14 December 2018

Setting Rules in Outlook 2016

I like to set a rule for the messages I receive from my boss.  I have a new boss so had to figure out how to do this again and thought I should just write it down for the benefit of anyone else who may need it or for myself for the next time.

I want any emails sent from my boss to go into a special folder .  I also want it to make a sound when the email arrives.  I chose a ring tone so it is different than the default email notification.  This way, when I hear the ring, I know it is from her and will check it right away. 

In my case, I actually turn my regular email notifications off, so her email is the only one that makes a sound.  I find the notification noise and the incoming emails floating across my screen are just too distracting.  I have gotten in the habit of checking Outlook regularly.  This is especially helpful when I am drafting minutes.  It is nice to just focus on that and not be interrupted so much.  Of course when I hear the ring, I do check …

Before you set up the rule, you should first set up the folder where you want it to go.  To do this, right click on Inbox and choose New Folder.  Name it and then press OK.  I want it to go right under by Inbox so I name it  _  Joan Brown (FROM).  The underscore makes it file at the top:
  1. Choose File, Manage Rules & Alerts
  2. Click on 'New Rule'
  3. Go to 'Start from a blank rule' and click on 'Apply Rule on messages I receive'.  Then click NEXT
  4. Under Step 1, check the first box 'From people or public group' and then in the Step 2 box, click on 'people or public group' and that will open your Address Book.  Choose the person you want the rule to apply to.  Once you have found the name, click on the From button and the name will go in that box.  Then press OK.  Click on NEXT
  5. Under Step 1, check  the box 'move a copy to a specified folder'.  Under Step 2, click on 'specified' and it will bring you to your Outlook Account and you can choose where you want it to go. If you want it to play a sound, in the same Step 1 box choose 'play a sound', then in the Step 2 box click on 'a sound' and a dialogue box will open with a list of possible sounds.  Scroll down until you see what looks like a road pylon.  Choose the sound you want.  I chose the basic Ring 01 sound, click on it and then press OPEN
  6. Press NEXT
  7. Click FINISH and it is all set up. 
Now when my boss sends me an email, it will go directly in the folder I identified it to go to and make a ring sound.  I know it can seem scary to have emails go into a folder (out of sight/out of mind - What if I miss something important?). Since it is the first sub-folder under my Inbox, it is noticeable and if I step away from my desk and miss the ring, I will see the folder bolded to show there is an unread email in it. 

I also check this folder regularly as I am doing work from there most of the time.  Another benefit to having all the emails from my boss in one place is if I want to find something, I just go to her folder and they are all there. 

I also like to keep track of emails I send her.  I name this folder under my Sent box as _ Joan Brown (TO).

To do this:
  1. Choose File, Manage Rules & Alerts
  2. Click on 'New Rule'
  3. Go to 'Start from a blank rule' and click on 'Apply Rule on messages I send'.  Then click NEXT
  4. Under Step 1 click on 'Sent to people or public group'
  5. Under Step 2 click on 'people or public group' and that will open your Address Book.  Choose the person you want the rule to apply to.  Once you have found the name, click on the To button and the name will go in that box.  Then press OK.  Click on NEXT
  6. Press NEXT
  7. Click FINISH and it is all set up. 
I really like having all the emails I send to my boss in one place.  It is so much easier to search and actually find.

There are a number of rules you can apply in Outlook, but as my daughter used to tell me when she was a teenager, too many rules is not cool, and it really can get confusing so I limit it to these two and that works just right for me.  

24 November 2018

Knowing when it's time to move on

Someone contacted me a year or so ago very fed up with her admin position.  She was wondering how she could make her job more interesting.  She was also having relationship problems with her colleagues.  I could feel her frustration.

I found her email the other day so thought I would contact her just to see how she was faring and things have not gotten any better.

My red flag to go is when the joy is gone.  I like to have a job where I have fun and can feel satisfied when I've done a good job.  I also want to feel challenged and have a sense of accomplishment when I have figured something out.  When I stop having that, I just go through the motions and that is never good.

There is always economics though and the need to earn a living so that has to be taken into consideration.  Can I afford to move on?

