It just takes time.

Last fall while on maternity leave, another amazing assistant helped take care of my workload so I could tend to my newest little girl. The assistant did an outstanding job! ; )  

When I got back, she and I debriefed about what went well and the items I needed to follow up. She made a comment that her greatest challenge was not knowing the context and history of different people with whom she communicated. It was something that I have taken for granted having worked with my boss for so long.  This assistant was new to staff and was still meeting our church family. I reassured her that it takes time to get to know people.

This can be a challenge in the early months, and even years, of assisting. When your boss asks you to set up a lunch or contact a person, you may not know their phone number or the context for the meeting. It can be difficult because you don’t want to ask too many questions, but you also don’t know the details.

Having served in the same position for almost a decade, I have had the privilege of getting to know a lot of people with whom my boss interacts. I have been honored to greet pastors, work alongside our board, write cards to church members, and talk with business people in the community.  In doing so, I have heard their stories, celebrated their successes, and prayed for their families.

I want to encourage you that this is part of the job that just takes time. Getting to know people and relationships isn’t something you can “microwave cook”. It is a journey that will take you being involved and in the loop of their lives, not in a gossip way, but in a genuine "care for them as people, value their family and investment in the church/ministry/business" kind of way.  Day by day, as you meet people and learn about your community, this knowledge will help you continue to grow to be the best assistant for your boss.  

Tasks vs. Projects

In a previous post, I talked about my love for TO DO lists. I shared that Google Tasks is my favorite and that I find great satisfaction in checking off items.  

But I must confess that in this post I didn't admit my weakness with lists. And if we are going to be honest friends, learning and growing together this journey, I need to shoot straight with you: I don't usually create helpful to do lists.

I love them yes, and I love checking off the items I get done, but my downfall is that I make lists of goals or projects, rather than tasks. I put together a list for a day that I realize in my right mind will never be accomplished in one day. However, instead of adjusting or eliminating that list to make it more achievable, I find myself toiling to get it all done, and I live ever frustrated and constantly discouraged under the guilt that I never get enough done. Am I the only one who does this?? 

To Do lists have a strict and simple purpose. They are tasks that can get completed in a day. If you have an item that takes you an entire day, it should be the only item on your list for that day. If you choose to have more on your list, they should be things that take 10-30 minutes to accomplish. (And if we are talking honestly, I need to recognize that I also have a poor perception of the duration for tasks. For example, I cannot run an errand in 8 minutes, not even to the bank. I need to put a little more margin in my time... should this be another post?)

Here is my to do list from today: 

  • Call Katie- I plan 2 minutes to leave a message, but she ends up answering. We talk for 45 min, and the conversation was so good for my soul but slowed down my "productivity". 
  • Confirm Appointments- I plan 20 minutes to text everyone, but then there is an adjustment for Tuesday and it ends up taking about 40 minutes to reconfirm
  • Find & print iCloud receipt- 3 min, as long at the internet and copier are working...

All those seem normal, but then there's these:

  • Respond to emails- like ALL 34?! This could take me all day because emails contain their own tasks within them...
  • Write thank you cards- How many? It takes me 6-10 minutes to write one card. Unless it's heartfelt and then it is about 30 minutes to draft and then write. What can I say- I like encouraging others.
  • Buy gifts for upcoming birthdays- This is a project. Period. It really needs to be broken down into researching for gifts, ordering online, going to each store, buying wrapping paper, and wrapping gifts. 
  • Plan Staff Development- Yup, here's another project. I need to make tasks out of this to even begin to feel accomplished. 

So as you can see, there is an art to task lists, but "Mastering my To Do List" is a project I don't expect to get done in a day. 


P.S.- Here are some articles I have found helpful if you can relate: 

Scheduling a Meeting

A large majority of my job is scheduling appointments for my boss. Whether it’s people who are requesting to meet with him, or individuals he would like to connect with, I have learned that there are key questions to ask that will make for the most successful meetings. To help our bosses be most efficient with his schedule, below are some questions I ask before just adding a meeting to the calendar:

  • To help my boss be best prepared for this meeting, can you give me just a brief context about it? (Ask someone requesting to meet) For example: is this meeting about relationships, marriage, finances, counseling, church life, future, business opportunity, or children (you may have some categories that are more common for your boss). Encourage them that you aren't asking them to share the details, but that this context helps your boss to be ready to the meeting.
    • Sidenote: This can also be a huge help for him not to be caught offguard with an unexpected meeting like a disgruntled employee or a heavy marriage counseling session.
  • How urgent is this meeting? Because our boss’ schedules tend to fill up quickly, we want to make sure meetings are happening in a timely manner. If it is time sensitive, I will do my best to rearrange other meetings while still valuing every person and making sure they understand the nature of any adjustment.
  • Who would you like to be in this meeting? Usually our boss will drive the attendance list so it is good to get an idea of who needs to be there. That way you can check their schedules and set a time that’s good for everyone. 
  • How long do you anticipate needing for this meeting? Typically I schedule meetings for an hour with 15 minutes buffer time between just to give some breathing room or if a meeting goes over, but sometimes people just need to “pop in” (still usually takes 30 minutes) or other meetings will last 1.5 hours so it is good to be prepared for these so your boss isn’t running behind the whole day.
  • Would you like lunch brought in? Any meeting that is between 11:30am-1pm, I will check if my boss would like food. Otherwise, I will do my best to make sure that his schedule has at least an hour in the middle of the day for lunch. Everyone’s got to have time to eat ; )
  • Would you like to meet at the office or at the restaurant? I ask this for any lunch meeting because sometimes it is more convenient to meet somewhere if he has another appointment offsite afterward. Other times he prefers to ride with the individual. 
  • Is there anything you need to be prepared for this meeting? If my boss is meeting with business men, key leaders, or prospective employees, I want to make sure he has any documents, questions, or information he needs BEFORE the meeting so I am not rushing to print when the meeting starts.

 YOUR TURN: What questions do you ask that help give you context to schedule meetings at the best and for the right length of time?