It is the best-kept secret of every assistant: efficient calendar management!
It does sound easy to play a little diary Tetris here and there in the vastness of the manager's calendar, but one often underestimates the complexity behind it. Especially those who do not work with it on a daily basis.
So, what is involved in good calendar management? What promotes productivity and efficiency?
Often, the problem really starts with the executive. Many assistants do not have all the necessary approvals for the supervisor's calendar. This includes setting, editing and deleting appointments as well as sending them on behalf of the manager. In my seminars I always hear about unbelievable stories, and I am always amazed at the restrictions some managers put on their assistants.
Some executives don't like to hand over power entirely. Therefore, actively talk to your supervisor and explain what hurdles you might have. Point out exactly which rights and accesses you lack and how much time you will save if you have full access.
Surely you know the case more than well enough. Managers are running from appointment to appointment. As a good assistant, you have repeatedly made productive suggestions for improvement and even suggested canceling one or two meetings.
Here is what else you can think of to become the most efficient diary planner:
Create a routine: This is where you block specific times for specific activities for your executive. This way when they review their calendar every morning, they know exactly what they’re doing and how much time will be spent on each task or meeting. These blocks should be at the same time every day.
Block time for email. Emails will eat-up your executive’s day if not managed properly. Block out specific times for them to check their email, such as first thing in the morning and before they leave. This way they won’t check their inboxes every five minutes.
Plan out time for breaks, lunch, exercise, and family. They need breaks to recharge, eat, exercise, and spend time with their families. If these aren’t added to their calendar properly, they may get overlooked.
Shorten the meetings discreetly after consulting with your supervisor. A 60-minute meeting can easily be turned into a 50-minute meeting. The extra bonus for the manager: Block the remaining 10 minutes in the calendar. Managers won't be in a complete hurry this way and will even have time for a quick espresso in between.
Back-to-back appointments are quite common. Unfortunately, by scheduling meetings back-to-back, you’re not giving anyone time to prepare or decompress. It is essential to create mindful space not only for the supervisor, but also for you. Buffer times are ideal for the following:
I once had a manager who had me block off an entire day once a week because he needed the time to do intensive strategic work and initiate new things. A whole day without meetings, not even phone calls were allowed. But you can certainly imagine how productive that day was for my executive and what a role model he was. Is that an option for you? An appointment-free day? Give it a try.
Specify the appointment entries down to the smallest detail. For a job interview, for example, attach all the applicant's relevant documents to the appointment. This way, your manager has all the details on hand, and you can access the data at any time using the search function. But be careful and double check who has access to your managers diary as well as confidential information might be included in the data you just uploaded to this meeting entry. In this case, you can prepare a password-protected OneNote page and simply copy the link to the calendar.
Also work with a color system, also called color coding. For example, red stands for out-of-town appointments and travel, blue for conference calls, green for private commitments, etc. Also set up colors for strategic time, or a creativity session. This way, your executive always has a direct overview, it is super helpful.
We’ve all been stuck in time-wasting meetings. Our agenda is full of them. The ones without any details, agenda, or purpose. If you receive a request for these types of meetings for your manager - do not accept them.
Only fill the calendar with meetings where the other party has clearly stated what the purpose of the meeting will be. This way you can prioritize much better and brief your manager accordingly.
All scheduling goes through you.
Each and every appointment, meeting, phone call, or other calendared items are only to be scheduled by you. If a meeting has to be cancelled or rescheduled, you make the changes. Your executive may want to add anything? Make sure it goes through you.
The less hands touching the executive calendar the better. Too many people adding and editing a schedule can cause the calendar to become cluttered and confusing. This can lead to conflicts like double-booking or dropping something important.
YOU are the gatekeeper of your executive’s calendar.
As an assistant, you should always remember to set up your own appointment block with your manager, because your own 1on1 is just as important as all the other appointments. So don't let yourself be side-lined and demand your time.
Author: Diana Brandl - International Speaker, Writer, Podcast Host and former C-Suite EA