Sometimes there are opportunities in your own back yard that you can try.  A new boss, a new set of tasks and new work colleagues.  I used to work for a law firm and I recall a move I made to another law firm just across the street.  Nothing had really changed, except for the fact that I had a new boss, the area of law was different than I had done before and my desk faced a different direction.  Where I was located had more sunlight because I sat near a corner office.  Perhaps a change in direction will do the trick. 

I was working with a young admin assistant.  She was a good admin, but her passion was in graphics.  She was pleased when she did a good job in her admin role, but when she had a chance to create something, you could see her come alive.  She ended up staying for a short time and then signed up for a graphics course at the local college to pursue that dream.  I wished her well.  It is always nice to do something you are passionate about.

But sometimes, it is just time to move on.  If you do decide to go, do your homework first.  Check out the local job market, send your resume out to test the waters and look for something that gets your heart racing a bit.  It might seem scary at first because it is a new challenge.  If you read my previous article you will see I did that when I took the minute-taking job, but when I finally did it, I loved it and never looked back.  That job too eventually became routine and I moved on to something else.

The main thing is to have joy in whatever you are doing.

20 November 2018

Minute-Taking Coach

I am one of those rare birds who actually enjoys taking minutes, although I avoided taking them for years.  I wouldn't apply for a job if I saw that minute taking was a requirement and if an employer ever suggested it, I threatened I would quit.  However, when I finally decided to try it, I found I really liked it.  I enjoy the preparation leading up to the meeting, the actual taking of the minutes and the follow up afterwards.  I particularly like senior executive meetings.

So how did I get into it?  In 2007, I started this blog and wrote articles on various subjects of interest to an administrative assistant.  I had never written on minute taking though and knew that was probably something people would want to hear about.  So I bugged and bugged a friend of mine who was a Senior Executive Assistant and experienced minute taker to explain it all to me.  After listening to her, I realized that once I knew the purpose for being there and what I needed to listen for and take down, I really thought I could do it.  I'm not one to do things in half-measure so when a job came up for an Executive Assistant and Corporate Secretary to the Board of Directors, I thought, "Why not!" and plunged right in and went for the interview and was hired.

The CEO was taking a chance.  He knew I had years of administrative experience, but he also knew I had never taken minutes before, except for a short time right after high school.  The next Board of Directors meeting was in three months and nothing had been done to prepare for it so I plunged right in.  Under the CEO's tutelage, and with what my friend had taught me, I organized the next Board of Directors' meeting and all its Committees.

What changed things for me was having the CEO on my side helping me along the way.  I also had my friend I could call if I had any questions.  What a help that was to me in those early days.  When I finally did take the Board minutes, nobody at that table knew I was anything but a very professional and competent minute taker.  Having people on your side can make the difference.

From all my years of giving minute-taking webinars and speaking to groups of admins, I found that the fear of taking minutes is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.  That is why at Boomerang Virtual Assistants, I wanted to offer clients my services as a minute-taking coach.  I know from experience that it can make all the difference.
Having a coach by your side providing encouragement, being available to answer any questions, reviewing the minutes, making suggestions and helping along the way can be a game changer.  And yes, my friend who helped me all those years ago is also on my team and part of the baby boomer team who make up Boomerang Virtual Assistants.
If you want to invest in your assistant, or are an assistant who wants help with minute taking, please contact me at patricia@boomerangvirtualassistants.com or visit my website at www.boomerangvirtualassistants.com and fill out the enquiry form and let's talk minutes!

10 November 2018

Working with an Assistant

I was speaking with a senior Executive at my office today and she said one of the most valuable things that she has learnt over the years was how to work with an assistant.  I think when we are first in the workforce we are going to the office expecting our boss will tell us what to do and we will endeavour to do it according to our skill set.  However, there comes a time as we gain experience, that we will want to show our bosses what we can do and how we can help them.  Here is a good article on that subject.  Knowing how to work with your assistant is critical to your success and theirs: http://executivesecretary.com/training-an-executive-new-to-working-with-an-assistant/

I also wrote another article on this subject, which I thought would be useful for this discussion: https://secretaryhelpline.blogspot.com/2008/04/teaching-your-boss-to-be-boss.html

27 October 2018

On to the next task...

The way I work is to get things off my plate as soon as possible and move on to the next task.  The problem is it is now filed in the back burner of my mind.  It is still hovering in the background somewhere, but I've completed the work, done whatever I needed to do with it and diarized whatever needed to be diarized and moved on until I need to know it again.  My boss may come out a month or so later and ask me questions about it and sometimes my mind initially draws a blank.  I need a minute to go back and check and then I am completely up to speed again.

