Blog How to work smarter? Get an executive assistant

How to work smarter? Get an executive assistant

Aug 19, 2023

8 min read

What if you had an executive assistant who could get you valuable time back so you could get more work done or simply have extra time for yourself? Here are some of the incredible ways you could leverage your EA to get time back.

Table of contents

  • Calendar management
  • Email management
  • Meeting assistance
  • Travel arrangements
  • Team engagement
  • Operations and special projects


Time management made easy with an executive assistant

As a startup executive, you are fighting constantly against the clock. Every day, you face a never-ending list of tasks and responsibilities that can easily become overwhelming; from getting customer calls to reviewing a new product feature, checking in with investors, meeting with direct reports and mentors, and making sure it’s all done by 3 PM in time to pick your kids from school.

What if you had someone by your side who could help you manage your time more effectively? What if you had a trusted and reliable executive assistant who could handle a big portion of your to-do list, giving you more time to focus on high-priority items that demand your attention?

We were wondering which were the most time-consuming tasks for startup executives in the US. We went to the source to find the answer: executive assistants, who know executives’ calendars better than anyone. The best part? EAs are taking over all those responsibilities and freeing up time for their execs. Here’s what EAs told us:

  • Calendar management: making sure execs aren’t double booked
  • Holding the team accountable: following up with action items and keeping an updated taskboard
  • Travel and offsite planning: booking flights, identifying activities and venues, and managing logistics
  • Process improvement: onboarding new hires, keeping expense spreadsheets updated, creating internal workshop guidelines

Calendar management

An EA is the perfect business partner to help keep your calendar organized and under control. They can do this by scheduling meetings, blocking off time for important tasks, and ensuring that your schedule aligns with your priorities and goals.

Implement color coding

Classifying meetings by type and color can make a big difference when it comes to predictability. This practice allows you to visually distinguish between internal and external meetings, personal time, and focus time. Assigning a different color for each type of activity will help you anticipate what’s coming with just a quick glance.

Increase focus time

Schedule focused time during your most productive hours of the day. Since we all work differently, our individual circadian rhythm chronotypes play a big role in determining how productive we can be. Find your chronotype and let your EA know when you’re most productive. They will make sure to schedule a focused time during your ideal hours of the day.

Reduce context switching

Switching tasks is a common practice for many people. However, every time you switch tasks, you waste valuable time because it takes a while to get back into a state of flow. Your mind needs time to reorient itself and refocus on the new task, which can be frustrating and counterproductive. By working with your EA to optimize your calendar, you’ll minimize time you spend on context switching, allowing you to remain focused on the task at hand for longer periods.

Spot upcoming action items

With an EA by your side, you can be assured that they will look ahead at your calendar and anticipate your needs. For example, if there’s an important board meeting in a month or two, they can schedule focus time for you to prepare slides or gather necessary information to create the presentation. This means that you can rest easy, knowing that you have allocated time in your schedule to get the work done.

Prioritize personal time

Make sure to prioritize personal time, such as having lunch breaks, picking up your kids, and enjoying your weekends. Startup executives often neglect to schedule time for personal activities, and even if they do, they tend to prioritize work meetings or phone calls over personal time. Your EA is there to hold you accountable for committing to a balanced schedule throughout the day.

One of our clients, a Chief People Officer from a Series C startup based in San Francisco, was overwhelmed even before starting her position. The reason? Her team members were scattered across five different time zones, causing her meetings to start at 5:00 am and continue until well past 10:00 pm. Her Viva EA acted as a gatekeeper and ensured she had clear boundaries for both her team and herself to respect her calendar while making every team member feel seen and heard.

Email management

Startup executives wade through a barrage of emails daily, a task that can easily consume a significant portion of their time. To ensure you’re investing your time where it truly matters, determine what needs your attention and what can be assigned to somebody else. Delegate email management to a capable team member, such as your executive assistant. This approach frees you to focus on priorities that demand your utmost attention.

