Core Administrative Skills Always Need Improving

I am pretty sure that as you focus on your career this month because of Administrative Professionals Week, you are looking for some awesome earth-shattering, off-the-charts ideas. We have done our best to provide you with some great blogs during the month of April.

Now I am going to surprise you by telling you one of the most awesome administrative skills you can work on is being brilliant at the basics.

It doesn’t matter how long you have worked in the administrative profession. Your basics are your daily nourishment. They are the foundation of everything you do. Basics include: travel planning, appointment coordination, meeting preparation, all facets of communication, organizational skills, and time and project management. As your days are getting busier and you are taking on more projects and assignments, you need these skills more than ever.

Last fall 700+ assistants responded to a survey sent out by Office Dynamics. We asked the assistants to identify areas that they would like us to provide more information on. Do you know what rose to the top of the list? The basics. This tells me that as much information that is available, assistants are still struggling with time management, project management, prioritization, organizational skills, and communication.

Here is the secret sauce:

  1. Keep exploring until you find the very best processes for your daily routines: your To Do, Follow-up items, Action items, etc.
  2. Be consistent with your processes. This is one of the best-kept secrets of superstar assistants. They consistently work their processes, especially when things get chaotic at the office.
  3. Explore new twists to doing routine tasks.
  4. Look for ways to make the basics more interesting and fun. Instead of sending out the same meeting notice, how can you jazz it up? If you still use hard file folders, purchase some pretty, fun folders. There are all kinds of fun and beautiful office supplies that were never available to assistants. And yes, buy it yourself if you really want it. You are worth it.
  5. Talk to other assistants about their processes. Often you will find new ideas or shortcuts that you can implement.
  6. Of course view webinars, YouTube videos, and online courses for new ideas.
  7. Don’t throw everything out in the wash! Believe it or not, I still use a follow-up system that I learned as an executive assistant in my 20s. That is nearly 40 years ago! It is the 43-day file folder system. I have not found a more useful, efficient system for my hard copy notes, papers and files.

I would love for you to share your ideas on how to make daily tasks more interesting for assistants and secretaries.

This blog is part of our 2017 Blog-A-Thon. Please leave a comment or share the blog for your chance to win one of our amazing giveaways! The more blogs you comment on and share, the more chances you have to win. If you’d like to learn more about our Blog-A-Thon you can do so here. Hint: Subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner so you never miss a blog.

Joan Burge



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46 thoughts on “Core Administrative Skills Always Need Improving”

  1. Thanks for this refresher. Yes, we are all great at what we do, but when things do get chaotic, it can help to focus on the basics. When I experience boredom, one way I do try to jazz things up is with supplies, as suggested, and be a bit more creative in what I produce. I also try to find new ways of doing things. If my basics are solid, which I believe they are, then I should have no problem improving a process or routine tasks.

  2. Thank you for this. I think this will really help me put things into perspective. I have a hard time saying no to anyone, both in my professional and personal life. I am always so eager to help everyone and do things for them, because it makes me feel good. At the same token, I always seem to take on more than I should and get stressed out. I think that I needed to be reminded of some of these points.

  3. Victoria Prestia

    I try to keep my coworkers upbeat and smiling. Make sure I take breaks, don’t eat lunch at my desk and enjoy the view of the Arizona mountains and scenery from the 4th floor break room.

  4. Great blog!! Refreshing your skills is essential as I am learning this as move forward in my new position. I just had a sit down with one of my bosses and the area I need to improve is speaking up. They are impressed with my work, appearance, and drive but the issue is I don’t speak up often. I’m still trying to learn what makes them who they are and get a feel for their expectations, and now they want me to walk on there and speak to them like the others do. I’m terrified.

  5. Love the reminder; keep it simple is another thing to remember for most things to avoid overcomplicating everything so when someone really needs something from you, it’s right at hand. I too would love to hear more about the 41-day file folder system you use…please share!

  6. dezondria johnson

    I’m a bit of a funny girl, so sometimes I respond to emails with emojis or other funny pictures that I find on the internet. I even have a couple as part of my email signature (a picture of Einstein on his front porch in fluffy house slippers and a meditating emoji). I always get a little giggle from the managers, even people outside my operation have given me nice compliments about them. I makes me happy, and makes the day not seem so mundane for some of them. Sometimes they respond in kind. One time, something I sent prompted the manager to get up and talk to me face-to-face later commenting on how it was helpful because they “needed to get up from their desk and take a break.”

  7. I, too, am intrigued by the 41-day file folder system. I recently moved into a new EA position and information flows much differently (and much faster) than my usual way of organizing can handle. I’m beginning to realize that I need a fresh approach and going back to basics is a good place to start.

  8. Much of what we admins do can be very routine. But we can’t let the routine become rote — that’s boring and can lead to mistakes. Those basics are critically important, because if we don’t get calendar management, file management, customer service, event planning, etc. right, then we’re not effectively serving our leaders and teams.

