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Top diary planning tips for Executive PAs

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As every Executive PA will testify, managing the big boss’s diary is certainly no picnic in the park! In fact, according to a world-renowned expert on the matter, Adam Fidler – Executive Assistant Consultant and Founder of the of the Adam Fidler Academy, the complexity and unpredictability of some diaries can easily create full-time work for two PAs, whilst taking up 80 percent of each individual’s workload.

In his blog, Managing difficult diaries – a flexible approach, he shares his insights on how you, our lovely Executive PAs, can manage your boss’s diary in a creative, practical and no-nonsense manner.

Top diary planning tips for Executive PAs

According to Adam, a good diary manager needs to be decisive yet flexible. He writes, “Flexibility in a diary is paramount as it allows staff access to the boss, and ensures what needs to be done gets done by avoiding barriers or ‘hold ups’ due to the unavailability of managers,” He says.

Of course, there will always be some meetings that cannot be rescheduled, and it is for this precise reason that you need to continuously communicate with your boss to determine which meetings can be moved, which can be delegated to someone else, and which meetings you can send his or her apologies to.

Taken from his original blog, below are three of Adam's top diary planning tips for Executive PAs:

1. Be creative with your boss's time

If your boss has a busy diary, and most senior executives do, then you’ll need to be creative with their schedule. When a meeting comes in, or a request for a meeting that results in a clash in the diary, Adam recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does the boss have to attend this meeting in person? Can they dial in (tele-conference or video-conference) rather than attend in person?

  • Does the boss actually need to attend this meeting? Can they send a delegate, and receive a de-brief or summary after the meeting from someone else who is going, or even just read the minutes of the meeting?

  • Can the meeting be done earlier in the working day (for example, as a breakfast meeting) or over lunch (with lunch provided) or even as a late afternoon meeting (perhaps with sandwiches or refreshments provided)?

  • Does the boss need to stay for the whole meeting? If they are just there to set the scene, can they attend just for the first 30 minutes, or perhaps just at the end of the meeting for the plenary or conclusions, decisions, and agreement of next steps?

  • Is a meeting necessary at all? Can the decision be made by a quick telephone call, or an email between several parties, or quite simply by a corridor conversation that’s not scheduled?

2. Create a meetings folder

If you are new in your role or work for a boss that has many different types of meetings to attend that occur frequently, then you should make a list (or print out the diary entry from Outlook) of the regular meetings that come up.

The meeting title is what you’ll remember the meetings by, so if you create a list of the meetings by meeting title, or print out the Outlook entry and put in a folder (in alphabetical order) you can then take the whole list into your boss and ask him or her which, if any of these meetings: (a) she or he must attend under any circumstances; (b) those which they can send a delegate or proxy to if there is a clash; (c) those meetings which they possibly don’t have to attend, for example those you can send their apologies to if they aren’t free; and (d) those that they don’t ever want or need to attend (the ones where you might inform the meeting organiser politely: ‘My boss no longer attends these; please can you take them off the electronic distribution list.’).

Then, when the electronic invite comes up, or the meeting owner calls you to arrange a meeting, you can make a clear decision about how to manage that meeting, as you have made a note about whether it’s priority or not next to the meeting title in your meetings folder.

3. The diary should show what your boss IS and ISN'T doing

Just like how you need to keep track of your boss’s pressing engagements, you also need to know what meetings your boss will need to miss, and how to act accordingly.

For example, when you send apologies to someone because the boss cannot make that appointment or formal dinner, use the all day event in Outlook to put at the top of the diary the word ‘Apols’ (short for Apologies) followed by the name of the event that the boss isn’t attending, along with the time and venue. To illustrate the example further: I may have put at the top of my boss’ diary for a specific date: ‘Apols: SFA Dinner, 6:00 pm, Town Hall’. This clearly shows the boss that I’ve sent his apologies to a meeting, and it’s a reminder for me that I did send his apologies. Otherwise, in four weeks’ time when the boss asks you what happened to that invite he had to the Town Hall Dinner, how would you remember what you’ve done with it? You can then find the date and confidently tell the boss you did send his apologies.

Being a good diary manager is an art

Adam writes, “Being a good diary manager means thinking outside the box, being creative with scheduling appointments, and knowing your boss’ key priorities to be able to make decisions on the diary. It also means having the trust and autonomy from your boss to be able to manage his or her diary as appropriate in order to get the job done.”

In short, although it may take a fair bit of work and juggling to get the diary in order, but if you’re good at managing a diary, then the boss will respect you for it, and leave you to crack on.

About the Author

Adam Fidler is an International Executive Assistant Consultant who offers teaching, training and self-development of PAs, EAs and Business Support Managers. He is the author and trainer of two of the UK's most sought-after corporate Executive PA courses 'Get Ahead as an Executive PA’ and 'The Strategic Executive Assistant' which run regularly in London and Manchester. In January 2017, Adam launched his own training academy in Manchester, the Adam Fidler Academy, which offers high quality training of office professionals including the EA Diploma and formal qualifications for Assistants at Level 3 and Level 4.

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