Achieve inbox zero

Inbox zero, often seen as an unattainable goal, is more achievable than it seems. The key lies in getting the aid of an executive assistant to manage your email. The synergy between your active involvement and your assistant’s expertise can make it a reality.

This strategic partnership transforms your inbox from a chaotic jumble into a well-organized communication hub. The concept evolves from an aspirational ideal into a practical strategy that boosts productivity, minimizes distractions, and maximizes your valuable time.

Spot unanswered emails and follow up with them

Missing out on an important email can cause many issues: falling behind on OKRs, missing a deadline, or leaving leads hanging. That’s why it’s so important to not drop the ball. An EA can spot any emails that remain unanswered and follow up on them, ensuring no important correspondence slips through the cracks. This proactive approach not only relieves you of the email burden, but also guarantees no critical communication goes unnoticed. With your EA’s assistance, you can confidently focus on crucial tasks, knowing your inbox remains organized and all threads are attended to in a timely manner.

Rid you of spam and unwanted newsletters

The influx of cold emails becomes inevitable when you hold a significant role in a company. Here is where an executive assistant steps in to alleviate the clutter by skillfully sifting through your inbox and eliminating spam and unwanted newsletters. Their adeptness in identifying and filtering out irrelevant messages ensures your attention remains undivided, directed solely toward essential matters.

Write the first draft of your responses

Delegating email management to your executive assistant doesn’t end with categorizing and deleting emails. An EA who pays close attention to detail can learn the nuances of your tone of voice with such precision that she can actually write emails on your behalf and have them ready to send. If you have a “how to work with me” manual, ask your EA to study it closely and if you don’t, ask her to create one. Be sure to include a “tone of voice” section so she understands what makes your tone unique, which words to avoid, and even how you like to punctuate your emails.

Following all of these email management best practices was the key to success for one of our customers. At the time of the onboarding, the CEO of a Series B startup in Arlington had over 27,000 emails in his inbox and his Viva EA made it her first priority to organize and declutter his email. A week later, she had already achieved inbox zero and her executive got to experience peace of mind that comes from a job well done.

Meeting assistance

How many many full mornings do you spend in back-to-back meetings? And how many days a week are you stuck in conference rooms or listening to colleagues on video calls? Some meetings are unavoidable, but there is no reason for you to just go with whatever your calendar dictates. There are many ways you can optimize planned meetings, and your executive assistant is the perfect ally to make that happen.

Figure out the cadence for recurring meetings

Between one-on-ones, direct reports, and all sorts of internal and external meetings, determining the cadence of each of them is crucial for your calendar to stay in check. You may need to meet with every single one of your direct reports weekly, but there is no reason for you to sync with the entire sales team separately. An EA can help you determine the duration and cadence of each of your meetings, making sure you don’t have recurring meetings more often than needed.

Cancel or deflect unnecessary meetings

More often than not, executives end up being double- or even triple-booked, and in many cases the meetings they’re invited to don’t require them to be there. Your EA will act as the first filter to determine if your presence is indeed required in the meeting by making sure there’s an agenda to it and analyzing if you would play an important part or if you’d be a mere spectator.

Attend meetings on your behalf

Having an executive assistant attend meetings on your behalf can enhance your productivity. Allowing your EA to shadow you in meetings lets them gain valuable insights into your communication style, preferences, and decision-making processes. This enables them to step into your shoes when necessary, ensuring discussions stay on track and key points are addressed. Having your EA fill in for you will also show your colleagues that she is the person in charge of similar matters, for future requirements.

Prep meetings

An EA plays a pivotal role in ensuring productive meetings by meticulously managing agendas and attendees. Furthermore, their coordination skills come into play as they ensure availability of all essential guests, optimizing attendance for critical decision-makers. This meticulous planning guarantees that meetings are more effective, as every participant comes equipped with necessary information and insights. Consequently, discussions are focused, solutions are generated efficiently, and valuable time is maximized, reflecting the EA’s crucial contribution to streamlined and successful meetings.

