Mindreading Your Executive – How to start being a pro-active assistant

Anticipating execs needs

My last post shared information from a recent survey listing the ‘intangible skills’ an assistant can apply to be great and exceptional at what they do.

Over my next few posts I’m going to explore some of these points to further understand how they might affect the way in which you work.

In this post I’ll be looking at; ‘anticipating the boss’ needs’ and ‘making the boss look good’.  Although I’ll refer to your ‘boss’ as your ‘executive’ because here at The Real World PA I believe the exec-assistant relationship should be more about partnership than boss & employee.

Mind reader in training… 

We all know that staying ahead of the game is critical for success, but just how do you anticipate what your executive will need before they have even thought of it themselves?

A post shared here on The Real World PA recently (PSYCHIC, MIND READER OR AMAZING ASSISTANT?) explained how you can look for patterns in your executives demands. Using the patterns that you notice you can predict possible issues and resolve them before they happen.

By meeting your executives needs you will automatically be ‘making them look good’ as they will, for example, always be prepared for meetings well in advance, or be reminded of key information that needs to be collected or shared.

Other pro-active action you can take to ‘make them look good’ or raise their profile is to look for areas which they might not always have time to consider themselves.

It’s likely that they are so busy working on problems or looking for ways to improve the business that they might forget to recognise the great work and success of teams within the company.

You can be the person that shares these successes with your executive, suggesting they should  recognise the team with individual letters/emails of thanks (which you could have already prepared!). This improves morale, raises the profile of your executive and will give you the satisfaction of knowing you made someone’s day.

So what steps are you going to take to anticipate your executives needs and raise their profile? Comment below to share ideas of initiatives you and your executive have developed which benefit your company?

Want to find out more on how to be exceptional? Click here

The Power of the Introvert Assistant

Extroverts seemingly have it all; the confidence to share their ideas, the ability to take charge of a situation, the bubbly personality that draws people to them. More often than not people assume that being an introvert is a negative thing which can ‘hold you back’. If you are an introvert you might be told that you need to ‘put yourself out there more’ or ‘speak up for yourself more’.

When it comes to assistant work introverts might doubt they have the ability to lead alongside their executive. Managing a team, presenting or mentoring might be something they fear. However, I believe that introverts actually have a lot more to offer than they might first believe.

Consider what Oliver Maskell has written about his own experience and the skills he believes are inherently beneficial for introverts

Introverts can remain calm. Busy work environments create stressed employees, which reduces productivity and causes tempers to fray. Although introverts can be accused of lacking vigor, their subdued demeanor is actually beneficial when it comes to problem-solving and overcoming challenges in a demanding setting.

Introverts provide balance and diversity. Companies are waking up to the benefits of a diverse workforce, and this diversity should extend to the extroversion-introversion spectrum. The thoughtful and calm approach provided by introverts can act as a positive check on the more zealous members within a team and ensure that a range of ideas is considered before a course of action is determined.

Introverts value meaningful relationships. The financial crisis has created backlash against the hard sell. In its place, people are looking for smarter and more considered business partners. This works for introverts who prefer investing time in quality and long-lasting relationships.

Introverts are good listeners. Good communication is as much about listening as it is speaking, and many introverts are excellent listeners. This is an advantage when networking because it means introverts take time to understand what others are saying and, as a consequence, can identify areas where they may be able to work with others.

Introverts have good ideas and make valuable contributions. Introverts generally don’t say something unless they believe it will be a valuable addition to the conversation. What’s more, introverts have a penchant for creating and developing new ideas, which means they can offer a unique and alternative perspective on an issue.

All of these characteristics make for a great assistant. Building long lasting relationships, adding valuable contributions and remaining calm under pressure are key characteristics of a successful assistant.  Being quiet isn’t a bad thing, and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Would you consider yourself to be an introvert or an extrovert? What characteristics do you think help you the most in your role?


Want to read the full article? Click here

Need help being your best self? Click here


Is ‘Busy’ Really A Good Thing?

So many people believe that being busy is equal to being successful, but if we really think about it, is busy a good thing?

Being busy has become a social status symbol. If someone isn’t busy then it means they’re not important, or needed. But is this truly the case?

We all know that if we don’t have enough downtime this can lead to stress and burnout. If we are too ‘busy’ then this naturally means we won’t have the time out we desperately need.

Today I want to challenge  you to think about whether you really WANT to be busy.

Ask yourself whether you are spending your time doing ‘busy work’ or ‘effective work’. Do you feel ‘fulfilled and rested’ or ‘stressed and burnout’? If it’s the latter then now is your chance to make some changes to regain control and stop being so busy.

