Smart Working

SMART Working (Part 2)

Following from the positive feedback we received on the SMART Working blog we posted before Christmas, we are delighted to bring you another one chock full of more advice and tools to expand your repertoire and equip you with a first-rate working routine!


As an assistant, you are the backbone of your organisation. The core of your work revolves around providing support to your boss and your company.

It goes without saying you’ll need to know your boss’ needs, as well as those of your organisation as a whole. Pre-empting those needs will bolster your standing as a supportive team member – stepping up before you’re even asked demonstrates your savviness and initiative.  And this will pay dividends for your career in the long run.

Aligning your values and goals with those of your boss will also be integral (keep reading for more on that).

Smart Working


Seeking approval and relying on others to make your decisions for you can be time-consuming, and what’s more, it can stunt your personal and professional growth.

Think about it: how much do you really learn from situations in which you pitch ideas, but leave the ultimate decision to someone else? Compare that with how satisfying it feels to make that final decision and reap the rewards, nerve-wracking as it might be to put yourself out there.

We encourage you – no wait, we dare you – next time you are in a meeting and your gut instinct screams at you the best direction to go in – choose to be the one to take responsibility and make a decision on it.

While it’s undoubtedly necessary to incorporate teamwork, collaborate and listen to the opinion of others – or indeed ask for help at times – self-reliance is essential for you to excel in your role.


This one will most likely sound obvious, but the challenge here is achieving a balance between handling several tasks at once, and giving sufficient care and attention to each of these tasks.

Multi-tasking has its share of critics these days, and it’s easy to see why. When juggling multiple responsibilities, we can have a tendency to switch our focus from task to task hastily. This ‘task-hopping’ can be quite frenetic, and often leads to us feeling overwhelmed, seeing a decrease in productivity and of course there’s a bigger chance of making mistakes.

The secret to avoiding these obstacles is in the planning. Before you start working through your to-do list, work out when and where you’ll need to manage your attention and concentrate on one project at a time. (see S.M.A.R.T. Working Part 1 to read about attention-management). There are probably many tasks that you know will need an extra level of concentration, so these can be earmarked ahead of time. On the other hand, there are also numerous tasks that you could do in your sleep, and these are good candidates for the multitasking list.

Smart Working


It’s a trendy buzzword that’s been thrown around a lot lately, which may be off-putting for some. But the truth is, mindfulness brings a lot of value to our lives, and to our work.

Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and remaining conscious of what you are doing. It can be easy to slip into auto pilot, especially with more repetitive and routine tasks. But as your mind wanders to what your weekend plans are, your awareness of the job at hand decreases, which can lead to mistakes and losing track of what you’ve already completed.

Research shows that mindfulness in the workplace can lower stress and improve performance – hence why it’s so popular!

In order to make your life a little more mindful, find out if there are any courses running near you – if not, the internet has a plethora of resources on this topic, and we will have Elizabeth Whelan, Mindfulness expert running a workshop at this year’s Executive PA Forum.


Being your authentic self is a fundamental aspect of fostering a good relationship with your boss. Honesty and integrity are the two cornerstones of authenticity, and this will involve remaining true to yourself, and to your Executive.

Start by establishing your values and goals, as well as what you need to do to make them a reality. Note how these attributes align with those of your boss and your company. Coordinating your vision alongside your Executive makes for a harmonious and progressive relationship.

This will also provide you with an invaluable learning experience. The Executive Assistant is the perfect role for anyone who wants to understand the complex inner workings of a business.

If you feel your values don’t align with your organisation or your boss, it is advisable you look to move to somewhere that does. Numerous studies show that if you are not living and working in a place that is true to your authentic self and your values then your energy is severely depleted, you will become ill, resentful and no doubt, miserable.

Smart Working


Being an assistant requires a certain amount of give and take, particularly when it comes to initiative. You need to know when to take the reins, and you also need to be savvy as to when your boss should be giving you more autonomy.

As mentioned in SMART Working Part 1, it’s important for you to be allowed to deal with the management side of things so that your boss can focus on leadership. This means that your boss will need to give you a sufficient amount of autonomy so that you can take on managerial responsibilities and make managerial decisions. Embrace it and remember that you are capable of anything you put your mind to.

Asking Questions

‘There’s no such thing as a stupid question’, is an expression that has been uttered so often, it tends to lose meaning. However, it’s easy to see why this phrase is so commonly-used. Many of us are hesitant about asking questions at times, for fear of coming across as incompetent or incapable. We sometimes think we are expected to know everything, however what you must remember is that everyone that you work with brings their own unique set of skills to the table. There are plenty of areas where you would excel where others would fall down and vice versa.