I find with the volume of work admins deal with throughout the day, week and month, we need some system to keep things straight.  For me, the thing that helps is to document everything .  I put items in my calendar as a reminder, but the problem with calendar reminders is unless you know which day you put it on or what you named it, you can't easily find it. 

For each meeting or event, I create what I call a meeting sheet.  Most everything I do as an admin revolves around meetings. I'm either organizing a meeting or responding to someone else about my boss's availability.  When I receive an email relating to a meeting, I create a meeting sheet and cut and paste the email in there and make any relevant notes.  If I put a reminder in the calendar, I note the date on the meeting sheet.  If I am waiting to hear back from someone, that is documented as well.  It started out that the meeting sheet was just for my information, but now I use it as a filing of sorts about each meeting.
This system keeps me straight.  I know others who keep folders in their Outlook account and drag and drop emails that have to do with a particular meeting.  Whichever way you do it, you need a way to keep track because ultimately your boss will come back and ask where you are at with a meeting or want to know the background of how they got where they are.

I do the same for all my tasks.  I document what I need to do, I document what I've done so far and I document what I need to do to get me to the end.  This way I'll never forget and can come back at any time to see my progress.

13 October 2018

Introducing Boomerang Virtual Assistants

I finally launched my new website and am open for business.  If you want to take a peek here is my URL address Boomerangvirtualassistants.com

It's very exciting!  Sometimes you just have to do it and quit trying to figure everything out.  My esthetician, who opened her own shop about a year ago, said she is learning the business side as she goes.  Of course you need to know the basics, but some things you really do learn on the go. 

I have the right resources to help me along: a bookkeeper to handle that part of the business.  My website is hosted on another platform so I have the security of being under someone else's umbrella and they have to do all the security work.  I bought a new computer and subscribed to a plan for IT support so I have an IT person at my beck and call.  I upgraded to the professional package offered by Dropbox so I can receive documents and recordings (I was already running out of space).  So I think I have all those bases covered. 

I am hoping my niche will set me apart from the rest.  We are a group of Baby Boomers who are not quite ready to retire (hence the name Boomerang) so we have a lot of experience to offer.  What I can't do or don't have time to do, the others can.

What we are offering is administrative services, but also minute taking.  Many people don't like taking minutes, but I do, so I am hoping that will help us stand out.  I also prepare electronic meeting packages using Adobe Acrobat Pro and have had many compliments over the years on the ease of using it so I hope to market that as well.  We also offer other services like travel arrangements, email management, meeting scheduling and all the regular admin services, but there are some things we don't do.  We don't want to get involved in any kind of budget work, social media help, graphic design and things like that.  It's just not our thing.  That is when I refer them to another virtual assistant service.  I think I'll need to get to know my virtual neighbours better. 

Thought I'd share. 

Have a great weekend all!

8 October 2018

Having an assistant

Recently, my sister (a long-time assistant) retired.  We were doing some work together and because she knew how busy I was at my day job, she immediately took over and started to do the small tasks she knew I didn't have time to do.  I appreciated all over again how nice it can be to have an assistant, and not only an assistant, but a very experienced one.  I didn't have to worry about a thing because I knew she was taking care of it.  It took a real burden off my shoulders.  Unfortunately, this arrangement will be short lived, but it did remind me again how important our role can be.

I have also seen what it is like when it doesn't work.  If a boss and their admin are not communicating expectations, that can create more work for both of them.  It is important that you both know what the other does and where the assistant can take over and the boss can leave it.  This way it can work beautifully.

For instance, I have a flagging system with my boss for her emails.  If I have handled it, I put a checkmark so she knows I have done whatever I need to do and she can just read it for information knowing it is being taken care of.  If it is an item she needs to read, I flag it for her and wait to see what her instructions will be.  She usually cc's me on the email when she replies and then I get to work on whatever it is she wants me to do.

This system has been working well, but it took awhile for her to catch on.  At first she was replying to a lot of the emails I had already handled.  Thankfully, we were saying the same thing, but I needed to reiterate a few times that I was handling it.  I think she finally got it because the last time I was in her office, she mentioned she saw the checkmark beside it so knew I was handling it.  It sometimes takes awhile for your boss to really have trust that the work is being taken care of and will be done, but if you are consistent, over time they will see you are on it.