    One thing I’ve recently discovered is keeping a Bullet Journal (Google the term) for my to-do lists. It’s really helped me track and prioritize both at work and home.

  9. Linda from St. Louis, MO

    Hello, Joan and Everyone,
    After attending an all-day seminar last year, I started using the Task function in Outlook 2013. I was always a write-it-down person. I still do that sometimes. 🙂
    But, now when I’m in Outlook and I think of something I should be reminded about, I press Ctrl Shift K. It automatically opens up a Task reminder prompt.
    Thank you, Joan and Crew, for supplying the blogs and webinars. They’re greatly appreciated.

  10. Thanks Joan. I like the idea of jazzing up my supplies. I’d be willing to buy my own. I’m already using a pretty desk organizer from home that matches my business card holder. I’ll definitely have to look in to the 41-day system!

  11. It’s always a good idea to go back to the basics and freshen up; as for supplies, on a local government budget it does get a little difficult justifying why I bought the colored folders instead of the basic manila ones but I do get colorful in my explanations. 🙂

  12. Such good words and reminders, Joan. Admins must have solid foundations in those basic, but oh-so-important, skills. New technology and processes can then be used to build upon those.

    I love your phrase, “brilliant at the basics.” Yes!

  13. I have used ALL of those ideas. I love learning new ways to organize. In fact, Joan talked about the file system using the days of the month. It has organized me so much! Lots of free resources online and FB groups and LinkedIn groups! Love! Love! LOVE IT ALL!. Happy Early APW!!!

  14. I agree with Joan about not throwing everything out. Every meeting and trip I plan I have a manila folder with bullet details in my drawer (date order of course). That way when one of the execs ask me a question I can pull it out quickly. They like answers fast, and paper gives them a visual that I’m organized and on top of my game. I do have an electronic copy, however I move quicker with the folders. I would love to hear about her 41-day file folder system.

    1. Laura Hall-Daniels

      I figured it out! The 43 day folder system is like a tickler file. You have folders numbered 1-31 for each day of the month, and 12 more folders for each month of the year. You check the folder for that day every morning. At the beginning of the month you go to the folder for that month, take everything out and put it in the day folders. If you have something to remember 6 months down the road, then you put it in that month’s folder, and bring it out when you need it. I’ve seen it in use — it really works (provided you can remember to check your folders every morning).

  15. Good Morning and thank you Joan.
    Thank you for taking us “back to the basics”.
    As always thank you for assisting us and keeping us in top shape.
    Have a beautifully blessed day all.

  16. Very nice reminder! I’ve been admin, data, and document support for many years, and it still gives me a thrill to rethink and tweak basic functions.

    And yes, give me any reason to make a trip to the local Staples or Office Depot. Like a kid in the candy store!

  17. When you share ideas you always learn something new! It’s a great way! And I just started buying “fun” folders! It makes you happy when you pull out an assignment you need to work on!

  18. Kelly Neely Olsakovsky

    This is especially timely for me. I was just thinking on my drive in that I need to refocus on basics. I’ve tried to make things too complex, and the idea of simplifying, going back to basics, and focusing on those things that will matter most in a week or a year or ten years is really most important.

    It’s so easy to lose focus, especially when there are lots of plates spinning. This was a wonderful reminder for me, and I appreciate it.

  19. I appreciate the basic “secret sauce” list that you provided. I find I am always looking at better ways to do things. I am curious about the 41-day file folder system. I have a monthly to do list that I use and check off, add, subtract as I go along. Many of the things I do are only done once or twice a year, so I try to be specific in what is on my list. I am starting to work on a Procedures Manual, thanks to All Things Admin.

    Thank you for the daily blogs; they have been insightful.

  20. Another good article. I would like to hear more about the 41-day file folder system. I googled it, but could not find anything.

  21. As a list lover and user, this post was perfect for me. I love having numbered things to keep me on track and focused.
    #1 is an ongoing (sometimes) battle for me. I just can’t seem to find a flow that works well. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to share! Love getting new ideas and recommendations.

  22. Great advice! It always boils down to the basics and your process for handling the day. If you continue to work your process, it gives you a level of control even when things seem out of control!

  23. Laura Hall-Daniels

    My way of making my routine tasks and daily routines more pleasant is that everything on my desk is purple–my favorite color. My file folders, pencil cup, mouse, wrist pad, my pen (and ink), stapler post-its, and even the clip for my name badge are all purple. Purple is my happy color, and when I’m stuck at my desk for hours it just makes me happy that I’ve made it my own space. And every once in awhile I find a purple paper clip or other item that someone has left for me on my desk. And believe it or not, it even makes me happy to receive a single purple paperclip.

  24. Sharon Chaplain

    This is something that many people who’ve been in the field overlook. Many believe “I’ve been doing this for X amount of years, I know what I’m doing, therefore I don’t need additional training/to change”. With younger people entering the job market with fresh ideas to streamline processes, we need to be more receptive to the fact that our ways and ideas may not always be the best. Flexibility and a willingness to adapt are crucial, otherwise, you may just be replaced by someone who’s more willing.

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