Most people will find that before they go on holiday they are their most productive at work. They somehow manage to tie up loose ends, finish everything on their to-do list and then take that time off away from the office.  This is because they; don’t procrastinate, eliminate distractions, focus on tasks that will have the most impact and work to their set timescales.

All of these principles can be applied in your everyday working life to achieve more during your working day, giving you the chance to take a break and stop being so busy!

So the next time you ask someone how they are and they reply, “busy!” you can smile to yourself knowing that you are effective, not busy.

Need help with working smarter, not harder? Click here

Age Is Just a Number


Today I want to try something a bit different and look at how age can affect our development.

Until recently I had always assumed that being ‘younger’ counted against people who were ambitious as they aren’t perceived as having enough experience or knowledge. I had never thought about the flip side to this until I got chatting to lady nearing her 50’s. She said that she felt her age limited her development as no one thought she would be ambitious or that she would want to develop further.

That got me thinking about how can we all break down the barriers that our age can put in front of us, and actually use it to our advantage.

Its important to remember that development is for EVERYONE. Our executives are, or should be, always looking for ways to develop their performance and drive the business forward, and so should we, regardless of our age!

Being younger or new to the world of PA/EA work doesn’t mean you haven’t got a lot to offer. Often a fresh pair of eyes can see things differently so don’t be afraid to share your ideas. An article I recently read on Forbes suggested that younger people need to stop thinking that they ‘aren’t old enough’ or ‘not smart enough’ and act like they are the best at what they do to become recognised as a leader. (You can read this article in full by clicking here). The theory is that if you believe you are the best then it is a self fulfilling prophecy.

Being younger might mean you have different skills which you can use to support your executive and the wider business you work for. Social media is a great example of something that you would likely have more experience with and there may be a way you could be involved in the implementation of this for your Company.

If, on the other hand, you feel that you aren’t given the same opportunities as your younger counter parts you should also be speaking up about your ideas. You will have learnt a lot from past experiences that can help both yourself, and your executive. You should make sure that you keep your skills up to date and make the most of your strengths.

One really great way to use your experience is to offer to mentor any less experienced members of your team. You will undoubtedly had challenges to overcome throughout your own career journey and if you can pass on your learning’s to others this can be invaluable.

The same rules apply to everyone;

  1. Share your ideas
  2. Own your development
  3. Keep your skills up to date
  4. Use your strengths

Have you experienced age barriers in your work place? What do you do to overcome these obstacles? How do you use your age to your advantage?

Want to further your own development? Click here


Assistant or Superhero?

Today I’m re-blogging my first post as I think its so important to recognise how much assistants actually do!

The Real World PA

Gone are the days of the Mad Men style secretaries who simply sat and typed up whatever work they were handed. Today’s assistant not only thinks for themselves, but also on behalf of their executive.

An article I read recently perfectly summarized the role of an assistant as;

“…troubleshooters, translators, help desk attendants, diplomats, human databases, travel consultants, amateur psychologists, and ambassadors to the inside and outside world.”

It pointed out that;

“…the best executive assistants are indispensable. Microsoft will never develop software that can calm a hysterical sales manager, avert a crisis by redrafting a poorly worded e-mail, smooth a customer’s ruffled feathers, and solve a looming HR issue—all within a single hour, and all without interrupting the manager to whom such problems might otherwise have proven a distraction.”

Sometimes it is important to take a step back and really think about everything that we do.

Writing out a…

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Work Overload? Eliminate ‘People’ Distractions

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just lock ourselves away and get on with our work without distractions?

In most cases this isn’t an option, so instead we have to find other ways to eliminate distractions.

As an assistant one of our biggest ‘distractions’ is the people around us. How many times do your colleagues stop by for a chat? How often are you asked, “When you’ve got a minute can you just…”?

It can be difficult to find a way to minimise the impact other people have on your time but there are ways you can regain control tactfully.

Sometimes simply explaining your situation and how busy you are is enough.

I would love to stop and chat, but I am really working on a tight deadline to get this presentation finished. Let’s catch up soon?

For the more persistent distraction, or the ‘can you just’ people that won’t take no for an answer, a firmer approach might be needed.

Although I’d love to help, unfortunately on this occasion I can’t. I’m too busy preparing the presentation for next week’s conference and so all of my time needs to be dedicated to completing this.

Be honest with people. If you don’t have the time to chat or to help, then explain this to them. Most people are reasonable and will let you get on with your work without further distractions.

How do you say ‘no’ tactfully? Why not comment below and share your ideas?

Want to develop more skills like this? Click here

Psychic, Mind Reader or Amazing Assistant?