It also depends on your boss.  My previous boss had no problem handing over things to me and expected I would have the work done.  I don't think it ever crossed his mind I wouldn't do it.  His expectation actually helped me to be focused when going through his emails to ensure I handled whatever I needed to.  Having a one-on-one meeting afterwards, was always a good way I could catch him up on the things I had done and where we were at.  Communication and consistency are key.  As your boss gets used to the new working arrangement, things will go smoother.

I also find we have a role to play to help our bosses have more confidence that the job will be handled appropriately.  If my boss asks me to do something, I write it down as she is telling me.  She can see that I am writing it down and that helps her to have confidence that it won't be forgotten.  Sometimes I will repeat it back to her to satisfy myself that I have it right, but also to help her to know I have it right.  If there is a misunderstanding, that will be a good time to clear it up and get on the same page.

I also ask questions if I don't fully understand what she wants me to do.  Don't say you understand, if you don't.  Sometimes you may think you understand, but when you get back to your desk and start the task, you have more questions.  Never be afraid to ask questions.  This will also give them confidence that you understand the task.  Of course, it is always good to go into a meeting with all your questions in one meeting rather than asking here and there, but at times you need to ask to make sure you are doing what is required.

When the assistant/boss relationship is working, it can be great!

9 September 2018

Trouble in the office

I always enjoy Anita's insights.  This is a good read on ways to handle passive/aggressive colleagues.

2 September 2018

Virtual Assistance: What a way to work!

I have recently been doing some online work and it has opened up a whole new world for me.  Of course others have been on the bandwagon for some time and are doing quite well.  What do they know that I don't and why have I not moved on this before now?

Striking out on your own can be frightening.  Especially when you are used to the traditional workplace of going to an office, getting a steady paycheck, being on the company pension and benefit plan, etc.  There are definitely things to consider, but the opportunities can be limitless.

I always thought the ideal situation would be if you had two incomes, as in a spousal relationship.  Then if the other partner had a 9 to 5 job with all the trimmings, striking out on your own would not be as risky.  But what if you are on your own like I am? 

I think I just answered my own question about being an entrepreneur.  The definition of an entrepreneur is exactly the opposite of security.  Some people have a dream and go for it.  Right now, I'm sitting on the fence so it would seem that I am not currently an entrepreneur, but I could be.  I have always been a late bloomer, but when I put my mind to something, watch out!

I have spoken to a few individuals who have done well on their own.  They have taken the things they are really good at and have effectively marketed it.  But where do I start? 

I found a good article on the importance of the virtual assistant website that is worth a read if you are curious about it and a must read if you are planning on it.  8 Must-Have Elements For Your Virtual Assistant Website

Also, I plan to continue to talk to people about it.  I want to get all the information I can before I move forward.  Here are some virtual assistant sites that inspired me to think that I could do this:

Canadian Virtual Gurus
Virtual Office Guy
Hire My Mom
Jennie Lyon VA

Baby boomers, of which I am one, are on the move.  We are all at the age where we can leave if we can afford it.  At the organization where I currently work it seemed for a time there was an announcement of someone's retirement every week.  A few were done in clusters because there were two or three leaving at the same time.  And as I walk the halls, I see a lot of gray heads that are either contemplating retirement soon or have already given their notice.

I am anticipating retirement, but can't see that I will be happy with the traditional idea of retirement such as travelling, cottage life, cruises, etc.  It's not that I don't want to do those things, I do, but I want a little more than that too.

People are healthier than they used to be at this age and I don't think we are ready to throw in the towel quite yet.  I remember when some of the people I knew growing up retired.  Of course I was younger at the time, and I thought they were so old, but now that I've reached that age, I don't feel old at all - well, except for the natural creaks and groans that come with age, I feel pretty darn good and I still have a lot to offer professionally.

I do want to take time to smell the roses in my retirement though.  I have two lovely grandsons that I enjoy spending time with, but they are getting older and at some point they won't want to spend as much time with their Granny as they do right now.  If I call them to go for ice cream and play in the park, they are excited to go.  In a few years time one of them will be a pre-teen and I just can't see that happening anymore.  I'll miss it like I do now when I think back to my daughter when she was younger, but I'm happy she is grown and independent with her own family and I feel the same about my grandsons. 

