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It’s hard enough to figure out your own big rocks, small pebbles and sand in the work day. Having to do it for your assistant should be out of the question. A good executive assistant will juggle the pieces of your day – and her own – for you.

Prioritizing Work

Part of prioritizing the work is to be able to identify and differentiate between the pebbles and the big rocks. For example, the assistant should ask fill in your downtime with local meetings when you’re travelling. Similarly, the assistant should be able to divide her own tasks into rocks and pebbles or, as we call them, real-time work and buffer projects.

  1. Real-time work: Work that needs to get done urgently, including projects and processes on which a member’s business is dependent.
  2. Buffer projects: Non-time sensitive work that has some goals associated with it, but which can be pursued in batches during downtimes.

While the categories might be different for different people, there are a few things that generally fit into one or the other.

Real-Time Work

This type of work includes (1) fire drills; (2) work that requires quick responses; and (3) work that may have been previously set up, but has a looming deadline. For example:

  • Scheduling: Responding quickly to key contacts is important, since delays will prevent the executive from growing his business and will reflect badly on him to his contacts.
  • Time Sensitive Reports: Most recurring reports that an executive requests are needed at specific times for particular meetings or presentations.
  • Call Management: Picking up the phones and managing voicemails, messages and call-backs for an executive is the most basic benefit of having a personal assistant. Just as the calls are real-time, so too should the response to these calls be timely.
  • Travel: Most travel is time-sensitive, but regularly occurring trips may not fall in this category.

Buffer Work

This is the filler – the pebbles in the jar, if you will. This type of work should be recurring, pre-defined and broken into batches and processes. Any given week might include a few of these tasks, or even none at all if the big rocks have taken over the jar. This type of work can include any or all of the following:

  • Contact Management: Updating contact information by adding new contacts, de-duplicating contacts, updating addresses and emails, etc. in an executive’s CRM can literally close or break a sale. And while contacts should be fairly clean, this work does not always have to be done in real-time. When a personal assistant gets new contact management work, she usually puts the task in a separate email folder, set aside to enter in batches when there’s some downtime.
  • Prospect Research: Prospect research is exactly the type of task that every executive would love to have done, but never has time to complete on his own. Since it’s usually a backburner effort, it’s also a great buffer project.
  • Expense Management: Compiling and submitting an executive’s expenses is secondary to growing their business. So while it’s important not to miss the deadlines for reimbursement, this is another job that can be batched to a separate email folder and dealt with on slower days.

Training your assistant to tell the difference between the big rocks and the sand is the key difference between hiring a managed service like Prialto and training someone yourself. Which do you prefer?


Schedule your free 30 minute consultation and learn how our virtual assistants can pull your business forward “This article was originally posted by Prialto: The Virtual Support Service for Executives. Prialto Virtual Assistants are geared to actually pull your business forward and make delegating easy” 

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