Bottom line, you are all in the organisation to do the best job you can, so it’s important to remember that if you have to ask, there’s a good reason for it – and don’t feel like you have to apologise.

Feeling too afraid to pipe up and clarify things can result in misunderstandings about the task at hand, or uncertainty about what is expected of you. It’s much safer to admit early on if you’re stuck on something, than to get the wrong end of the stick and follow through incorrectly.


Smart Working

It’s something we can all agree on – an assistant’s role could never be described as an easy job and it is not for the faint-hearted.

As you are the backbone of the business, this is a demanding role that ensures everything runs smoothly for everyone else. With this in mind, you’re bound to have moments where you feel you are going to crack under the pressure. 

It’s important to remember that these are not moments of weakness, and they are not an indicator that you are lacking in ability. What demonstrates considerable strength in an assistant is acknowledging and then overcoming these adversities. Possessing the ability to bounce back after a difficult process, say, receiving some tough criticism or feeling stressed about a deadline, shows that you are steadfast and dedicated.

Being a great assistant doesn’t mean having zero bad days. What’s important is that you are able to get through these bad days and come out on the other side stronger and fresh with new learning experiences.


Simply put, this is about using the resources that are available to you in order to reach your goal.

Being creative is key here – any great assistant will use their ingenuity in order to come up with the solutions to complex problems, not to mention consulting your contacts book for the ones that are last minute. A resourceful person won’t necessarily have all the tools and knowledge necessary immediately at their disposal, but they will know how and where to find them. You can also use your previous experiences to help you solve problems, or even prevent them.


Every well-functioning relationship is built on trust, one that is particularly necessary between the executive and the assistant.

A significant part of your role involves having responsibility for handling sensitive information, and completing complex tasks that are intrinsic to the smooth running of the business. Your boss needs to know that they can entrust you with these responsibilities without having to check up on your progress, or worry about significant errors being made.

Show your boss that you can walk the walk when it comes to managing these crucial duties. Not only will this strengthen your relationship, you may also receive the added bonus of being granted a wider range of responsibilities.

Training (& Skilled)

Smart Working

Ask any stellar assistant in the business about their working ‘formula’, and you can be sure it will include regular, quality training. Yes, you will learn a lot on the job, but there is so much that can be taught in an external setting by industry experts. These professionals have been in the industry for years, and they’ve seen it all. Networking with a plethora of assistants and executives from a wide variety of organisations will provide you with insights that you may not come across in your job. Since they don’t work in your organisation, they can offer you a new perspective on your role.

Training should be a regular occurrence throughout your career. Whether it’s upskilling or refreshing something that you’ve previously learned, we recommend incorporating some training into your schedule at least once a year. This ensures that your skills and knowledge stay fresh, and it also gives you enough time between training sessions to practise your new-found proficiencies.

The Executive PA Forum on May 20th 2020 will provide you with training that will help you to excel in your career as an assistant. With a host of expert speakers and coaches to guide you, this career-development opportunity will provide you with new insights and skills, such as:

  • Developing a High Performance Mindset for Today’s Assistant
  • How to Align Your Goals With Those of Your Executive and Organisation
  • Building Resilience into Your Psyche
  • Learning to Overcome Impostor Syndrome
  • Keep Calm and Keep Going – Adaptability & Responsiveness Tools for the PA
  • Building new and current EA capabilities
  • Escape Your Cage – Banishing Impostor Syndrome

Workshop day on May 21st delves deeper into topics that include:

-Mastering Productivity as a PA/EA and Stepping into Your Full Potential

-How to Avoid Burnout

-Identify Your USP: Aligning Skills, Strengths and Values to Accelerate your Career in the Right Direction

Register for the Executive PA Forum today by clicking here!

We are also delighted to welcome Adam Fidler back to Dublin on the 22nd of May with his course for assistants – another excellent option if you’re looking to expand your expertise. Contact us for more info.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Part 1 of this blog for even more ways to ‘Work SMART’, and let us know what you think!


Incorporate SMART Working Into Your Routine


Many of you in support roles are going to find yourselves overextended, stressed, and perhaps overwhelmed at times.

You are most likely familiar with the ‘SMART’ formula for goal setting, which is particularly popular this time of year, and we think it’s time to wind down after a hard year of work instead of putting extra pressure on yourself!

Having listened to a lot of you in our network talk about how you stay motivated, we’ve jotted down a SMART working guideline to hopefully keep you inspired now and into the New Year!


It’s a term that you will often see in job descriptions and on C.V.s, which means that it is a very in-demand attribute. Self-starters are motivated to get things done without being told. You are observant and spot the things that need to be completed, without the need for direction from your seniors. This may feel challenging and uncomfortable at times, but you will likely come to enjoy the rush of taking matters into your own hands.

