How to Help Your Manager Get Things Done – Ask an Admin


If you are an Administrative Professional looking for your questions to be answered by your peers, then this is the place for you! This is the best blog for advice for administrative assistants and executive assistants provided by Office Dynamics International.

This week Renee C. asks:

As an administrative assistant, how do you get your supervisor to complete his tasks and get things done, especially in a timely manner and meet deadlines? I’ve tried everything from whiteboards of projects to various types of folders with deadlines, to scheduling time in outlook, sending reminders (email, outlook, paper) to standing weekly meetings with him. Things don’t get done nor do they get done in a timely manner. I don’t know what other methods and/or processes to use.

Wow! Ok, Renee is wondering how does an administrative assistant manage her manager or executive? Does Renee start with managing deadlines, learning how to schedule properly? Or does this frustrated administrative assistant need to build on her partnership with her executive? How do you help your manager get things done?

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15 thoughts on “How to Help Your Manager Get Things Done – Ask an Admin”

  1. If you have a good rapport with your executive, I would simply ask what does he expects and what is the preferred method for him hand urgent matters (such as, flagging him down, email, meetings)? And for other matters that aren’t as dire ask: when/how would he like to have reminders/updates?

    With my exec, I would have a separate folder as well of hot/vip items that I knew would come up later (even a year out) that would slip through the cracks otherwise and had all the legwork completed so he could take it from there on the fly. You don’t want to get to the point where he is avoiding your emails, etc. and there’s a strain on the relationship. It’s important to know what he expects. I look at it as they have so many balls in the air and your job is to help him catch the really important ones. And it’s great to know from their vantage point what’s the most important. Everyone is different and sometimes when they don’t take care of things immediately there’s a reason and they’re working out factors you may be unaware of before acting.

    That’s where I would start and see if that helps. At the least it will take the pressure off and you’re more able to do your job knowing you’re doing the best you can and he can utilize you as the invaluable resource you are which will ultimately fare you both well.

  2. This is my life on the daily. I’ve learned when her “hours of engagement” are. My executive has certain hours in her day where she is more focused than others. I’ve learned that if I want ANYTHING from her that I need to get it done within those hours, otherwise forget it!!

  3. This is an incredibly frustrating situation for you to be in. Despite your incredible work ethic and excellence as an admin support, and it would appear you have established a relationship with your manager, nothing changes. There is a fine line between having your manager’s back and making them look really good, and doing their job for them. They were appointed on the basis that they could do the job they have and they are remunerated accordingly. You are doing your very best to cover your manager and that’s great, but be careful that you don’t end up doing their job for them. If they have been in the role for some time and are still not performing, then perhaps they are in the wrong job and you need to continue to do what you do but no more than that and let the chips fall where they may. Their inability to meet deadlines, despite your efforts, is not on YOU at all so don’t take on any guilt about this that is not your to take. If their inability to act is causing you so much angst and worry, another option might actually be to move onto another opportunity. Keep you head up … you sound like you are doing all that you can.

  4. Hi Renee, I work for someone who is senior, time poor and easily distracted. In the first instance I think an upfront discussion is in order. My discussion with my Partner was quite to the point, it had little impact on me if he missed things but it had a big impact of other people’s perception of him.

    Some tips I’ve implemented to manage this situation:

    1. Tell him in advance you want to meet and put time in his calendar.
    2. I use OneNote to track all items I need to discuss. Any reminders, emails others/I send, updates on any team action points.
    3. Draft responses on their behalf for review. My Partner has said it is quicker to change a response than to formulate from scratch.
    4. For urgent items I send an email follow up and I put in the subject heading ‘DID YOU?’. I only use this sparingly but for some reason it works.
    5. Use you’re judgement wisely when to make an issue of the situation.

    I believe it comes down to the character of the person you work for and the professional respect they have for you.

    Good luck!

  5. Am I missing something? From my read of Renee’s question and the various solutions she says she has tried, it doesn’t appear that she needs to “learn how to schedule properly.” At what point does responsibility and accountability lie with her supervisor? Who does her supervisor report to? Even if the executive is the CEO there should be a Board of Directors or some other committee with oversight. What consequences have there been for the repeated missed deadlines and uncompleted tasks? If there have been no consequences, then are the tasks and deadlines meaningless or without priority or urgency? At the very least I feel Renee should document all her communications and actions attempting to keep her supervisor on track.

