COUNTING THE DAYS
OfficePRO magazine, January/February 2004
Tips for taking pain out of calendar management
BY JENNY C. MCCUNE
It always amazes me how much time I spend on the calendar,” says Cheryl Hopkins CPS/CAP, senior executive assistant at MBNA America Bank N.A. in Wilmington, Delaware. “I love my job, but managing the calendar is one of the most challenging parts of my day.”
In general, calendar management is the one task that consumes the largest portion of admins’ time (cited by 68 percent), according to an April 2003 survey by the American Management Association (AMA). Correspondence/communications was ranked as the biggest timeconsumer by 65 percent and meeting and event organization by 58 percent of respondents.
Fortunately, there are ways to make the job easier, more efficient, and less time-consuming.
Avoid Communication Breakdown
Ask your boss about his or her preferences and priorities. Communication can make both of your lives easier. You and your executive should agree on the following:
• What meetings your executive should attend and how you make that judgment. “You need to know what’s important,” says Mico Zinty, director of AMA’s Innovation Award and a program director who oversees seminars and other programs for administrative personnel. “Does your boss need to be at the meeting or could it be delegated to someone else?”
• What time of the day is best for meetings. What are your supervisor’s meeting time preferences? You may not be able to accommodate all of his wishes, but you can try. “If you know your boss’ peak times are in the morning, you’ll want to schedule meetings for the afternoon or vice versa,” says Barry J. Izsak, owner of Arranging It All, an organizational consultancy in Austin, Texas, and president of the National Association of Professional Organizers.
• When and how you will go over your manager’s schedule. Some admins and their bosses prefer a weekly meeting on a Monday or Friday to go over the next week’s meetings. Others prefer daily, short meetings. The idea is to come up with a regular time to review scheduling as well as a method for making changes and keeping the executive informed.
• What schedule format your boss prefers. Some managers love technology and will want their schedules put on handhelds, such as a PalmPilot or a Blackberry. Others prefer a paper system. And some managers fall between the two extremes—maybe they’ll want a hard copy, but they’ll also want it on their desktop computer and their laptop.
Judy Root has served as secretary for several presidents at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, a nonprofit educational institution in Michigan. Her last president, whom she served for five years, preferred a paper organizer. Her new boss wants his calendar online. She’s currently learning the ins and outs of Microsoft Outlook for scheduling.
• Your boss’ other preferences. Does your supervisor want to be interrupted during a meeting if it runs over? Can you determine which meetings you should schedule or do you need to run everything by her? How much time does she need between meetings?
Educating the Boss
Communication is a two-way street. In addition to finding out how your executive wants his schedule handled, spend time explaining how you would like to manage his schedule.
Unless your supervisor objects, it’s easiest for you to manage her calendar if you’re the only one who can schedule appointments. Sometimes a supervisor will be shy about having you schedule personal appointments such as a doctor’s appointment or an at-home cable TV installation. If your boss wants access to the calendar, spend time documenting how your role as gatekeeper will benefit both of you. If she insists on getting involved, develop a system so you’re in the loop about any changes she makes.
“I presently work for the CEO, and we have the best arrangement in that he is not allowed to touch his electronic calendar,” says Debra L. Ogden, executive assistant and office manager for Golden Retirement Resources Inc., a financial planning firm in New York. “If someone wants to schedule a meeting, they must do so with me. This eliminates conflicts and ensures that all meetings are properly arranged with all parties informed and confirmed. Of course, he tells me in the a.m. what meetings he would like me to schedule and I confront him with any possible conflicts.”
Personal appointments her boss failed to tell her about have wrecked havoc with schedules, says Sheryl Seagren, an executive assistant with dmunds.com, a Santa Monica, California-based provider of automobile information via the Internet. “It’s the personal appointments that they don’t tell me about that get us into trouble,” Seagren says. “They’ll meet a plumber at their house. It’s no big deal to them to meet at 8 a.m., but when my boss shows up an hour late and he had a 9 a.m. meeting here, that’s a problem. I always inquire about what they have going on outside of the office. I need to know.”
Also, consider scheduling to be part of your job as being in charge of information flow, says Zinty. This is a basic trend in admin responsibilities. Don’t just keep your boss’ calendar. Find ways to streamline and make both of you more efficient. Constantly look for ways to improve.