See Ahead

Seeing and looking ahead to know what lies in front of you is a powerful tool. For example, arming your manager with as much information they will need to know before an important meeting will set them up for success. It could be some extra details about the other people in the meeting, some background information on their business and how the relationship could be mutually beneficial – these are the valuable nuggets that ensure your boss is fully prepared and will help them – and you – excel.


Manager Mindset

Supporting your boss is your main objective. Therefore, you’re aware of their goals and needs so that you can provide appropriate assistance. While they work on the strategic end of things, you think operationally to ensure everything runs smoothly. You are their backbone which means they can focus on delivering the ‘bigger picture’ vision of the business. This will also involve your taking on more managerial duties and decision-making. EA & PA Coach Adam Fidler asserts that when an assistant acts ‘as a junior- or middle- manager in their own right’, their boss is free to deal with the ‘leadership’ aspects of running the business. Read more from Adam here.


Whether you’re a ‘plan ahead’ kind of worker, or more of the ‘take it as it comes’ variety (according to our most recent poll, it’s no surprise the majority of you are planners!), having a clear structure will ensure that you don’t miss anything important and that you have a solid blueprint of how your time will be spent. You’ll get pulled and dragged in many different directions on any given day so having a roadmap to get back on track will be hugely helpful and keep you calm.
If you’re finding it difficult to bring some method to the madness, start with prioritising your tasks. Determine the level of urgency of each of them, complete them in that order, and concentrate on one task at a time – which leads us nicely to…


Time-management’s trendier cousin is the new term on everyone’s lips at the moment, and for good reason.
Centred around being more proactive than reactive, attention-management involves deciding what to focus on instead of reacting to every distraction that comes your way. It involves controlling your attention and focus by choosing what you pay attention to, instead of allowing yourself to be put off course by unwelcome interruptions.
Our advice for managing your attention is to set boundaries with your colleagues by letting them know when your door is open, and when it isn’t (metaphorically or literally). Also, it might sound a tad obvious, but headphones are a really great piece of ‘do not disturb’ equipment as people become more aware when they approach you that they are interrupting you.
Doing these things will allow you to minimise disruptions to your day and keep your head down when necessary. You’ll also know when these disturbances are most likely to come your way, so you can be prepared. According to numerous studies, practising mindfulness also helps to focus your attention where it is needed the most (see above!)

Act Now

Procrastination is one of our worst enemies when it comes to ‘smart working’. Sometimes we tend to overthink things if they are left to sit with us for too long – so although asking your boss for that week off next month seems intimidating now, it will be much more intimidating in a few days. A useful hack for work, and for life in general, is to immediately complete any tasks that will only take a few minutes. Even the smallest of tasks can end up seeming huge when they’re left to fester in our minds, so getting them out of the way promptly means that your mind will be clearer for the bigger tasks on your list.


If it’s not working, change it.
Sometimes we can get stuck in a routine, becoming so accustomed to a certain way of doing things that changing it up seems like too much extra effort. The thought of approaching a new and unfamiliar method can seem daunting, as you have to implement it, practice it, and become familiar with it – much more time-consuming than simply sticking to a routine that you could do in your sleep.
The time you put into this process, however, will save you a lot of time and energy in the long run. A few weeks of slogging through the learning process will mean many more weeks of a better, more efficient routine.

Reward Yourself

Good work deserves a good reward, whatever form that may take for you. It can be as simple as going out for lunch with your coworkers, or on the more extravagant side of things if you’ve just finished a particularly arduous project. Whether they’re big or small, rewards will not only help increase your productivity, they will also boost your morale.


You’ve seen this trait on many a list already, the reason being it is highly important for an effective assistant’s working strategy. If your office tends to be busier on Wednesday afternoons, set aside some extra time in your plan to allow for this, and plan in work that doesn’t require your full focus. Try to give yourself some breathing room, too – you never know what unexpected deadline or project might pop up amid your hectic week, and if your schedule is too rigid, you may find yourself floundering.


This is a quality that many employers value. That’s because a tenacious employee is ready to commit to completing their work to the best of their ability despite any obstacles they may come across. We’d love it if everything was simple and straightforward, but you have will tough days at work, and your determination will be one of the biggest driving forces that will see you through to the other side.

Great assistants are going to work hard; it’s the nature of the job. So, instead of saying ‘work smarter, not harder’, we say ‘Work hard, but be smart about it’.

How many of these do you think you already practise, or could start implementing in your daily routine? We’d love to hear from you!