there is someone who does so I always base my answer on that.  I act calm when presented with the problem and ask my boss to leave it with me to come back with a solution and give a short timeframe that I will get back to him.  It calms him down that someone is looking into it and gives me time to go searching for the answer.  There are so many places to look and people to ask.  This is where a large network of assistants is helpful, and then of course there is Google.

When I started my new job, I had never taken minutes before so I did my homework, talked to my friend who was an expert minute taker, took a course, read everything I could get my hands on and when the big day came to take minutes at a Board of Directors meeting, I acted as if I knew what I was doing and played the part of being the most confident professional person at the table.  Inside I didn’t have a clue, but they didn’t know that.  After all what was I going to do other than go forward and do the job at hand?  I didn't have much choice except to sink or swim and I dog paddled with all my might and stayed afloat and got better at it and recently was able to give a webinar on Taking Effective Meeting Minutes.

I had made up my mind that I wanted to try professional speaking, but had never tried it before.  Shortly after I made that decision, I was asked to speak to an admin group of about 50 people.  When I arrived I acted as if I had been a professional speaker for years.  It was my first time, but they didn’t know that.

If my boss has some important person waiting to speak to him. Someone from the media or a high-ranking official. I act as if I am very comfortable in their presence and welcome them to our office and act very professionally. Inside I think, Didn’t I just see this person on TV? But they don’t know my thoughts.

When you go on an interview that is a great time to act the part. You should be well prepared before you go into the interview and then you can concentrate on answering the questions, asking your own questions and wowing them with your professionalism.

Acting is not the only secret, we also need to dress the part.  If you want to be treated as a professional, act and dress like one.  I guess Shakespeare was right when he said the whole world is a stage.  I will bring it down just a few levels and say the office is also a stage.  How are your acting skills?

Break a leg...

29 October 2010

Envelope please...

One of my assistant's responsibilities is logging correspondence, preparing address labels for envelopes and completing the mail out.  The one complaint she has is that since she doesn't have a printer at her desk, if she only has a few labels to print (not enough for a full page of labels), then she has to get up and go to the photocopier to print each envelope.  It is inconvenient to say the least.  You can imagine how happy she was when I received the DYMO Label Writer 450 Twin Turbo label maker and brought it to her desk and said she could have it, but the one string attached was that she had to do a product review so I could share it with my readers on my blog (that was the requirement I had in order to keep it at no charge).  She eagerly took it and here is what she had to say about it:

What she thinks:
The DYMO Label Writer 450 Twin Turbo is user friendly, very easy to use, straightforward and there is no assembly required.  The program installation took only five minutes.  Since this label maker actually hooks up to the computer, once installed I recommend placing the program on your desktop for easy access.

When you open the program, the “Home Screen" comes up and you have three tabs to choose from

  1. Labels - this is where you choose your label type
  2. Label Design - you have options on how you want your label to look
  3. Address - this gives you the capability to store your contacts
The Home Screen provides you with step-by-step instructions on how to print the labels and once you press print, it takes only two seconds for it to print.  Another bonus is you don't have to deal with ink cartridges or toner as it is a direct thermal printer.

Bottom line:
I highly recommend the LabelWriter because it is easy to use, small enough to be placed on your desk, doesn't take much room and saves me the extra steps of walking to the printer.

So now my assistant has a very nice label maker conveniently located at her desk, it's hooked up to her computer so she can just cut and paste the addresses or take them right out of contacts and I don't have to feel guilty when I send those emails that say "Envelope please..." because now I know she is not having to get up and go to the printer each time.  I would say that is a win-win for both of us.


27 October 2010

Turning Soft Skills Into Tangible and Recognizable Skills That You Can and Should Bring to the Office

Recently I was at a professional dinner and mentioned I had spoken about soft skills on a webinar I participated in.  I was met with blank stares.  I said, "You don't know what I'm talking about do you?"  They were relieved I had asked, because they had never heard of soft skills and up until a year ago, neither had I.  We don't know about them, so we don't realize how valuable and important they are to our employer.  The secret is awareness.  I am pleased that the organizers have made the audio of the webinar available and I wanted to share it with you. 

Click webinar and press Playback to start. 

There are some other speakers as well presenting on our overall business persona, including tips from a fashion consultant on the importance of what we wear to the office and getting the most for your dollar when you go shopping. The webinar is offered free as it is a promotion piece they did before the main conference, which is in beautiful Australia in December that I unfortunately will not be attending. 

If the above link doesn't work, please go to the event website: http://www.eapa.com.au/Event.aspx?id=381214 and you will be able to get it from there and also find out more about the conference.  They are trying to track who is visiting their site so if you go through the website, they will ask you to fill in a brief description of who you are and where you are visiting from and then it will bring you to the webinar.


24 October 2010

Full moon rising...

Sometimes I go to the office and it seems like everyone is cranky and I wish I had just stayed home that day?  Has that ever happened to you?  I am not sure what it is, but it just feels like everything is off and if something is going to happen, it will certainly happen that day.  Do you ever wonder why?  Well, here is one theory.  The full moon...

Full Moon – October 23
Full Moon – November 21
Full Moon – December 21

But just a minute, the only full moon that recently occurred was yesterday and that was a Saturday and I had a wonderful day with my grandson.  I note that November's full moon is on a Sunday.  It seems the only full moon that will fall on a work day is Tuesday, December 21 and by that time I will have forgotten all about the moon phases. So much for that theory because I've certainly had a few cranky days recently that I would have loved to blame on the moon.   I mean it can't be me can it?

Even though it might be nice to be able to blame it on something other than ourselves, it is more likely a miscommunication, someone may be stressed and is having a hard day or they didn't sleep well. I heard something interesting the other day that made sense and explains some of the dynamics that can happen when different personality types work together.  Is your personality a type A, B or C?  I found it interesting reading about the different personalities because knowing how a person thinks or views things can help you understand their reactions.  Sometimes I find a situation easy to handle, but someone else might find it stressful or emotional.  It doesn't mean I am right and they are wrong, but understanding each other certainly will help us in our working relationships.
The different generations also come into play in an office and it is good to know how the younger (or older) generation views things so we can better understand the way our co-workers think or why they make the decisions they do. 
Of course there are other things that also come into play such as sex, ethnic background, religion, how we were raised, our current mental state and many other things.  Our co-workers are usually not out to get us or make our day miserable, although it may seem so at times.

Understanding each other is key to good working relationships.  Work retreats can be a great way to learn about each other.  It may seem awkward at first, but if you have the right facilitator it can be a wonderful tool for managers and staff.
Yep, I think it is about time for a good staff retreat...

16 October 2010

Is Proofreading a Lost Art?

People don't seem to be as concerned with proofreading as we used to be.  I think with texting it has brought a low expectation for accuracy as lots of mistakes are made in emails and texts and are accepted overall.

When I was in school the teachers drilled proofing skills into us as they taught us the goal was to create the best product we could and proofing was part of the process to do that.

Does it matter? 

I think businesses are very aware of their corporate image and messy reporting reflects badly on the company so an employee who doesn't take the time may be noticed in a negative way.

If an admin assistant is preparing a document for their boss, they should ensure it is as complete and accurate as possible before even passing it by their desk.  Some things we won't know, but what we do know we should ensure is correct.

Some tips for proofreading that I find work best are:

1. Spell check -  This is the easiest part of proofing a document. As you are going through the Spell check pay attention to the suggestions and either Add to Dictionary, if it is an odd name or word that is coming up as a spelling error, press Change if it is an error, or Ignore or Ignore all if it is something you want the speller to skip over.

