This post by Katie Sweeney was originally published on mydomaine.com. Would love to hear from you in comments on how you stay organized!
When people hear about my experience as a celebrity personal assistant, most think one of two things: 1. Wow, cool! You got to work closely with a celebrity! 2. Do you have any horror stories à la The Devil Wears Prada? While it is cool to work alongside someone well known and respected in their field and I do have my fair share of scary stories, I like to remind people that being a personal assistant takes a certain unique set of skills. You have to be incredibly organized, detail-oriented, and on top of everything—always. Here are some of the strategies that the best personal assistants practice and can work wonders in your everyday life.
You are never going to be able to manage that growing stack of papers unless you set up an organization system. Yes, there is an initial time investment where you will have to spend an hour or two sifting through the stack, sorting health insurance papers from work documents, etc., but this is a onetime thing. File everything in clearly labeled manila folders or envelopes. The next time you have paperwork, don’t start a pile to be dealt with at a later time. Immediately put the document in the properly labeled folder. It takes two seconds now rather than another two hours later!
This same technique can be applied to your email inbox. Create a system for managing emails that works for you. Here’s mine: I have a bunch of folders that pertain to specific aspects of my life: finances, fitness, health, recipes, etc. When I’ve responded to an email, I delete it, or if it has useful information that I may need to refer to in the future (say image guidelines from my editor at MyDomaine), I move it to the relevant file (“MyDomaine” in this case). Emails that I still need to answer are left in my inbox.
Lists are an essential part of every personal assistant’s life. There are daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists, contact lists, and inventory lists. When it comes to managing them, Google is the best resource. It’s my preferred method of storing information because it can be reached from any computer anywhere in the world. If you send a lot of emails to the same groups of people, make a group in your contacts, such as Immediate Family, Extended Family, A-List Friends, etc. Then you won’t have to type out everyone’s name in the email field each time; you can simply send it to the whole group. Build a master Google spreadsheet with all of your passwords and log-ins. Create inventories of groceries and home goods. Each time I go to the grocery store, I print out the inventory and circle the items that need to be purchased. Same goes for a Target run.
Google Calendar is another crucial tool. Put everything on your calendar: appointments, meetings, reminders, birthdays, etc. I often refer back to the calendar to cross-check bills (did I really go to the doctor on this date?) or figure out what I was doing on a certain date. It’s also helpful for managing work and social events. Seeing all of my weeknight activities on the calendar a couple of weeks in advance reminds me to make arrangements or otherwise prepare for certain events.
This is sort of a no-brainer, but when my boss is talking, I’ve got a clipboard with blank pages in one hand and a pen in the other. I’ll take vigorous notes of everything that is said, then later translate those notes into to-do lists or add them to the big project list.
Even if your schedule is hectic and your day-to-day tasks change constantly, try to establish a few routines. They offer some comfort that can help alleviate stress. Even if it’s something trivial like “every Tuesday I go to Whole Foods” or “every other Thursday, I go to Target,” some stability in your workday makes you feel productive and keeps you focused on the task at hand.
Being a personal assistant means that you know everything about someone’s personal life, but they probably know very little about yours. There’s also little to no work/life balance when a person essentially depends on you to do everything from remember their passwords to email travel information to their family. This sort of relationship is fragile, and oftentimes the personal assistant gets the short end of the stick. Mean texts, emails, and voicemails are common, but good PAs don’t take them personally. They know that nine times out of 10 their employer is upset about something that has nothing to do with the assistant or the job the assistant is doing. Learning to apply this same mind-set to your work and personal relationships will make you stronger and more relaxed!
Answering a large quantity of emails is tedious, and if you find yourself writing the same sort of emails over and over again, set up a signature for it. For example, if you’re always asking for a mailing address, create a generic signature that says, “Hello blank, we would like to mail you a blank but can’t find your mailing address on file. Can you please email it to me as soon as possible?” Then when writing the email, all you have to do is choose your address signature, fill in the blanks, and hit send. This works well if you have to deal with a high volume of RSVPs.
Customer service representatives are a pain to speak to, but if you are kind and patient, they will most likely help you more quickly than random Internet searches will. If you regularly have to deal with a team at Tesla or the receptionists at your doctor’s office, you need to be friendly with these people. If you’re setting up any sort of appointment, call when possible. Ask them how they are, and take an interest in what they say. When you build a friendly rapport, they will be more likely to help you in an emergency situation.