So what will I do with my time?  Working virtually seems to be a nice answer to that question.  I won't have to go to work and can work as much as I want from the comfort of my home.  I also have friends who have retired and are skilled as an administrative professional, who also want to work now and again and earn some money to take a vacation.  Sounds like a recipe for a good business.

Stay tuned...

2 May 2018

Meeting with your Boss

It is always good to be prepared when meeting with your boss.  The purpose of the meeting should be to ask questions, get direction, provide and/or receive information.

I would suggest the following:
  • If you have access to your boss's email Inbox, go through it as that will be a good place to start.  As you go through the items, you will have questions about meetings he or she is attending, questions about events they may or not be attending, etc.  Also check their Sent items in case the answer lies in there.  Sometimes I have checked the Sent items to see my boss has already emailed the organizer to send her regrets to a meeting.
  • Review the items you want to discuss before the meeting with your boss.  Sometimes you may have a list of items, but don't get to see your boss face-to-face for a few days.  It is better if you go in prepared.  It will be a better use of both your time.  You do not have to spend a lot of time reviewing, but quickly go through the list so you are familiar with each item.
  • Bring a notepad and pen, or if you prefer electronic, then bring your laptop. 
  • Some people like to use their cell phones and write on the Notes app any actions they have, but unless you are provided with a cell phone from your organization, I would not recommend using your personal cell phone for work related items.  As convenient as it may seem, it is always best to separate your work and personal life.  If your position requires a cell phone, then your organization should provide one.  There are also work privacy issues that could be compromised if you combine the two.
  • I bring a folder with printed emails/letters etc. that I have questions about or want to provide her with information.  This can also be done on your laptop by making a list of what you need, but whichever method you use, it should be available at a moment's notice.  Sometimes my boss has called me from out of town and asked if I had anything to discuss while she has me on the phone.  I grab my folder and go through the items with her that I need an answer to sooner rather than later.  The rest I leave for our regular meetings.
  • Meet at the beginning of the work day.  If you meet too late in the day, you will undoubtedly leave the meeting with a whole slew of action items that may not be able to wait until the next day.  If you want to leave work on time, have your regular meetings with your boss in the morning.
Be prepared to come out of the meeting with work to be done, with answers to questions so you can move forward on a project and marching orders for other things your boss might want you to do.  It is better to get this information in a regular meeting with your boss, than on the fly.  If you are in a meeting for this purpose then you can ask all the questions you need while you have your boss in front of you.  Sometimes it is hard to get them in one place. 

My current boss is not good at answering emails and quite frankly, I don't really want to clutter up her Inbox with my items when I can ask her by phone or in person.  Previously, in another position, my boss worked great by email and always knew to check anything from me right away.  If that is the case for you, then you should make sure every email you send counts and you do not send reply to all emails or any other clutter that they don't really need to see.

16 February 2018

Viewing Gridlines in a Table in Word

When I create a table in Word I like to see the gridlines (the faint lines that tell you there is a line there, but if you print the document you won't see any lines).  I like this especially for minute taking as I use a minute template with tables.  I prefer creating it this way because I don't want to be fussing with formatting while in a meeting.  The end product will look like it is one area on the document, but really it is many rows of cells.  By doing this it makes it easy to jump from cell to cell. 

Setting the gridlines is done by clicking on the View Gridlines button under the Layout Tab, which is in the Table area (located at the bottom on the ribbon).  See screenshot below:

This is a toggle button so once you set it, it will be on for all your documents, which is what you probably want if you like this feature.  To take it off you just click on it and then it will return to having no gridlines.

I go through this every time I change jobs and start over again with a new computer.  Since this setting is not the default in Word, when you start over on a new computer, it won't be turned on.  I don't change jobs very often so every time I have to change it I am kicking myself for not writing the instructions down as I know it is not intuitive and will take me some time to find the answer.  Also, when you Google it, the answer that usually comes up is for turning on gridlines in your document, which would be used in drafting or in art, not the kind I am looking for. 

See below for screenshot on how to turn on the other gridlines.  It can be found under the View tab in the Show area and you would just tick the Gridlines box to get it to show. 

Of course, the fact that in both cases they are called gridlines is confusing as well.