2. Eyeball the document - This is very important and will help you identify errors that Spell check wouldn't pick up just by doing a quick review of it.  For instance if you are adding names and addresses and notice the name is spelled one way and the name in the email address is spelled another, it will be a flag for you that you have to go back and verify the information because something is wrong.  When you read the document you will also get the sense of the sentence so will know if there is an extra 'the' or 'a' that shouldn't be there.

3. Final check the document - If you have an opportunity to check your work with someone else, that is ideal.  You may not have that resource however, but if you do take advantage of it.  When checking lists I like to use tick marks.  If I am reviewing the list with someone I then cross the tick mark through once verified to show it is doubly checked.  If I am manually reviewing a document, I underline or cross out the change and then put an X in the right margin so I can see where my change is.  If you use track changes in an electronic document, this does the same thing, although at times I find small errors are not identified as clearly as I would like and can be missed.

Proofing also helps you to know your document. Going over it a few times makes you very familiar with the content. I find this especially helpful with minutes. I not only proof, but I really get to know the content so if I am asked at a meeting something about an action, I know exactly where to look or may have the answer from memory, rather than looking at them with a blank stare or fumble to find my place. I find the same with lists, by reviewing the list I will know just about everyone that is on that list so can easily answer any questions about it.

I think the goal should really be the same as my teachers taught me -- to have the most professional and accurate looking document that we can.  After the document is proofed, then we can bring it to our boss.  They may make more changes, but at least you know you have done everything you can to make it as accurate as possible.  This will also give your boss confidence when you bring a clean document to them that they can depend on you to do the best job possible.

Proofing is as important now as it has ever been.  Take the time to do it as it will not only reflect well on you, but on our profession as well.

9 October 2010

Everyday Office Heroes Contest

Hi everyone,

Contests are always fun and this one sounds like it could be interesting.  I'm sure we all have some office stories to tell and if you can win some money too, well that makes it even more interesting.  So put your thinking caps on and check it out at this website: http://www.accoheroes.com/

If you are like me, you need to read some of the other stories just to get your creative juices flowing and there are some posted on the site just for that purpose.


2 October 2010

Calendar Clarity

Sometimes I find meeting requests are not as clear as they could be.  I like to see at a glance who will be at the meeting, what the purpose is and where the meeting will be held without having to open it.  For instance:

Subject: Patricia, Adele and Rita meeting to discuss Christmas Party
Location: Large Boardroom, 5th Floor

If it is a lunch meeting I enter the restaurant name, street address and whether a reservation was made.

Subject: Linda lunch meeting with Bob
Location: Red Lobster, 99 Bank Street RESERVATION IN NAME OF LINDA

When it is a regular meeting or large gathering, it will make more sense to put in the name of the meeting such as Health & Safety Committee rather than listing all the names of the attendees. 

You can add the agenda to the meeting request by attaching it.  To add an attachment, click on the Insert tab and choose Attach File or Attach Item.  When you send it to the attendees they will have all the information they need for the meeting.   

My current boss travels a lot so I put his travel schedule in the calendar as well.  I categorize it in a different colour so it stands out from the rest of his meetings.  For example if he is travelling to Vienna I will start a meeting request for each part of the journey and categorize it as Red. 


In the meeting request, I choose the time the flight departs and the time it lands and cut and paste the referred to portion of the electronic ticket into the body of the calendar appointment.  For example:

AC Flt. 211 Oct. 12, 2010 Depart Ottawa at 11 a.m., arrive Toronto at 11:45 a.m.
Seat 2C, aisle

For the next part of the trip I do the same thing and cut and paste that part of the itinerary into the body of the calendar appointment.  If he is staying overnight, on the last leg of the trip I enter the name and address of the hotel he is staying at and the confirmation number. 


AC Flt. 1234 Oct. 24, 2010 Depart Toronto at 6 p.m., arrive Vienna Oct. 25 at 11 a.m.
Seat 2A, Window

Hotel Name, 112 Any Street, Vienna, Austria -  Confirmation #12345

You can put a lot of things in a meeting request.  You can drag and drop an email, add a contact card, include links to company websites, add directions, include a photo and brief bio of the person your boss will be meeting (which is useful if they have never met), you can attach documents they need for the meeting or you can draft a quick agenda to remind your boss what they wanted to talk to the person about.  Again, if there is anything in the body of the meeting request, always put OPEN FOR DETAILS or he or she will never know there is anything there for them to see.

I find the all-day meeting requests a little bit useless for meetings.  Undoubtedly if the meeting is put as an all-day meeting and someone is looking in your calendar to see if you are busy, they will probably not notice the all-day meeting that is at the top of the calendar.  If a meeting is from 9 to 5 for instance, I block that whole time in their calendar.  Then it is obvious they are out for the day.  If you have a meeting that is recurring for two or three days and you want to show they are gone the whole day, you can still use the recurring option.  To do this, block your time, then choose Recurrence and under Recurrence Pattern, choose Daily, click on Every 1 day and then choose the end date.  It will now block the calendar from 9 to 5 (or whatever time you chose) for the 3 days.

I like to use the all-day meeting option for reminders and I categorize them in different colours so they stand out.  For instance I will put a reminder to call a client and put the name and phone number in the Subject line.  The only problem with using the all-day meeting option for reminders is that now if someone looks at the scheduling option in Outlook, it will seem as if the calendar is busy.  I don't find many people use that option so it is not an issue, but if your office does, you will need to find some other way to remind your boss such as using Tasks.

I also like to turn on the stat holiday alerts in Outlook so you will see all the stat holidays in a calendar year.  To add holidays, go under Tools, Options, choose Calendar Options and in the middle you will see Add Holidays.  Choose the country you want and click OK.  Stat holidays will now be added as all-day items.

27 September 2010

I love getting free things, don't you?

I especially like it when the item is useful. I was asked to try out the Dymo 260P Label Maker and by doing so I got to keep it. I immediately brought it to the office to put it to good use.

There are so many uses for it and I especially like the fact that it is a hand-held device and very easy to use. Even I didn’t have any problems making a label and that was before I read the instructions.

The Dymo machine has certainly come a long way. I remember back in the old days using the punch type Dymo. It was in demand even back then. I recall one of the secretaries in our department created a sign-up sheet to use it, but also to ensure we got it back. We all needed something we wanted to label.

Now it is even easier to use with professional looking labels for use on your files, organizing the supply cabinet or in a publication room to put labels so you can easily find what you are looking for. Another thing I found useful is to put a label on the wires that come out of my computer that I can never remember which one is for what. It makes it easier when you need to unplug one of them to know what you are unplugging.

I also like the fact that you don’t have to waste a whole sheet of labels when you just want one and because they are water resistant, the ink won’t smudge.

I would definitely recommend the Dymo 260P Label Maker for any office and the fact that I get to keep this one -- bonus!

17 September 2010

What's all the fuss about reading contracts?

I arrange quite a few events and have realized the importance of reading and reviewing the contracts  carefully and highlighting key dates.  I also worked in a law firm in the corporate law section so am always mindful of the fine print.  Here are some things I would recommend you go over in a contract with a venue:

Is the date right?
I had an event for November 7th and the contract was signed, sealed and delivered, but then I noticed the hotel had put the wrong date on the contract.  They had booked the space for November 8th.  In all my correspondence with them I had requested the 7th, but somebody entered it wrong.  I called them and thankfully they had space available on the date I needed and we were able to amend the contract, but imagine if I hadn't noticed and we showed up on the 7th? 

Hold the space please?
When I receive a contract I highlight the date the hotel needs the contract back signed and put a reminder to make sure I send it back in time.  If you don't, the hotel can release the space and if it is a busy time in that city for events, the space could be taken up very quickly and you will be left without a room to hold your event.