Put decks and reports in order prior to meetings

Executive assistants add significant value by meticulously organizing decks and reports before meetings. Their attention to detail ensures that presentations are coherent, relevant, and visually appealing. They arrange content logically, highlighting key points, and providing a smooth flow of information.

Taking meeting minutes

Executive assistants excel in note-taking, capturing essential insights and action items during meetings. Their adeptness at distilling discussions into concise yet comprehensive notes ensures that key takeaways are documented accurately. EAs facilitate accountability and follow-through by recording action items for you and other attendees. These notes serve as valuable references, aiding in post-meeting reviews and decision-making.

One Viva EA stood out for the meeting assistance she provided to her executive. The head of accounting at a Series C startup and his team saw the immediate benefit an outstanding EA can provide. She devised a bullet-proof cadence database that ensures all meetings take place at the right time. If there is a change of schedule, business days have shifted, or any other external factor has interfered with the cadence, she makes sure all other meetings are shifted and rescheduled.

Travel arrangements

Planning a trip can take a considerable amount of time, especially if you have several activities to schedule. From purchasing plane tickets to booking venues and coworking spaces, making restaurant reservations, and managing the expenses of the entire trip, the logistics of trip planning take up immense time and require skill — they can also cost you significant effort and what’s worse, if you don’t plan it meticulously, you may end up wasting valuable time, money and maybe even a connection.

Book the best tickets, hotels, and restaurants

Having your EA book tickets, hotels, and restaurants for you isn’t just about completing transactions; it’s about crafting tailored experiences. A great assistant anticipates your travel style, remembers your favorite cuisines, and knows your accommodation preferences down to the finest detail. Unlike requesting help from an AI tool like ChatGPT, which might generate generic responses, an executive assistant’s human touch crafts a journey that captures your distinct style, making every moment not just convenient, but truly yours.

Manage travel expenses

Make the best of your travel budget by delegating expense management to your EA. They can ensure accuracy and adherence to company policies, and handle receipt collection, categorization, and expense report preparation, simplifying the reimbursement process. A remarkable EA can also analyze spending patterns, identify cost-saving opportunities, and negotiate discounts with vendors.

Shift any commitments that overlap with your trip

Your EA’s deep understanding of your priorities allows them to make informed decisions about what to shift and what to keep intact. This personalized approach to schedule management guarantees that your professional obligations remain uninterrupted during your trips, showcasing the value of an EA’s hands-on, thoughtful assistance.

One of our EAs recently planned a trip for her client, a Series A Co-CEO who hadn’t taken a proper vacation in years. She crafted a thorough itinerary and planned every single moment of the 10-day holiday her executive needed. The result? He didn’t have to take any cognitive load on planning, and instead, he just focused on enjoying some well-deserved time off to finally go back to work feeling recharged and with newfound energy to lead his team in the best possible way.

Team engagement

Making sure your employees feel like they’re part of a well-structured team is one of the keys to producing better quality work. Team engagement also ensures your individual team members are happy with your leadership style and in sync with company goals. How can you make sure your team truly operates as one? Your EA is instrumental in making that happen.

Plan executive and company-wide offsites

Whether your team is working remotely or in the office, it’s important to give them a change of scenery occasionally. Planning an offsite is perfect for team building while getting valuable work done and putting your minds together toward the achievement of a common goal.

The Head of the Customer Success team at a Series C startup asked her Viva EA to assist her in planning an offsite for a team of 27. She entrusted her EA with planning the entire event: from confirming attendees to coming up with team-building activities, arranging catering, and ordering swag.

Organize team events

Team events don’t have to have to be expensive or overly complicated. Our EAs have planned events for their executive teams that have ranged from a virtual wine tasting with a guest sommelier to a botanical garden visit and high tea afterward.

