Lessons from someone with 20+ years of experience working with high-profile C-Suite executives and celebrities.
Have you ever looked back on a completely exhausting day and thought, “what did I actually do today?” Or maybe you have big business or life goals that have been on your “someday” list, but you can never find the time to even start.
What is time management?
Most people think time management is about shaving a few minutes off your morning commute, or getting to zero emails in your inbox. Maybe time management to you means ending a meeting a few minutes early to “get some time back in your day,” or nailing the art of multitasking.
However, time management is actually about thoughtfully and proactively filling your days with meaningful moments so you can live the life you want to live.
If you’re looking to effectively nail the true art of time management, below are my top 5 tips.
5 time management tips for executive assistants
1. Time block
Using the time blocking method is the number one way to successfully organise a day—especially when managing busy executives’ calendars. Time blocking simply means blocking time in your day to complete certain tasks, not just allotting time for meetings and appointments.
Time blocking is excellent for helping you achieve your goals. Take your goal (whether it’s short- or long-term) and break it down into specific action items that will get you to that end result. Then, put those tasks directly into your calendar. You’re now filling your days with moments that are getting you closer to the life you want to live!
However, don’t feel like you need to block every moment of every day. There need to be gaps to refocus your brain and account for delays. Looking at a completely blocked calendar can also get overwhelming, even if some of those blocks are actually breaks.
A 40-hour, thoughtfully planned week can output the same amount of work as a 60+ hour week pursued without structure. Organizing your time blocks into categories is a good example of thoughtful planning. All high-intensity, high-output work should be done during your prime focus times. For some, this is first thing in the morning, for others it may be late at night or right after lunch.
2. Stop multitasking
Did you know that it takes your brain anywhere from 0.5 – 3 full seconds to switch between thoughts? Your brain can’t think of numerous things at once. As a result, multitasking just makes your brain context switch between tasks without you actually getting any purposeful work done. No wonder we’re all exhausted!
Think of days when your brain seemed full, but you can’t figure out what you did. Was your day planned out thoughtfully so you could easily switch from one task to the next? Was your core focus time used properly for the hard tasks you needed to complete? How many times did you let yourself get distracted by Slack or email notifications?
Constant interruptions and “urgent” tasks can destroy your time-blocking efforts. As executive assistants, we’re constantly putting out other people’s fires, and being interrupted is something that just comes with the territory.
To get past the problem of experiencing constant daily interruptions, try having your top three priorities for the day written down beside you (and, of course, in your time blocks in your calendar) while you work. If you get pulled in another direction, you can always come back to your time-blocked calendar and list of priorities without having to think too much about what to do next.
3. Streamline meetings and daily commitments
Streamlining means simplifying. Using workflow software and techniques helps to generate more streamlined meetings and overall workdays. By streamlining your day, you can accomplish more. It really is that simple.
Every item that you’ve thoughtfully placed in your calendar should be there for a reason. Remember, we’re filling our days with meaningful moments so we can ultimately achieve our goals.
Meetings are the number one time-consuming task that gets placed in our calendars. Streamlining meetings helps us to better control our days and remove overcommitments.
Have you ever been in a meeting and thought, “Wow, I got a lot of work done while multitasking during that meeting”? If you have, you need to change your tactics. If you’re in meetings to which you’re not paying 100% attention, then you should not be in the meeting.
How do you streamline processes? Apps like Fellow.app are an executive assistant’s go-to for better organizing an executive’s time and calendar. Fellow allows the executive assistant to review the collaborative meeting agenda, add talking points, and send the agenda to all of the attendees to ensure a productive use of time. By sharing the collaborative agenda, the attendees, including the executive, are better able to prepare and have an efficient discussion.
4. Go analog
Executive assistants love any tool that helps them get their job done efficiently and effectively. Anything that can simplify an executive assistant’s life to help them better assist a very busy CEO or founder is a tool worth using. And sometimes, you have to go analog.
Going analog, or limiting app usage, can help you remember your priorities and also help you avoid distractions throughout the day. Have you ever opened up your phone to see what the next task is on your to-do list, then all of a sudden got distracted by your social media notifications? Then, 2 hours later, you find yourself having gone down the social media rabbit hole and wasted a lot of your day. Analog helps prevent this.
Limiting your apps to just a handful also helps prevent distraction, which is one of the many reasons executive assistants use Fellow. Rather than using multiple applications, Fellow streamlines productivity by enabling users to use one application for multiple purposes: to create meeting agendas with hundreds of templates to choose from, track OKRs, organise workflows through shared and private streams, get 360 feedback, and more! Working through your time blocks in your calendar using Fellow is an amazing way to get rid of unnecessary distractions.
5. Use the Hollywood math equation
High-performing executives and executive assistants get more done in a day than others because of their ability to focus. Focusing on one task at a time and avoiding multitasking is the key to great success. If you focus throughout the day, your days will feel more accomplished.
In Hollywood, a math equation is thrown around a lot to describe how people at the top of their game focus on achieving their goals:
20% + 20% + 20% + 80% DOES NOT EQUAL 100%
Well of course that is the case, but what does this equation have to do with focus? It goes back to multitasking. If you’re giving 20% here and 20% there, then 20% and 80% to something else, you’re not focusing your efforts 100% on what you’re doing at any given moment. Think of professional athletes: they train for upwards of 16 hours a day, they focus on their end result of winning, and they focus on training. When their competition is complete, then they can focus on living. The situation is the same with A-list celebrities on film sets: they focus on what they’re performing in the moment, and they don’t multitask.
Now, I’m not telling you that you need to work upwards of 16 hours a day to be successful at time management. Instead, whenever you’re doing something, make sure you’re giving the task 100% of your focus.
Time management is about filling your days with meaningful moments that can help you accomplish the life you want to live. Using techniques like time blocking, avoiding multitasking, remaining focused, limiting apps to a small number of really useful ones (like Fellow), and remembering the Hollywood math equation are ways high-performing executive assistants get through every day with their super busy rockstar executives.
Anyone interested in better time management can start by using these techniques to improve their days and drive towards their ultimate successes and goals. It may be hard to implement everything right away, so start by blocking an hour at the end of today to go through your calendar and see where you may be losing focus.