What are the dates you can cancel by?
Contracts will have dates you can cancel by.  When you receive the contract, highlight that date and put it in your Tasks with a reminder for a week before.  At that time you can assess if the event is still going ahead or if you need to cancel.  If you miss the cancellation date you will be into some big dollars for cancelling.  Hotels usually have a scale they go by such as 40% if you cancel by a certain date, 60% if you cancel by another date and then 100% on the final date.  Pay attention or it could cost your company money.

One time we had to cancel at the last minute, but we were a few days past the cancellation date.  It was going to cost our company $5,000 plus in cancellation fees.  I knew we were going to go back to that city the next year so negotiated with the hotel that if I booked the next event at their venue would they waive the cancellation fee.  Fortunately, they were able to waive it and we only lost our $500 deposit.  It is always worth asking.

As you saw above, negotiation is possible. You may not get exactly what you want, but it's worth trying.  For instance, if you need rooms for your guests, a boardroom and break-out rooms, breakfast and lunch ordered and perhaps ballroom space for a reception/dinner, if they are charging $200 a night for the rooms and charging you for the boardroom and ball room, why not ask if you can have the rooms for $150 and because you are ordering a meal and the food and beverage costs will be high, ask for the boardroom and ballroom space for free or at a reduced price.  They want your business and will normally come back with something much better than they initially offered.

It is also good to get rates from other hotels.  At my last event I mentioned that the hotel across the street was willing to give me such and such a rate and that really helped in my negotiations.

What are the contract requirements and have you met them?
Take care in what you tell the hotel you need.  If you are not sure of the number of people who will be booking, then give them a rough estimate.  You can always increase it later, but you might have difficulty if you want to decrease it.  Again, check the dates on the contract when you can decrease the number of rooms by.  There will be a date you need to give the final rooming list.  Highlight that date as well and put it in your Tasks with a reminder to get back to them with final numbers.

Food, food and more food
If your event requires food the venue will send you a banqet event form and you will need to estimate the amount of food you need.  It has been my experience that if you are having 20 guests you can probably get away with ordering quantities for 15 and still have left overs.  My last Board meeting I ordered lunch for 10, but I had 15 Board members in attendance.  Normally some of them leave early so I thought I was pretty safe.  As lunchtime came I noticed that nobody was leaving and I started to think I was going to have to give up my lunch so everyone could eat.  Finally lunch arrived and we had enough food to feed all of us plus I could have packed a few sandwiches for my flight home.  What a relief -- that was the best lunch I ever had. 

I also had a reception to organize and I am never sure how many appetizers to order for everyone and normally go by what the hotel staff tell me I need, but I noticed there is always so much food left over that I tried something different this time.  I was working with the hotel event person and asked him how many appetizers I should order per person.  He suggested four so I went with three for everyone and for some appetizers only two and it was more than enough. 

This is something you really need to experiment with and you will gain more confidence to order less and know there will be enough food. 

Sit down dinners
Of course if it is a sit down dinner you have to order for the number of guests you have.  That is another thing you will have to note on the contract and give them the number of guests. They will have a scale for that as well and after a certain time you will only be able to decrease your numbers by a certain percentage.  I tend to estimate I will have less guests and then if I have more I just add them when I have final numbers. 

When the invoice arrives...
Once the invoice arrives you should check to make sure everything is accurate.  At my last event I went over the bill and was able to get it reduced by $1,000, so it is well worth doing it.  When I reviewed the invoice I noticed there was a guest on our bill who wasn't in our party so that amount got taken off.  Then they charged us for 25 for lunch on one of the days, but I had only ordered for 20.  There were charges for audio visual equipment that we never ordered.  I didn't go over the bill with a fine tooth comb either, these things were easily picked out and were evident, so give the invoice a read over.  It could save your company some money.

Important relationship building
In all these cases I had much better results because I had established a relationship with the venue contact.  There is value in getting to know people, even if it is just over email or the phone.  Once they start to have a relationship with you they are much more open to trying to help you.  I usually contact the hotel directly, although I sometimes go through a travel agent to find out intial names of hotels in the city that are close to my event, but after the booking I always take over the discussions.  I keep a list of the contacts I make at various venues.  You just never know when you will be in their city again and just might need to book a room for yourself.  If they can't help you, they may be able to recommend another hotel nearby.

13 August 2010

Pass it on...

I wrote an article called We Don't Know What We Don't Know.  The reason I wrote it was because I know that every assistant knows something that their colleagues don't, but if they did it would be helpful in their jobs.  So why don't we share and better yet, how can we share?  I think the first reason is what I put in my original article.  We don't know what we don't know.  I might be doing something that works really great, but just assume others know about it so don't say anything to anyone. 

I mentioned this to our team of admins at one of our meetings so when one of my co-workers found out how to do something they thought to share it with the team.  I had no idea this could be done, but I was thrilled when I got her email, but it just proved to me once again that we are all holding on to things we take for granted that others know about.

The tip she sent me was how to edit an email that you have received.  This is useful if you want to file the email and change the Subject line to something that better describes what the email is about or to put notes in the email.  For instance I recently received an email and wanted to remember to speak to my boss about it so I flagged it, set a reminder and changed the Subject line to "Add to one on one with boss."  It was a good way to remember why I had flagged the email in the first place and what I wanted to do with it.  What I had previously been doing is forwarding the email back to myself so I could change the subject line or remove some text that I didn't need.  The tip my co-worker sent is much better, but if she hadn't shared, I would still be doing it the old way.

How to edit an email message (Microsoft Office 2007):
Open the email message from your Inbox and click on Other Actions and you will see the option Edit Message.  Click on that and you will notice you can now go in the email and change the Subject line or add or substract text in the body of the email.  I put any changes I make in CAPS (or different coloured font) so I can easily see what changes or points I made.  Close out of the email and you will be asked to Save the changes.  Click OK and voila! the email now has your changes added to it.

Something I use regularly is Tasks in Outlook.  I thought everybody used it, but I started talking about it with some assistant friends of mine and I was met with some blank looks.  I think Tasks is one of Outlook's best-kept secrets, but it shouldn't be and is a great way to follow up on items.  If I send an email to a co-worker requesting information, I immediately drag it from my Sent items to my Tasks, set a reminder to follow up and write in the Subject line "Did I get this information". (Note: The original email will remain in your Sent items and a copy will open up in your Tasks notes page).  I also drag items from my Inbox if someone sends me an email to advise they will be sending an agenda or some other item by a certain date.  I drag it to my Tasks and set a reminder so I can follow up whether the item was received.

Using Tasks
When in Tasks, click on New and you can enter a task and set a reminder, or you can drag and drop an email into Tasks and the text of the email will automatically open in the body of the Task. 

If you want the actual email to be in your Tasks follow the instructions above and once your Task is opened, click on Insert and choose Attach Item, you will then be brought to a Look In screen and you can go to whichever folder it is in and click on the item you want and it will be inserted in the Task as a usable email.  You can also attach a file from Word, Excel or PowerPoint or a business card from your Contacts if it is someone you need to remember to call and want that information available.

You can also set a Task by right clicking on an email and choose Move to Folder.  You can then move it into your Tasks.  A word of caution, if you use this method it actually takes the item right out of your Sent items (or whichever folder you got it from).  I don't like to take items out of my Sent items because I rely on looking in my Sent to verify that I actually sent the email.

When the Task is due it will pop up in a Reminders box so you can see which items you set for that day.  The Reminders box is the same box where your calendar items pop up when they are due, so should be familiar to everyone.