Perhaps the biggest challenge for any assistant is learning to predict the future or to read their executive’s mind.

There are, however, ways this can be done (without the need for psychic abilities!)…

The key is to look for patterns.

Does your executive ask you for the same type of document before certain meetings?

Are you always asked to print the same reports each week?

Do meetings on certain subjects or with certain people always overrun?

Does your executive always run out time to complete certain tasks?

What can you do? Using the patterns that you notice you can predict possible issues and resolve them before they happen. You can print the reports needed, schedule extra time for meetings which overrun and you can schedule dedicated time for certain tasks.

By doing this you can amaze your executive with your intuition and mind reading abilities.

So, ahead of your next one-to-one status meeting with your executive ask yourself the above questions and think about other patterns you’ve noticed and prepare solutions.

Ready to further your own development as well as mind reading abilities? Click here.


Schedule Your Own Development

Step 1 – Take responsibility for your development

Taking ownership of your own development is the key to success. Once you have made the decision to grow and learn you will become unstoppable.

Scheduling in time for your own development helps to keep you on track and will enable you to plan your trajectory to high performance.

During my time as a PA I would schedule 1 hour per week to work on my own development. The work I did would vary from goal setting to reading articles, but each activity I chose was because it helped me to grow in my role.

It’s easy to drop this time when you get really busy, but it’s critical you don’t.  If you’re serious about becoming high performing this is where it starts – making time to develop yourself.

Step 2 – Find some help

Once you’ve taken the decision to grow you’ll need to find some supporters; because going it alone is hard work.

A key element of my success was to work with a mentor/coach. I was fortunate that my Exec worked with a business coach who, when I approached them, offered to also provide me with coaching.

After getting the OK from my Exec, who fully supported my development, I began to meet with my coach regularly to talk through my goals, look at areas where I could really stand out and any difficulties I was facing.

Of course it’s not always easy to find someone you trust who can consistently support you in this way.  That’s why I set up The Real World PA!

If you are ready to take ownership of your development and would like to work with a coach then take a look at the coaching services available >>here<< on

Work Overload? Use Your Secret Weapon


Keeping a great to-do list is key to staying on top of your workload.

Great to-do lists are easy to maintain, thorough and fuel your productivity. They shouldn’t be viewed as another job or a tedious chore. They are your secret weapon to making sure you get things done.

Where do you start?

A very simple but big step up from pad and paper, Workflowy revolutionized the way I manage my to-do list.

Workflowy is a free online application which enables you to create lists within lists, drag and drop items, share lists, and access your lists from wherever you are (among other things).

By using Workflowy you can break your to-do list down into categories.
These might include:
  • Meetings
  • Correspondence
  • Weekly Tasks
  • Monthly Tasks

Each category then has its own sub-list:

  • Meetings
    • Marketing review
    • Paul Jones status meeting

Then each sub-list is populated with the detail:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Venue
  • Attendees

My to-do list includes everything I need to complete or progress. I review it three times a day; in the morning, afternoon and evening. Each time I cross off all the completed tasks and add any further points.

Using this method for your to-do list can also help you to realise just how much you have achieved across the day, how effective you are being and where things are going wrong if you haven’t achieved quite as much as you wanted.

Why is it so important?

Not only does keeping a thorough and up to date to-do list mean you know exactly where you are with your work, it also means you can share detailed updates with your executive. If your executive has a spare 5 minutes to catch up with you, your list can become your meeting agenda and you’ll have all the details you need at your finger tips.

So, give it a try. Use a to-do list for 1 week and see if, by the end of the week, you feel more in control.

Want a tutorial for Workflowy? Click here.

Want to find more ways to improve your efficiency at work? Click here.

Time VS Impact – Investment Banking

Whenever you are working on a task it’s important to ask yourself how much impact the work you are doing will have.

You can use the ‘urgent vs important’ matrix to establish whether a task is worthwhile or not. But how do you decide how much of your time to dedicate to it?

The key is to find a way to measure the impact the task will have.

Be an investment banker.

One way to think about this is to imagine you are an investor.

You’ve got a big pot of money and you must invest in 3 businesses. You must put some money towards each so you have to decide which business deserves more of your money.

How? You decide which business will have the highest return on investment (ROI), right?

Now think of yourself as an investor of time rather than money. You still want the biggest ROI so work out which tasks will have a greater impact and focus more time on them.

Tasks that have a high impact might be ones that help to bring in new business or they might be something that contributes towards an important project. The impact will vary but once you know what’s important you can divide your time more effectively.

Most importantly: Don’t forget that the investment which will give you the biggest ROI is you and your development!

Ready to investment in your own future? Click here.