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Five Time-Management Tips To Make You And Your Assistant More Productive

Here’s how to avoid wasting time micromanaging the person you’ve hired to take things off your plate.

Five Time-Management Tips To Make You And Your Assistant More Productive
[Photo: Flickr user Brian]

So you finally hired your first assistant or direct report who can take a few things off your plate. Congrats! Now what?

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If you aren’t careful, the task of managing your new hire can actually cancel out any time-saving gains they might be able to offer you. You’ve known for a while that you need to delegate, but it’s sometimes a struggle to know what to hand off–and how. You might even feel a little guilty asking someone to do certain tasks for you that you’ve always done yourself.

Here are a few tips to make sure you bring your new hire up to speed quickly and avoid micromanaging their work–this way you can both be as productive as you possibly can.

1. Reinforce The Right Habits

If you’ve been smart about it, you’ve hired a candidate whose skills and qualities will make them helpful to you. But in the first few weeks while they settle in, it’s worth calling out whenever they demonstrate the abilities you want to see more of. A little positive reinforcement can go a long way toward setting up time-management habits that benefit you both, yet it’s something that often doesn’t happen enough during the on-boarding process.

These are a few habits you should praise early on:

  • Motivation to do things independently: It doesn’t matter whether you’ve hired an administrative assistant specifically or brought on a junior employee who reports to you while also working on your team. Either way, you shouldn’t feel like you have to push to get things done. Wherever they take the initiative, notice it and say thanks!
  • Quick, clear, open communication: To make the best use of their time (and yours), your new staff member needs to communicate well with you, your colleagues, and your clients. Sometimes this requires being sensitive to the fact that you might not always be well organized, and having patience with your process–after all, that’s why you need their help.
  • Getting the hang of systems and software: Technical chops matter, even if that just means managing an Outlook calendar. If your new hire doesn’t know how to use your main workflow tools already, give positive feedback for picking them up quickly.
  • Keeping up with your pace: This one is tricky to nail right from the get-go, so express your appreciation if your assistant jumps in and picks up your work cadence right away. That’s especially important if you’ve hired an administrative assistant who works remotely for you part-time, since they likely have multiple clients as well as personal responsibilities of their own.

2. Systematize Your Procedures

People who have a gift for administrative work tend to thrive with very clear, step-by-step procedures. Ideally you’ll have those systems set up and totally documented before they begin. But if you don’t have a chance to do that, work it into the training process: Ask your assistant to write up your procedures while you show them what they are.

In my coaching business, I have written procedures for everything from how to put up a blog post to how to respond to new client inquiries. Every frequently repeated administrative task is documented and delegated. This doesn’t just make sure things stay consistent once you hand them off–it also saves you the time of verbally explaining everything, and your new hire the time of having to ask basic questions about how things work.

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(Plus, if you later need to hire somebody new, you’ll automatically have the resources for your outgoing assistant to train your incoming one.)

3. Track All The Tasks You’ve Delegated

No, this isn’t a euphemism for “micromanage everything you’ve handed off.” It’s simply a matter of recording delegated tasks in a standard location where your assistant can mark off their progress on them. It doesn’t mean you’ll need or want to check in on that all the time, but this habit can add some clarity to tasks and processes that are now split between two people, rather than just handled by one. This saves time for you both.

Some of my coaching clients like to delegate tasks through Outlook tasks, others used shared lists on Wunderlist, and others like myself just rely on a few cloud-based shared documents. For my assistant and me, it works best to have a master shared Google doc where we record all of the current assignments we’re working on in parallel. Anytime I think of something for her, I type it into that document. My litmus test for effective delegation is not, “Could I do this?” but “Can she do this?” If the answer is yes, I add it to the doc, then hand it off.

We’ve also set up a shared spreadsheet for tracking particular types of work, like new client inquiries or book promotion tasks. Assistants and new junior employees can sometimes struggle with prioritization, especially when they’re settling in, so if you have particular deadlines for items, these simple task-tracking methods can keep them all in one spot and hard to miss.

4. Meet Regularly

Meetings are usually seen as time-wasters–and they certainly can be. But when you’re trying to save time by delegating, setting up recurring check-ins can prove critical to both parties. They don’t have to be long; even a regular 30-minute weekly meeting can help keep you on the same page and reset any priorities week by week. It’s a great opportunity to talk through delegated tasks, explain new projects, and generally make sure your assistant has the right information to move forward.

Most people who are hired to help support somebody else tend to waste the most time simply because they aren’t totally clear on what they’re supposed to do. Taking a few minutes to get some clarity on their top goals and priorities can save hours of time over the course of a workweek.

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5. Set Reminders

In addition to the one-off tasks you delegate, you’ll likely have quite a few recurring tasks assigned to your assistant. Ask them to set recurring calendar reminders for those. You can also duplicate those same reminders in your own calendar so you can confirm that they’re done. This can be a good safeguard to make sure nothing falls off your radar (just be careful not to overdo it–your assistant needs to know you trust them to handle it).

Ultimately, the best time-management strategy for both of you is incredibly simple: Keep the lines of communication open. You may find there are small things you can ask your assistant to do that wind up saving you hours of time, or vice versa. But you’ll never know which ways to split things up the most productively if you can’t work as a team and value the roles you both play.