So how can we know what we don't know?
A good way to find out something new is to look on different website forums.  I have learnt a lot just by checking out what others are asking.  Other ways you can learn new things is to:
  • Subscribe to feeds from various admin or business sites.
  • Encourage sharing tips and tricks among the admins in your office. 
  • Share any special training you have received with others in the office or online. 
I share what I know by blogging, but whatever forum you use, communication is key.  If we don't talk about it, we will never know.

10 August 2010

Let your fingers do the walking: Quick keyboard shortcut keys

I am on vacation and on my home computer I do not have a mouse so rely on keyboard shortcut keys, which reminded me again how helpful they are and how they are a big timesaver rather than reaching for the mouse all the time.  Better for you ergonomically as well. 

I must admit that it helps that I learnt to use a computer on the old DOS system and shortcut keys were the only option, but even those who normally use a mouse can transition over quite easily.  Once you see the benefits and get into the habit, I am sure you will not look back.

Most of them are fairly easy to remember because the letter relates to what you want the program to do.  For instance pressing the Ctrl key plus the s saves your work.  I have gotten in the habit of doing this frequently during the day and hardly even think about it until the system shuts down for some reason and then I breathe a sigh of relief when I open the document (by pressing Ctrl + o by the way) and find that I have not lost any of my work.  Here are some more that are really easy to remember:

Ctrl + b - Turns on bold
Ctrl + i - Turns on italics
Ctrl + f - Opens the Find dialogue box
Ctrl + g - Opens the Go-to dialogue box, type the page number, press Enter and you will go directly to it
Ctrl + u - Turns on the underline feature

Are you starting to see how easy it is?  Here are some more:

Ctrl + p - Opens the Print dialogue box
Ctrl + n - Opens a new blank page
Ctrl + F4 - Closes a document
Alt + F4 - Closes the program
Windows Key + L - A quick way to lock your computer
Ctrl + c - To copy text
Ctrl + x - To cut text
Ctrl + v - To paste text
Ctrl + Shift + < - Decrease the font size (My old math teacher told us a way to remember this is the < symbol looks like an L - as in 'Less than')
Ctrl + Shift + > - Increase the font size

If you hover over the options in the tool bar, if it has a shortcut key you will see it, so experiment and see if some of them appeal to you and will be easy for you to remember.

If you have multiple programs open you can press Alt + tab and you can either arrow over to where you want to go or just keep pressing Alt + tab until you get to where you want to be. 

Ctrl + Home moves the cursor to the beginning of the open file or document and Ctrl + End moves the cursor to the end of the open file or document, but if you are in the middle of a document and want to select everything from there down, press Ctrl + Shift + End or if you want to select everything from there up, press Ctrl + Shift + Home.  Ctrl + a - Selects the whole document.

You can change the spacing by selecting the paragraph or page and press Ctrl + 1 for single space, Ctrl + 2 for double space and Ctrl + 5 for space and a half.

To change the case, select the text and press Shift + F3.  Keep pressing it and it will toggle through upper, lower or initial caps.

To select text, press Shift and the arrow key left, right or up or down depending on how much text you want to select. 

Ctrl + Z - Undoes the last thing you did
Ctrl + Y - Undoes the last undo (or redoes)
Windows key + m - Minimizes everything and brings you to the desktop (Windows key + d does the same thing)
Windows key + Shift + m - Brings everything back up (If you used the Windows key + d to minimize, press it again and it brings everything back up)

Type the ones you think you will use on a piece of paper and have it available so you can refer to it until you get used to it.  They say when you do something for 30 days it becomes a habit, so try some of these and make it a new habit that will save you a lot of time.  Of course these are only a portion of the shortcut keys that are out there, but unless they are easy you won't remember them.

These work in Word, PowerPoint, and (Excel and Outlook with some exceptions).  I even used them when I posted this blog so most of them are pretty universal in many programs.

1 August 2010

Oh where or where is my password?

I logged onto my computer last week and put in my network password, then to open my Outlook account I had to put another password in for that.  I had to open a different software program and needed yet another password for that.  I then went to check my voicemail and had to enter a password there too.  There are just too many passwords to remember, and that doesn't include my boss's passwords that I also need to know because I have to check his emails as well as my own. 

Along with our multiple work passwords, we have a password for our home computer, and if we sign up for Facebook, Twitter or any other website, we have another password to remember.  We have a password for the automated bank machine and if you bank online you have another one for that.  Even if you phone the bank they need your secret passcode or they won't speak to you about your account.  Sometimes I say to them, "Just give me a hint, how many digits are there in the password, then I will know which one I used?"  But they refuse to help me out.  I mean if it was really me I should know what my password is, but wait a minute, I am me and I still don't know. 

Of course the simple solution would be to have the same password for every aspect of your life, but nope that doesn’t work. One program requires a mix of alpha and numeric and only six digits, while another one requires upper and lower case, but only uses four digits.  And then there are the sites that assign you a password that I would never remember in a million years, but thankfully they normally give you a chance to change it once your email address has been verified.  And do we really have to change our work passwords every 60 days, and why can’t I use the same password I used a year ago? I kinda liked that one, but nope I can’t reuse the old password.

I realize the change in passwords is for security reasons, but I find it is just too hard to remember all of them so most of us just keep adding a number to our existing password, or like some people I know they put their password on a yellow sticky and stick it on their computer, which defeats the whole purpose of the secure password. Thank goodness I get three tries to pick the right one before the system locks me out. The first time it doesn't work, I assume I entered it wrong so try again.  When that doesn't work I remember, oh yeah I changed my password yesterday, but what did I change it to?  I usually get it right on the third try, but I have been locked out on a few occasions.

On some sites there is an option to "Remember my password," which is helpful until your system crashes and you lose everything and then how are you ever going to remember what the password was in the first place since you haven't had to enter it in a year?  I thought I was being smart and saved all my  passwords in a sub-folder in Outlook, but alas that too was gone in the crash.  Of course even if the system hadn't crashed, I would have needed to know my server and Outlook password so I could get into my sub-folder with all my passwords?

And let's not stop with passwords, what about log-in names? Some sites use your email address as the log in, while others require you to create your own. I can never remember if I used my email address, my first and last name or was assigned a log-in name.

I know we are probably stuck with the current system of trying to remember log-in names and passwords, but thankfully at work if you do forget your password the administrator can re-set it, and then you have the option of changing it again.  Although the new password can't be anything you have used in the last six months. Ugh!  Back to the drawing board.

12 July 2010

Admin in the Spotlight: Interview with Lynn Holgate, 2010 Stevie® Award winner

Lynn Holgate, an Executive Assistant at High Performance Technologies, Inc. (HPTI) in Reston, Virginia, has been awarded the 2010 Stevie® Award for Support Staffer of the Year.

The Stevie® Awards is a prestigious award honouring the achievements and positive contributions of organizations and business people worldwide.  The fact that they have a category for Support Staffer of the Year is recognition of the important role support staff play in any organization.

Lynn was in good company as some notable winners of the 2010 Stevie® Awards included:

- Executive of the Year: Lawrence J. Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle
- Best Overall Company of the Year: Apple Inc.
- Business Turnaround of the Year: Ford Motor Company
- Best Home Page: CNN.com
- Environmental Responsibility Program of the Year: The Timberland Company
- Customer Service Team of the Year: Cigna
- Most Innovative Company of the Year: Mozilla
- Fastest Growing Company of the Year: Yodle
- Communications or PR Campaign of the Year: Hilton Hotels
- New Product or Service of the Year: Chase Card Services, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Lynn has worked at HPTI for 8 ½ years and was thrilled to be recognized at this level. She says it has added a jump in her step to come to work in the mornings knowing that her peers have recognized her in this way and that her colleagues who nominated her feel that way about her. Lynn has been in the administrative field for 28 years and to be honoured like this has confirmed that her efforts and hard work have been appreciated.