Hopkins, for example, is currently experimenting with “hot topics”—red, color-coded folders for her boss’ top priorities. “We just started doing it,” she says. “I put whatever is hot for the week into the red folders.”
Confirming all meetings 24 hours or 48 hours in advance can save you and your boss from unwanted headaches. This can help you reduce wasted time—your boss prepping for a meeting that’s been cancelled—and ensure that you catch any mistakes, such as scheduling conflicts. “It’s always good to confirm meetings that are at another location,” says Ogden. “If there are any miscommunications or cancellations, you can reschedule and save time.”
Consider these other suggestions:
• Judge a meeting by its organizer and adapt the schedule accordingly. If a meeting called by your company’s vice president of sales routinely runs 30 to 45 minutes over its allotted time, block out that amount of time on your executive’s calendar. Conversely, if another executive is always extremely punctual, make sure your boss gets to the meeting on time.
• Try to bundle meetings together and have them all in the morning or the afternoon to reduce interruptions. “It’s better time management,” explains Izsak. “You don’t want your boss picking up work, then dropping everything to go to a meeting, and then having to pick it up again after the meeting.”
• Keep one calendar and one calendar only. It’s easier and more efficient to keep one calendar for your boss instead of distinguishing between personal and business appointments, Izsak says. “[Keeping] two or three simultaneous calendars—one on the PalmPilot, another on the computer, another in a Day Planner doesn’t work. It gets too confusing,” he says. That doesn’t mean your executive can’t keep copies of the same calendar on different electronic devices, just that he shouldn’t have more than one calendar.
If your executive’s calendar must be kept on the network and accessible to all, pre-emptively block out time. That will help funnel requests to you and will help your boss have enough time to get his job done in addition to attending meetings.
• Be flexible. If you’re scheduling a meeting with your boss and 20 other executives, don’t expect to get everyone in the same room, at the same time, on the same day. “You’ll never get 20 people to agree on one time. It’s hard enough with just four,” says Jean Custato CPS/CAP, an administrative assistant for the legal department of a health-care company in Massachusetts. Instead prioritize. Who absolutely positively needs to be there? Pick the date and time when the most people who are most critical to the meeting can make it.
Root, for example, has to schedule meetings for a 42-member board. When Root schedules a board meeting, she starts by sending the 42 board members four or five options by e-mail and then picks the option most people can make. “Sometimes you can’t get everybody together and you just need to be flexible,” Root says.
• Pick your boss’ priorities. “Everybody wants to meet with him [the president] and everybody thinks their meeting is important,” so it’s up to Root to decide which meetings should be on her executive’s calendar and which are a low priority. “He can’t meet with everybody,” she says.
• Use software to the fullest. Calendar programs such as Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, or Office Accelerator have made admins’ lives a lot easier. But such programs are only as good as the person using them. Be sure you know how the software works and how to use its advanced features. If you don’t, request some training or buy a book or CD on the program.
• Pad the time between meetings. “I always allow a little additional time for each appointment—about 15 minutes—and that seems to reduce executives’ stress level considerably without causing them to feel like they have wasted time,” says Seagren.
Colin Cairns, communication director at Christie Communications, a public relations, marketing, and advertising agency based in Santa Barbara, California, always keeps one hour free for his boss each day, so she has the time to handle unexpected emergencies. “If every minute is scheduled in advance, there is never time to deal with an immediate crisis,” Cairns says.
•Find overlooked time for meetings. Seagren has turned increased airport security and the need to be at the airport extra early into a new source for meeting times for the president, CEO, and chairman of her company. “They’ll grab a conference room and use it for business development,” Seagren says. “It’s lot more productive use of that extra hour.”
• Act like a diplomat. Try to be positive rather than negative when scheduling appointments, recommends Cairns. “If clients and employees feel important and know that you’re trying your best to get a convenient and timely meeting scheduled, they will be more willing to work with you,” says Cairns, who supports Gillian Christie, founder and CEO.
• When possible, combine meetings. One of Hopkins’ favorite timesavers is to see if she can reduce two meetings to one. “See if there are multiple meetings on the same topic. It will be more efficient to have one meeting instead of two,” she explains.
No matter how well you plan a day, there will be changes, cancellations, and additions. But if you follow the tips presented in these pages, you’ll find it’s a good cure for the common calendar headache and that managing a calendar won’t take as long and won’t be nearly as stressful.
Jenny C. McCune is a freelance business writer based in Bozeman, MT.
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