A productive partnership

In a recent executive team training session, I asked the organisations Managing Director how they felt about their workload.  They replied “overwhelmed”. I then asked their EA how they felt and they replied “Helpless”. What an interesting dynamic, yet one I see on a regular basis.

Senior executives are usually the most time poor workers in any organisation. They are also the most expensive, so improving their productivity can create a valuable ROI for the organisation. They will often have an EA, PA or secretary to assist them, but do they always leverage this resource fully? Do they enable their EA to keep them as focused and organised as they can be? I suggest not, but there are simple strategies that can greatly enhance the effectiveness of this powerful productivity partnership!

The first step to enhancing the productive partnership is to create a shared system for managing the executives schedule, priorities and information. “But this is already in place I hear you cry!”  “My EA can see my calendar, and has access to my Inbox.” Yes, that work may be visible.  But what about all of the work buried in your inbox? What about all of the important priorities you carry around in your head? What about the things you are meaning to find time to do, but never seem to? And what about the actions still stuck in your meeting notepad?

We often forget that our support staff are not mind readers, and so cannot help to organise this work, or help you find time to do it. If you can create a planning system that both you and your EA have access to, learn to centralise all of your work into this system, and together plan the whatwhenwhy and how of getting this stuff done, you will both work much more effectively.

You probably already use either MS Outlook or Lotus Notes as your email and calendar system, so it makes sense to add your task management to this system and make this visible to your EA as well. Visibility is the key to control, and both MS Outlook and Lotus Notes have powerful task management systems that work alongside your calendar to allow scheduling of priorities for individual days in your schedule.  This promotes a proactive approach to task management, and will help your EA to know your priorities and help you to stay focused.

A productive Executive/EA partnership requires a clear set of processes to be designed and agreed by both parties, as well as constant communication to make it work. Both parties should strive to provide the following attributes to the partnership:

The Executive

Visibility – make all commitments, priorities and actions visible

Priority – communicate a sense of what is important today, this week and this month

Authority – provide the authority to deal with lower value work on their behalf


The EA/PA/Secretary

Awareness – be aware of the bigger picture as well as the day-to-day

Anticipation – pro-actively anticipate what is coming up and what can be organised

Protection – protect the executives time and focus from low-value distractions



Try the following strategies to maximize your productivity partnership:

– Centralise all of your actions into one system, preferably MS Outlook or Lotus Notes.

– Clear your inbox regularly.  Your EA cannot help you manage email if they cannot make sense of what needs action, needs to be filed or what can be deleted.

– Meet first thing every day, even by phone, and agree on the plan for the day. Communicate your top 3-5 priorities for the day, and work out when you will do these.

– Agree on and simplify your email filing system so that both of you can quickly and easily file emails. We recommend less than 10 folders for efficient filing and efficient finding.

– Get meeting actions delegated or scheduled quickly by capturing clear actions and next steps, and communicating these to your EA daily.

– Spend one hour together each week planning the week ahead in detail, and anticipating what is coming over the horizon.

– Identify your top ten outcomes each month and communicate these to your EA so these are top of mind for both of you. Then plan time into your schedule to work on them.


Not enough time, too much to do, too few resources. I hear these words every day from clients. It is a struggle, but with a bit of work we can leverage our time, focus on the important stuff and feel the full benefit of our resources.  Give it a go, it may just help!


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