Ms. Holgate is the Executive Assistant to the President, she also reports to the Director of Human Resources and manages a staff of four. Lynn has organized strategic events such as the company's internal trade show, all-hands meetings, the annual awards banquet, internal events and leadership off-site meetings. She said that receiving the award has made her proud to do the work that she does. Her family and friends were also very excited for her.

On the night of the awards Lynn reports she was sitting at a table with nine of her colleagues from HPTI including the Senior Vice-President. When she was announced the winner, the Senior Vice-President sent a text message to the President about her win and when she sat down after making her speech she saw a message from the President congratulating her.

It was an exciting night for HPTI as Jonathan Goodnight was also awarded Technical Professional of the Year and they were finalists in ten other categories, including Best Recognition Event, Best Corporate Communicator, Best Product Developer and Corporate Social Responsibility Program of the Year.

Congratulations again to Lynn Holgate for a job well done!

9 July 2010

Taking stock

Whenever I finish a project I always ask myself, or get together with those who assisted me, and ask the question, "What went well and what could have gone better?"

It is always good to take stock and congratulate each other on a job well done, but also to point out areas that could be improved or brainstorm the best way to do it better.  On my most recent assignment everything went very smoothly.  I mentally checked off that the checklists of what to bring to the various functions were critical to have.  This meeting was held out of town and those are a bit more hectic because I can't easily go to my desk to get what I need. Before I left I went over my checklists a few times to make sure I had everything and it was stress free each day as I reviewed the lists and checked off the items to bring.

I also made templates for the minutes of the various meetings and those were wonderful to have.  I was in a meeting all day taking minutes and then had a side meeting scheduled at 4 that I had to take minutes at, but in this case the minutes had to be transcribed, printed and put in the  meeting packages for the next day.  I also had a reception and dinner to attend that night at 6.  By using the template I was able to accomplish everything with enough time to change, touch up my make up and hair and then off to the next event. 

One thing I noted could be improved was I found myself scrambling a bit to make sure I had information for the varioius participants that needed to be signed or given to them and decided folders with each of their names would work better.  Using coloured folders works great when you are busy in a meeting, you can just grab the colour you want.  For instance my signing folder is blue so for the next meeting I will be sure to make the appropriate number of blue folders with a clear label with the name of the person that it pertains to.  I will put things that need signing, but also other items that I need to give to that person.  It will make my life easier.

Planning ahead and being prepared is a necessary exercise for a busy admin and this meeting especially proved that to me.  The meetings were stress free and I was able to depend on my checklists and templates.  Now I am on holidays and preparing for a big move to a new home.  You can be sure I have checklists for that as well.  Did I phone to get my electricity turned on?  Whew!  Yes, it is ticked off on the checklist and the lights did turn on when I pressed the switch.

Have a great summer everyone and enjoy your holidays when they come.  Having down time is a needed time to recharge your batteries and change the pace from work.  My boss finds chopping wood relaxing.  I mentioned to him that that didn't seem relaxing to me, but he said it was something he could do that he didn't have to think about, just chop, chop, chop.  His job is all about thinking and strategizing so a task that is not related to work, seems like time out because it is not what he normally does week to week.  My idea of relaxing is reading a book on my new deck so I will leave the chopping to those better qualified than me :)

2 July 2010

We don't know what we don't know

We really don't know what we don't know do we?  One person can be great at software programs and know all sorts of tricks to get things done quickly and another might be excellent at organizing and managing their email account.

I have always been a believer in sharing ideas and have received my best education from other assistants.  Our strength is what we know collectively and we should have some way to share our knowledge with each other. 

Here are some ways I have found can help:
  • The web is a wonderful tool for sharing.  I have been on some interactive sites where assistants ask questions and get answers and I learn from them as I have some of the same questions.  Sometimes I even have the answers and by helping someone else it reinforces what I know.  The web also has anonymity and sometimes people receive information better from people they don't know. 
  • Lunch n learns are also a good way to learn from each other.  If you are the presenter you have to study and know your subject well which helps you to be more confident in what you know and you also gain experience in making presentations which can help you in your career.
  • If you are part of an administrative team you can use your meetings to share knowledge with each other or give tips on something new you have discovered.
  • Administrative newsletters or bulletin boards where you can post tips or suggestions is a good way to learn.
This blog is one of the ways that I share my experience with people all over the world and I love when I get feedback that something I have shared has helped someone (or in some cases to be corrected on what I have written), but the main thing is to open the door and communicate knowledge to others.

A roadblock often is we don't share because we don't know what we are doing is special, we just know it works for us. Try sharing your ideas and learning from the experiences of others.  Dofasco Steel has long used the phrase "Our strength is in our people" and how true that is.  Try starting your own information sharing at work.  You will be surprised at how much you learn when you work together and exchange knowledge with one another.

5 June 2010

Playing nice in the sandbox

When I was younger I had a bicycle with a chain that would skip a link after about ten pedals and then it would fall off. I would have to stop and get off the bike and put the chain back on time and time again. I must have rode that bike for miles, pedaling and then getting off to fix the chain.  How frustrating! 

Sometimes it can feel the same way in the office. Some people don't play well in a team and can be like that link in the chain that keeps skipping.  It is frustrating to the rest of the team because they are trying to meet certain goals and when there is a problem it takes time away from the manager who has to deal with it, but also the whole team as they see the time ticking and production at a standstill.  They know that once the issue is resolved, they will then have to scramble to make up for lost time with the person causing the slow down seemingly unaware that what they are doing is hindering everyone else. 

I remember when my daughter was young and I would ask her to clean her room. She would spend more time complaining about it and whining than cleaning. She could have cleaned the whole house in the time it took her to get her room tidied up. It also kept taking my time away from what I was doing as I had to go back and try to get her focussed on the task she had to do.  I'm sure in my daughter's case she was not thinking that she was taking me away from my work when I had to go and tend to her, she was just thinking that she didn't want to do the job and wanted to let me know it.

What can you do if you are part of a team that is not playing well together?  I'm sure we've all had to deal with people problems at one time or another in our work life -- there is no perfect office. 
  • Be sure you are not part of the problem.  Are you doing your part and contributing to the goals of the team or are you getting bogged down with situations?  Each of us is responsible for what we do, not what others do or don't do.  Yes, it may not seem fair that Lois or Harry down the hall isn't pulling their weight, but you only need to be concerned with what you need to do.
  • Try modelling to your teammates what you think a good team player is by demonstrating it in your own work life.  Good team play can be contagious.  My mother used to always say, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  I think that is a good rule to work by.
  • A little encouragement can go a long way. My boss is a great encourager.  Because he is, it pushes me to want to perform better to meet his expectations.  Why don't you try a little encouragement with your teammates?  You might be surprised at the results.
Situations are sometimes complicated, but a good attitude and good work practices will go a long way toward making your work life more happy and productive.  Now go build some sandcastles together...

16 May 2010

Whose meeting is it anyway?

Do you ever get a meeting request and an agenda has not been provided, or if it is a teleconference the call-in details have not been given or the boardroom hasn't been booked for an internal meeting?  Whose responsibility is it anyway?

When booking meetings ownership of the meeting has to be established.  The person sending out the request for the meeting and asking for dates would be considered the meeting organizer.  They are responsible for canvassing the participants for dates and determining the date everyone is available and communicating that information to the participants by sending out a meeting request to everyone or emailing the date (depending on how you or your organization prefers to send notices of meetings).  This person is also responsible for making sure the agenda is sent out on time and will need to set a reminder to the meeting Chair to make sure that is done.  They should also provide call-in numbers for a teleconference and ensure someone is the moderator for the call and that the appropriate information is sent to that person (this would be the Chair or the person who called the meeting).  They would also need to book a boardroom and make other arrangements as necessary.

