How an executive assistant can give you back 8 hours a week


Assistants don’t come with a handbook and executives are rarely taught how to work with them effectively.
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With the ability to be more self-sufficient than ever there can be a temptation for executives to do more themselves, wading into territory that was once an assistant’s to own and manage.

This creates a dilution in the impact an assistant can have, and the return on investment an executive can expect to receive from the role.  

Having an executive assistant and not using them to their full potential is a missed opportunity. It can lead to fewer opportunities to maximise the working hours in a day and create the spaciousness that helps prevent burnout with broader teams.

The most powerful and valuable dynamic between an executive and their assistant is  a partnership model rather than a support model.

A support model is the traditional, transactional relationship between an executive and their assistant. The dynamic tends to focus on BAU and tactical matters rather than strategic planning and execution.

Developing a strategic dynamic through focused and intentional partnering is what helps an executive to truly get out of the weeds, off a reactivity cycle and into a state of being in control of their time.

This approach brings enormous benefits, perhaps the most unexpected (and attractive) being the possibility of saving up to 8 hours per week.   That’s precious time, energy and focus that could instead be channelled to the highest impact priorities.

Assistants don’t come with a handbook and executives are rarely taught how to work with them effectively. Here are 8 simple ways to begin to cultivate a partnership dynamic with an assistant and maximise your return on the investment.

1. Prioritise developing mutual trust, respect, understanding and a psychologically safe space. For an assistant to do their job well they need to be able to safely challenge perspectives, decisions and priorities.

2. Regard your regular one to one meetings as sacred and not negotiable. Use this time to share your biggest concerns, pressure points, stakeholder needs and the work that’s at-risk or off-track. This helps your assistant to understand where their focus will have the highest impact and where you most need space.  When one to one time is sacrificed, roadblocks and bottlenecks appear and more noise surfaces. All of this creates pain, distraction and reduced focus in teams and in the case of CEO’s, the broader organisation.

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3. Regularly look to the future together, several months out. Consider the future milestones and deadlines and what needs to be done to deliver quality work on time and satisfy stakeholder needs. This allows an assistant to manage up and down and set the expectations and timeframes that will provide an executive with space to review materials in good time, not just in time.

4.  Many executive’s calendars become a template that’s replicated year on year.  Strategic assistants take a critical lens to a calendar, often. They’ll identify what’s shifted in the business and the priorities that have moved on, the individuals who may now be gently released to be a little more independent with less face time and any regular meetings that no longer make sense. Challenging how and where time is spent can help change an organisation’s perspective that free time isn’t time to be filled, rather, it’s time to protect, allowing thoughtful execution of work at work.

5. For greater ROI, give latitude to an assistant to colour outside the lines of their position description. Many assistants have Chief of Staff potential but don’t have the depth of visibility of priorities and work to lean in further. Exposure to deeper context through attending meetings and committees will support developing this, and in turn, free hours of your time.

6. Elevate your assistant’s profile by not only giving them a seat at the table, but seeking their perspective and consultation in meetings.  Never skip past them in check-ins and introduce them in a way that’s impactful and sends the message that they’re a valued and respected colleague.

7. Understand that every assistant is different.  Seek to identify their talents and skills and leverage these to free your time. First drafts of communications, reports and papers are often a good place to start.

8. An assistant has a unique perspective of where blocks and friction occurs. Be open to recommendations about updated best practices and the disciplines that will create spaciousness in an organisation and endorse those changes to help influence inevitable resistance. 

Know that this is the one role that is entirely invested in your success and most importantly, understanding the strength of your partnership will determine how much ease exists in your organisation.  Workflow pushes down so thoughtful and elegant planning from the top creates breathing space not just for an executive, but more broadly.  It’s a relationship worth investing in.

Rachael Bonetti is the founder of Elevating Corporate Support.

Further reading

Executive assistant reveals CEO’s most impactful relationship

Executive assistant reveals CEO secrets to managing relationships