    1. couldn’t agree more dee. that was my knee jerk reaction to this as well, it sounds like she’s tried everything and yet the behavior isn’t changing. while i’m all for tips, tricks & work arounds, at some point i think it’s perfectly acceptable to just say, “i’ve done all i can do.”

      now that doesn’t mean that she should stop doing all the things she’s currently doing, but at what point is the executive just not paying attention and not owning up to his end of the partnership? how did he make it that far by ignoring deadlines anyway? that’s a head scratcher.

      executives aren’t angels nor are they perfect…sometimes all the running around and scrambling doesn’t get the job done, at which point it’s ok to turn the pointed finger around. stop blaming yourself, from the post it doesn’t appear that you are doing anything wrong.

      hang in there, keep doing what you’re doing, document like crazy, and just keep keeping on, but know, that in this particular instance its the executive that needs to be held accountable and who could stand a realignment in his approach to business affairs.

  6. Shoring up the personal relationship will help build goodwill (which in turn will help your executive to prioritize you)…use humor as appropriate. Small thoughtful gestures. Also, not every task is as important as another, don’t spend the goodwill currency you build on asking repeatedly after low value tasks – let your executive decide what is important and what isn’t for the day. You may be a perfectionist, but your exec may not be. Stay positive always, even when it’s hard, and don’t take anything too personally. At the end of the day, you know how much you can stand. If you’ve hit your limit, apply for a new job while you have this one, and get out before things get worse, and leave with your head high and the ability to smile. Always be in charge of your own destiny. You got this!

  7. I have a similar situation, my manager who is very high energy sometimes gets easily distracted. I have scheduled twice weekly “Desk Time” is what I call it – this is a 2 hour block of time and I color it Red in her calendar – so it’s like a big red stop sign. During this time – I will sit in her office with her – usually I have a folder or a binder of items to go through and I’ll pull up a chair and sit next to her and we will get stuff done together. I can get her signature, help her respond to e-mails, follow up on things, go through the coming week calendar and get her input on things, respond to messages – etc…. She appreciates this as it forces her to get stuff done – She has focus on what is right there in front of her. She says that it is very helpful for her and she really appreciates it. It may seem like hand holding or babysitting but I see it as guidance – this is the time where we can switch positions – during this 2 hour block of time I am the leader – I am guiding her through her to do list and I make sure that we are “working together” – I help her get stuff done and in turn this helps me because I can close the loop on outstanding items. Hope this helps you!

    1. This is great that your manager is open to this!! Good job for creating the 2 hr blocks twice a week to ensure tasks get done.

  8. juliana gardiner

    Hey Renee,

    I know sometimes an assistant work can be tough since you act as an instrument but not the instrument itself. What I suggest is although it seems frustrating and might seem you are not doing your part but from what you stated you are doing what you have to do and your manager or executive has a responsibly to also do his or her part.

    My suggestion is at one of your meetings, you can let him know how this issue bothers you since you want to know that you are doing your job and that you want to know how best you can help to get things done. Asking him this will alert him that you are concerned about progress and might help him open up to more ways to get through.

    I asked for more challenges with my executive and he realized how he’s not utilizing me enough and it worked.

  9. My boss is exactly the same. Paperwork piles up waiting for him to sign off. He will come in on a Tuesday morning saying that he is signing today…he actually doesn’t sign until Friday at 4 (if at all). Then he wants kudos for having “made a dent in the signing pile”. I send him a Tasks Due email twice a week, have all the paperwork “triaged” so he knows what are easy, what are contracts and what are rushes. Needless to say, it rarely gets done. Telling him point blank he needs to take time and sign does not work at all because he says he is too busy dealing with others’ mistakes and that is why he has no time to sign. I wish this was something I could help you with, I am curious to read everyone’s advice and maybe learn with you! You are not alone!

  10. For one of my managers (who works in a different city than me) I use Tasks in Outlook and assign the task, with a reminder set up, to him. That helps some. Then periodically I also send him an email listing the items still on my Task list and he usually responds to that.

    For the manager who is in the office next to me, I haven’t found anything that works so I finally had to tell myself that once I’ve reminded him several times, its on him, not me. I can only do so much and its ultimately his responsibility to do his part.

  11. melissa hunter

    I want to say stop babysitting him and let the guy succeed or fail on his own. There is only so much you can do; he is an adult, he should understand the requirements of his position, and you are there to support him, not to be his mom.

    Sometimes people have to miss deadlines and experience the consequences to grow up and start doing their job. Your responsibility is to do your job, not his.

    There will be lots of other suggestions, most probably quite different from this, but sometimes people just have to fail. It sounds like he needs to work on his time management skills!

  12. Try an unconventional approach – be direct and ask him if he wants your help to make sure he completes tasks in a timely manner / when they are due. If he doesn’t, then give it up. You’ll probably notice by his body language how he’s thinking and feeling. He’ll have to face the consequences for missed deadlines if he refuses your help.

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