If you are not the organizer, you still have a responsibility to provide available dates in a timely manner, set a reminder to make sure there is an agenda and if there isn't, email to ask for one.  You also need to make sure your boss is aware of the call-in numbers and if they are the moderator that number is made available to them.

I love having a checklist so suggest for each meeting you start a checklist to make sure you cover all the bases.  This checklist should have the following information:
  • Meeting name, date and name of person you are arranging the meeting for (if you work for more than one person)
  • Names of people that are required at the meeting
  • Purpose of the meeting
  • Time required for the meeting and location
  • Canvass for available dates (I usually don't give more than 3 or 4 dates)
  • Has an agenda been provided?
  • Is the boardroom booked?
  • If it is a teleconference have the call-in numbers been provided and moderator code provided to the appropriate person?
If you are unsure who is responsible for the meeting -- ASK!  You don't want to find out on the day of the meeting that you were the person that was supposed to book the boardroom or provide the call-in codes.  When I provide my boss's available dates I usually put in the email "I look forward to receiving the agenda (or call-in numbers) and location of the meeting."

9 May 2010

Building Relationships one Assistant at a Time

Assistants are in contact with other assistants on a daily basis.  It is important to build relationships with those we work with, but what about assistants we don't work with?

I breathe a sigh of relief when I get someone's assistant on the phone or receive an email from them.  If I hear from the assistant I know I am going to get answers and the process of setting up a meeting will go smoothly, but should I try to develop a working relationship with them?  Our bosses know the value of building work relationships and I think it is valuable for us as well.

My former boss was a lawyer, so building client relations was very important to him.  As his assistant I kept that in mind when dealing with his clients and their assistants. I had always made a point of getting to know the various assistants I worked with as I found it to be useful for both of us.  I could help them and they could help me, but I also found it to be good networking.  I heard about my current job from an assistant I dealt with regularly.  She received a job posting that she thought I would be interested in so passed it along to me and I have done the same for others.

I also get good tips from other assistants.  If I deal with someone and can see that they have organized something well, I will make sure to ask them about it. Or if I know they have a particular expertise, I will ask them their secret to success.  I have learnt some great tips that way.

Knowing assistants and having a working relationship with them is very important and can make the difference when you need to set up a meeting or if your boss needs to have a quick phone call with their boss. 

I never underestimate the value of my interactions with other assistants both on and off site. They are a valuable resource and I appreciate them.

17 April 2010

Keeping focussed in a busy environment

There are so many distractions in the office -- the telephone, your co-workers, email and your boss!  How can you keep focussed when there is just so much going on?

I learnt a valuable lesson many years ago when I cleaned houses and I have taken it to the office with me.  I am a single mom, but wanted to stay home to raise my daughter, but I needed a job too.  What I did was take on odd jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting and homecare for seniors. 

My first day housecleaning, I had a large house to clean. I set aside four hours to clean it, which seemed reasonable to me.  I mean, I had been cleaning my own house for years, how hard could it be?  I started in the bathroom, cleaning here and there, and then I needed a cleaning supply so went in the kitchen to get it.  While there I started cleaning the kitchen sink.  To finish up and make it shine, I used a glass cleaner.  That got me thinking about the glass tops on the tables in the livingroom so I went in there to do that.  Can you see the problem here?  I was not focussing on one task and finishing it, but was going from here to there and everywhere so after a few hours it still looked like I hadn't accomplished much and I started to panic that I wouldn't get the house cleaned on time. 

What I learned very quickly was that I had to finish one room at a time.  I had to be prepared and have all the cleaning products I was going to need to finish the job, but if I did have to go and get something, I had to resist starting on something else and return right back to the task at hand.  It's the same principle in the office.  With all the tasks coming at you and all the things you have on your to-do list, it can seem overwhelming and sometimes you can feel paralyzed wondering where to start.  Having a to-do list can be a life saver.  Prioritize the tasks you need to do for the day/week/month and then do them one item at a time.  If you have to answer the phone, deal with an email or attend to something for your boss, do so, as that is the nature of the admin job -- multi-tasking, but once you have done it, go right back to your to-do list, re-focus and continue what you were doing.

Sometimes you are just not sure what is sapping up your time and I have found a time log will help you determine where you are going astray.  When I first started at a law firm I was in unfamiliar territory and was finding it hard to focus on one task so was all over the place.  I knew I was crazy busy, but when my supervisor asked me what was taking up my time, I couldn't really pin point one particular thing.  It just seemed like it was everything and nothing seemed to be getting done.  She suggested I keep a time log for a time so I could identify what it was.  I left the office thinking, "Great, one more thing for me to add to my already huge list!"  But I did it by keeping a notepad by the phone and each time I started a task I would write it down.  In a very short time I started to see what the problem was -- telephone calls. 

In a law firm you can spend a lot of time on the phone with clients, other law firms, setting up mediations, court dates, etc.  Being on the phone was a very important part of my day and it was still going to take a big part of my time, but I could better manage it by scheduling a time to make my phone calls. 

As well, I received lots of voicemails and others that my boss forwarded to me and I had to transcribe them, which also took a lot of my time.  Once I had identifed the problem, I could make a plan on how to deal with it.  I went to my boss with my newfound knowledge and she arranged to get me some new technology to make transcribing voicemails less time consuming.  Whew! Now that I knew what was taking the time, I could do something about it and make adjustments to organize my day better.

So don't let all that work get you down. 
  • Break it down into chunks and prioritize your work on a to-do list. 
  • Pay attention to what might be taking all your time by keeping a time log and then try to manage it, rather than letting it manage you. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask someone else's advice on how best to make some changes -- your boss, a co-worker, someone from your professional association or a friend.  Someone else just might have the answer that will help you.
  • Keep your desk organized with a place for everything.  Not having to frantically look for things all the time will definitely help you. 
  • And most importantly, prioritize your work and keep focussed on what needs to be done first.

5 April 2010

When your boss arranges meetings behind your back...

Does your boss ever organize a meeting behind your back?  Mine does and it can cause problems with my scheduling.  He will have a quick conversation with a staff member and set up a meeting, but not tell me anything about it.  That makes it difficult when I am supposed to be organizing his calendar, but since I am responsible to organize his time and in spite of my frustration, I have to make it work.  So what can you do when your boss is ruining your perfectly scheduled calendar? 
  • Realize that nothing is cast in stone and things can change so be prepared to make the necessary adjustments.  Your boss is not trying to sabotage you.
  • Assess which meetings can be adjusted without too much disruption. Internal meetings can usually be changed more easily so start there. 
  • Depending on the importance of the impromptu meeting, it may need to be changed to another timeslot to accommodate his or her calendar.  Usually when I point out the conflict to my boss, he is more than willing to make the change.
  • If you have to reschedule, send an email apologizing, but advise that your boss's schedule has changed.  People are busy and certainly understand schedule changes.

20 March 2010

Admin Buddies

I like to have someone at work that I can buddy with.  It works well when it is a co-worker who sits closest to you, but depending on how your office is set up that might not be possible.  If it is a planned time off then you can meet with your buddy and give them any instructions or information they will need to handle in your absence and any contact names and numbers.  I like to have a contact card with my buddy's general information in it such as log ins and passwords as appropriate. 

When the time off is unplanned it is more critical to have this information available with easy access.  A friend found this out when her co-worker was called away for a family emergency.  She had to set up an away voicemail message and fortunately had kept a script of what her away message usually said,  She worked for a doctor so it was important that the proper referral numbers were given.