Other types of events that are not only fun but also serve as a moment of praise are company awards. Establish your own system to highlight the achievements of your team members and let that be a moment for everyone to feel valued and appreciated by their colleagues and leader.

Coordinate gifts for team milestones

We’ve met leaders who are prone to point out what’s not working well enough but fail to highlight the wins of their team members. Being recognized for the quality of your work is part of what people call “emotional salary”.

If you don’t know where to start, ask your EA to create a tracker for company goals, team milestones, and individual achievements and come up with a reward system for each of those moments. Here’s an example of some of the things your EA could do:

Operations and special projects

An EA’s role is flexible and can be as impactful as their executive allows them to be. If you’re only willing to delegate a portion of your workload, you’ll get a finite impact, but if you trust your executive assistant to take care of bigger projects, they will deliver results you couldn’t imagine. These are some ways in which delegating to your EA truly means working smarter.

Organize documents, folders, and workspaces

Keeping all relevant information centralized and updated is a decisive factor for your team’s effectiveness. There are many ways in which you can do that. This is how one of our EAs did it for her executive.

The Chief Marketing Officer from a Series B startup needed to update the repository her predecessor had left unattended. That’s when her Viva EA stepped up and created a meticulously structured database that functions as a centralized and conveniently reachable reservoir for marketing materials, papers, and supplementary resources.

Conduct research and prepare reports

Startup executives often end up wearing too many hats and, as a result, don’t put enough time into working on their main goal because they need to attend to other priorities that are maybe not as important but are really time-consuming.

Research is one task they can easily delegate to their EAs. By giving their EAs total ownership of said research, they can even put entire reports together, saving you countless hours. The Head of Product at a Series A startup asked his Viva EA to take care of the billing process and she ended up giving the entire team a financial overview clearer than they had ever had.

What can you do with the time you just got back?

Focus time for strategic work

Devoting time to strategic work is key. Direct your efforts toward the highest-impact areas. This approach ensures that your energy is channeled into what truly matters, generating the most substantial outcomes. By concentrating on tasks that wield significant impact, you optimize productivity and propel your objectives forward. This principle of focused allocation empowers you to achieve meaningful results efficiently, a practice that distinguishes effective leaders and decision-makers.

Prep time for board meetings

Optimize your preparation for board meetings. Instead of wasting valuable time on logistics and coordination, utilize every moment to excel within the meeting itself. Efficiently arrange all necessary elements beforehand so you can fully engage with the agenda and contribute meaningfully. This strategic shift minimizes distractions, allowing you to immerse yourself in discussions, critical analysis, and decision-making. Your active participation and insightful contributions become the focal point, ensuring that your presence has a substantial impact. By delegating pre-meeting tasks, you embrace a focused approach that amplifies your effectiveness during crucial board sessions.

Prioritize your personal life

Elevate your personal well-being with a simple yet impactful shift. Embrace deliberate personal time to recharge, connect with family, and nurture your passions. This intentional boundary-setting not only enhances your mental and physical wellness, but also enriches your effectiveness during work hours. You showcase a commitment to holistic success by prioritizing self-care. Let your weekends be about relaxation, personal growth, and quality moments. In turn, witness heightened productivity, creativity, and a renewed sense of balance as you navigate the demands of your professional journey.

Key takeaways

The possibilities are endless with an executive assistant at your disposal. You could use your newfound free time to brainstorm novel ideas, develop innovative strategies, or simply unwind and recharge your batteries. You could also leverage your assistant’s experience to simplify your workflow and optimize your productivity. Your EA can be your go-to resource for all things operative and administrative, whether you need help scheduling appointments, managing your email inbox, or conducting research on a new project.

So, if you find yourself drowning in a sea of tasks and responsibilities, consider investing in an executive assistant. Not only will you be able to get more work done, you’ll also be able to take back control of your time and bring structure into your personal and professional life.

You can do anything, but you cannot do everything by yourself. The best way to get more done? Start delegating effectively to an executive assistant. If you don’t know where to start, find out here.

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