If you have remote access it is easy to do these things yourself from off site, but sometimes you just can't and it is nice to know you can call your buddy and they can take care of it for you.  Last week I was sick and could barely get up to call into the office, so it was nice that my buddy could take care of it. 

It is also amazing how much we pick up from our co-workers during the day.  You hear something while walking down the hall or are copied on an email and know something about the purpose of a meeting coming up.  This inside information comes in handy when you need to pinch hit for them when they are away.  Many times I am so thankful I had that quick chat or read that email that I was copied on as that was the exact information I needed when they were away.

Yes, it is always nice to have a work buddy.  If you don't have that in your office, why not suggest it to the other assistants?  Having a buddy can take some of the stress off and give you assurance that you have someone you can depend on.  It can also improve team work and general office dynamics.

13 March 2010

Are you prepared?

I take the bus to work and I often see people getting on a busy bus and then going through their backpack or purse looking for their bus tickets and holding up the line.  I always shake my head when I see that because I think they should have had that ready before they boarded.  They had enough time as they saw the bus approaching, they know they will need it, but time and time again, they are searching for it. 

I like to be prepared and I find life just works better for me at home, work and even on the bus, when I am organized and ready for whatever is coming up.  We really are creatures of habit and I find if I just keep doing it the same way each time, it becomes easier to be prepared.  For instance, I always keep my bus tickets in the front section of my purse so when I am boarding the bus I just reach in and take one out.  I don't have to think about where they are because they are always in the same place.  I find the same thing at work.  I organize my desk so everything is within easy reach and makes sense to the way I like to work.  Even when I change jobs, the first thing I do is organize my desk so at least that is familiar.

I just recently organized a Board meeting and it was nice to have everything where I needed it when I was in the meeting.  I didn't have to look far for it so that makes me more relaxed and able to do what I am there to do -- take the minutes.

I also like to know my stuff and not have any surprises.  Every time I use a bus ticket, I keep a mental inventory so I know when I need to buy some more and don't show up at the bus stop one morning and Oops! no tickets.  The night before I go to a Board meeting, I review all my templates, agendas, binder, attendance sheets and everything I am going to need or might need.  Do I have everything?  This is where a checklist really comes in handy.  Each meeting has some differences, but usually the basics are the same so your checklist can be pre-populated with those things so you can re-use it for each meeting.  I find the best time to think about what I need is when I have a nice quiet time to do that.  Of course that usually doesn't happen at work so I take about an hour of my home time, but it is well worth it the next day.

Being prepared doesn't have to be hectic, but can just be a good habit you get into.  Now, I don't even think about it, I just know what is in my folder because I organize it the same way each time.  Yep, makes my life much easier.

28 February 2010

We did it Canada!

Canada has a world record for gold medals in the Olympics, a record for medals for Canada, we won gold in hockey -- Woo hoo!  National pride -- all time high.  What a blast the last two weeks have been, but I don't think I could have taken any more late nights staying up to watch the Olympics in Eastern Standard Time.

I can just hear the conversation at the office tomorrow...

27 February 2010

Where's the remote thingy for the PowerPoint?

Some people in the office were trying to get the remote working as we had a PowerPoint presentation coming up and were calling it things like remote thingyremote slide clicker, wireless mouse so I finally asked, "Does anyone know what the official name for that thing is?"  Here we were, professional assistants talking about the thingy for the PowerPoint.  So I did what I normally do when I want an answer -- I Googled it! And guess what?  Nobody seems to really know what its called, but Powerpoint Remote was given as a common name.  Great! Now at least I will have a name that most people will know what I mean.  Technically I think it is a remote mouse with Powerpoint clicker capabilities, but PowerPoint Remote works just fine for me.  Although thingy will work in a crunch...

20 February 2010

Minute taking made easier...

Minute taking definitely isn't easy, but it doesn't have to be stressful. In its simplest form minutes are a record of discussion, decisions and actions to be taken and the date by when it needs to be completed. Below are a few tips so the task is not as daunting:

Filling in the blanks
I take minutes on a laptop so it is easy to make a template ahead of time which is based on the agenda. I put the items from the agenda on the template in the same order and with a space to put the discussion and decisions/actions from the meeting. Putting it in table format is the easiest, then it is just a matter of filling in the blanks. I use four columns with the headings: Item#, Discussion, Decision/Action, By when.

Going in cold
When you don't know the subject matter and are asked to take minutes, preparation is the key. Read three or four of the previous minutes to get familiar with the language of the meeting and the subjects that are discussed. If you can meet with the regular minute taker that is ideal or schedule a meeting with the Chair.

Putting it in context
You need to summarize the discussion around each agenda item and then write the action or decision that comes out of it. For instance, if you put the action down as Finance Director to pay invoice by January 31st, you need to put what was discussed or later on you will never remember what prompted that action. To put it in context you could say that Discussion ensued regarding the invoice received for the installation of the swing set. The team members were pleased with the work and it was agreed that the Finance Director should pay the invoice from the Recreation Account. Then the action makes perfect sense.

The language of minutes
Discussion and questions ensued -- The team members agreed -- It was decided -- The following points were made. Having some key phrases at your fingertips really helps when taking minutes. A simple phrase such as "Discussion ensued" can summarize 20 minutes of heated debate. Minutes are not a he said/she said kind of record. People at the meeting don't want to be singled out. The decision made is always recorded as a group decision.

If the Chair says this part of the meeting is in-camera, take your fingers off the keyboard, or put your pen down. The meeting participants want to be assured nothing is being recorded. Sometimes the minute taker is even asked to leave the room. At our board meetings I do not attend the in-camera part of the meeting, but when I return to the meeting they tell me the decision that came out of the discussion and I record that for the minutes such as "An in-camera session was held with the following decision made..."

Time is of the essence
Pay attention to the time the meeting starts and the time it ends. If you don't get the exact time, don't panic, but you should get in the habit of checking the time. On my minute template I put [insert time] at the beginning and also after the final item, just to remind myself to check the time.

Being part of the team
I am a valuable member of the team I take minutes for. They rely on me to know the ins and outs of the meeting. They come to me to give me agenda items, ask about certain actions, check back in past minutes and other meeting related things. I feel part of the team and to be as effective as possible you really need to see yourself as more than just the minute taker. I don't know the subject matter as well as they do because that is not my expertise, but I know how to take minutes. It has been said that if proper minutes are not taken it is just as if the meeting never happened. The team has to be able to rely on the minute taker to take accurate minutes and keep good records. The minute taker is important to the success of the meeting.

Meeting adjourned
Don't wait too long after the meeting to type the minutes. I like to complete them by the following day. The discussion is still fresh on my mind and I find it easier to make sense of my notes. The longer I wait to record the minutes, the harder it is to complete. A friend of mine recommends doing them within two hours after the meeting. I find I cannot always do that, but within 12 hours works for me.

13 February 2010

Dealing in real time...

I like to work with fixed dates. If I know something is due on February 23rd, then I can work towards the date and prioritize all my work accordingly. The way I like to do that is by creating a timeline to-do list of everything I need to do to get everything done by the required date. If it is a big project I use a calendar and write down all my required to-dos on the dates I need to get them done to make my deadline. I’m a visual person so it really helps me to plan my way to my goal. There are different styles of to-do lists and you can use the one that suits your work style and the type of project you are doing, but the main thing is to have one.

By the same token, I appreciate it when someone lets me know by when they will have something for me and if they can’t have it done by that date, then I like it when they get back to me to say when I can expect it. That way I can do a proper tracking as I have a date to work with.

So that is what I like, but it isn’t always what I get. If I am told that I should have it in the next few weeks, or can expect to receive it in a couple of months, that doesn’t really help me with my follow up as it is not a definite date. I can only guess when I might get it. I would prefer they say you will have it by March 4th. That I can track.

Dates are important. Once I have a date I can put it in my Tasks and run with it. I use my Tasks extensively and when I receive an e-mail telling me they will have something to me or if I make a request of someone, I drag the e-mail in my Tasks and set a reminder when I need to follow up.

Think about it the next time you give someone a timeline. Are you vague or exact? It will be appeciated if you are firm and take responsibility for your timelines.

7 February 2010

When your voicemail goes awry...

I'm sure I'm not the only one this has happened to -- you are leaving a voicemail and make a mistake and then try to fix it, but the voicemail becomes longer and longer and depending on who you are leaving the message with, it can get more and more embarrassing. 

A good tip if you flub up your voicemail is to press # and it should give you prompts to get out of it.  I have never used this escape route, but was reminded about it at a webinar I participated in recently and will keep these instructions close at hand.  They said it works with most phone services.

I thought I would pass this tip along in the event you find yourself wishing you could take your words back.

31 January 2010

Taking the time to acknowledge someone and say thanks...

When I was young my Aunt Joyce would send me a birthday card each year and put a bit of money in it.  I so looked forward to those cards.  We were a large family and being noticed as an individual and special was rare so receiving these cards just made my day -- somebody was actually thinking of ME! 

It made quite an impact on me and now that I am an adult I have been sending birthday cards to my friends and family for years now, especially to the children in my life.  There is just something special about receiving a card in the mail.

Recently, someone contacted me through my blog to introduce me to an on-line card service.  No, it's not e-cards (I am not a fan of e-cards as one more e-mail cluttering up my Inbox is not a welcome thing), but these are actual hard copy cards that you can customize and send out with your own special message.  The cards are all made with recycled paper and you can even include a gift if you like and this company will send it off for you.  What a convenient way to send cards.

Recently I have been so busy at work that I just didn't have time to get to the card shop to buy my usual box of cards so I have been trying to catch up and send belated cards out.  When I tried this service, it was a great alternative for me.  I could still send the cards out in hardcopy, and since I could do it online it was convenient and reasonably priced.  The font is also in writing script (which you can also personalize to your own handwriting) so the personal message inside looks like it was handwritten.

The name of the service is SendOutCards and they have a variety of cards for just about every occasion and if they don't have what you want, you can customize your own card.  It is an American based company and I am in Canada, but the cards I sent were all received within a week.

What a neat idea for businesses too.  The art of saying thank you can sometimes get lost in our busyness, but here are some examples of times it would be nice to send a card from work:
  • To thank presenters who speak at your workplace. 
  • To thank an employee for showing initiative and going the extra mile.
  • To thank your boss for being supportive during a trying time.
  • To apologize and try to make things right.  Sometimes a card is a good icebreaker to start communication again.
  • To send to clients of your company.  This could include sympathy cards, thank you cards, birthday cards, congratulations on a promotion, a card to reconnect with a client you haven't heard from in awhile, or many other reasons.
I recently sent an admin assistant friend a card to acknowledge all the hard work she does every day and included a gift of brownies.  She loved it!  I sent another assistant a comical card about being stressed out at work.  We work in a very busy office so it was a nice surprise for her to receive it and helped put the stress of the office in perspective.

I don't often promote any businesses from my blog, but I thought this one was worth talking about.


23 January 2010

I gave at the office

Years ago when I was a child, I would canvass door to door with my sister for a charity for cancer research.  Many times we would hear, `My husband gave at the office`as a reason for not donating.  Whether they had or hadn`t I was never sure, but I know today that offices do fundraise for charities and workers are happy to participate.

Recently, with the Haitian earthquake disaster, a friend mentioned that one of the doctor`s at the hospital where she works was asking people to sponsor him in a swim for Haiti.  He raised over $1,000.  Another office raised almost $1,000 in a fundraising effort they organized.  The old adage `every little bit helps`, really does.  Imagine how much we could raise if everyone contributed in some small way from door to door, office to office and nation to nation.

As a new grandmother to a one year old, it breaks my heart to see the young children left without family and home.  It is so sad, because you know children so young have no idea what is going on.  All they want is to be taken care of and be loved by someone.

There was one particular group of orphan children that was brought to our attention by a Canadian news reporter.  These children, who are under five years old, were fending for themselves on the street because the orphanage collapsed.  But for the charity of an old woman who came to feed them, they had no one.

Please give as you are able for the care of the children of Haiti.  Agencies such as World Vision are on the ground now helping where they can.

16 January 2010

Calendar "ah ha"

I was participating in a Harvard sponsored webinar with my boss the other day.  The topic was on personal branding and they were making recommendations to executives on how to polish up their image.  I guess he thought I needed the help.

One of the things they recommended to executives was to use their electronic calendar to leave themselves reminders.  From a personal branding point of view they suggested that if you kept reminders then you would be seen as someone who is on top of things and nothing gets by you.  -- Wait a minute! The thought is good, but...that defeats the purpose of the Scheduling feature in Outlook.  If someone puts in a "birthday" or a "pick up the dry cleaning" reminder in their calendar as an all-day event, to those who are using the Scheduler, it will look like the person is busy for the day and in reality they may have the day open.  When you are checking through the Scheduler, it gives no details on the meeting, just that you are not free. 

I think if Microsoft asked me what I would like to see in an electronic calendar, I would suggest not to bother with the all-day event option.  Who notices that string along the top anyway?  Use that feature to set reminders (which everyone uses it for anyway).  How many times I have booked a meeting thinking the day was free, only to notice later that an all-day event was put in unnoticed at the top.

Another one I never use.  Does anyone know what all the assigned colours mean in Outlook without peeking?  If you block a time in your calendar in purple, unless I check the legend or know it by memory, I have no way of knowing what that colour means. For those who do use this feature, they get a little annoyed if we don't realize their meeting with the purple colour means the meeting is out of the office. Huh?

They really should have asked assistants for their input on what would be the best features to have to accommodate our hectic and fast-paced world of meeting scheduling.

10 January 2010

Introducing The Administrative Bloopers Blog

I started a new blog called The Administrative Bloopers Blog  When you have a moment come and visit me over there.  It won't affect this blog, it will still be going strong, but I wanted a place for everything else and it seemed the right fit.  Let me know what you think.

What ever happened to the "us" in Service?

I went to a grocery store recently and when I got to the checkout I had to pack my own bags.  Another time I was trying to find a full-serve gas station to fill up, but there was nothing to be found.  I had to wonder what do people with physical limitations do when they need to get gas?

I remember when self-serve gas stations first started.  The men loved it because they could get out and pump their own gas.  The incentive was you saved .002 cents a litre.  That was never enough to get me out of the car!  Now, there doesn't seem to be a difference in price at all, it is just common practice that we have to do it ourselves.  I travel far to try and find a full-serve station, but they are becoming extinct.

Recently, I bought a new laptop.  It was expensive,but when I brought it home I had to do all the work to get it up and running.  What is wrong with this picture?

The list can go on, but I think you get my drift.  What about in the office, are we asking our bosses to self-serve or are we providing quality administrative services?  Some of the younger bosses are certainly qualified and know how to do some things administratively, but is it an efficient use of their time and is it good job security for us?

One young boss told me that he was self-sufficient and didn't need assistance, but what I saw was someone doing more than they needed to.  I of course ignored him and went about providing the best service I could.  He loved it and I believe ended up doing his job better because of it.  We need to be assertive and show our bosses how much better they can function if the administrative jobs are taken care of by us.

Something to think about...