Can a Veteran EA Really Learn Anything from Productivity Training?

One of our clients wrote this personal blog in reference to her experience with our training program, Take Back Your Life!®. She works for a Fortune 500 organization in Latin America and reluctantly took the training based on a recommendation from H.R. She accepted the request, but as a 20 year professional was not looking forward to another training on productivity and time management and felt there was little that could be gained from the event. Below is her experience and journey as she wrote it. She was kind enough to allow us to share it on our website:

My day typically begins with me packing: a couple snacks, a lunch and a small dinner to take to work. Who packs a dinner to take to work? I do—because my days often drifted into the evening, so I need to be prepared.

While driving to work to begin yet another bright day, I went over every single detail of the day ahead of me thinking about the pending items, the pending calls, and also wondering what surprises will come my way. How many interruptions? How many fires to put out? After all, I’m the Executive Assistant (EA) for the President of a large corporation with great responsibility! It was bound to happen, it all came with the territory, and I had to be available for everything and everyone and at any given time…after all that was my job…or was it?

I have been working as an EA for over 20 years and of course by this time one really believes one knows it all and one is capable of handling just about any type of boss or situation. However, a Human Resources Director had offered some insight on a program that she had tried and found beneficial. She felt that I would also benefit from the program, so inevitably I was compelled to accept yet another appointment for which I had no time whatsoever and furthermore I really believed would offer me nothing new or of value. I was very cynical.

I remember thinking, “yet another training course about time management.” I do actually like learning, but I also had never found any specific solution in the past 20 years that actually changed things for ME. I can’t tell you that I was reluctant, I just don’t remember. However, I do remember being curious as to what this system or approach would entail. Could this really be any better?

At the beginning of the training, I was introduced to the McGhee Productivity Solutions facilitator. The first thing that surprised me was that he wanted to know and learn about me. ME!! Not the huge corporation or my super big boss, etc. He wanted and needed to learn what Samantha’s priorities were. I realized at that moment—I had none. My function—although being good and no one was questioning the performance per se—had become a very reactive one. I had no plan. My day was based on my boss’ agenda because that is what I had been doing for such a long time. His day became my day. Right there, after being faced with this approach, I became less cynical and began really working with the facilitator. It really was uplifting and I learned a lot about the things that I needed for myself. I was also taught how to use some of the existing tools within Microsoft Outlook to be more proactive in managing-up which allowed for much more productive interactions with my boss. He and I went as far as getting into my desk and cleaning it up. This included disposing of all the clutter and papers which made everything feel lighter. I really felt different.

I learned that it was OK to decide to make time for myself and was also empowered to distribute my workload when appropriate. The knowledge and processes that were shared around Microsoft Outlook made the tool work for me and actually helped me be a better EA. I actually “took my life back”.

Then, the training came to an end, so we scheduled some follow up calls and I worked to complete most of the assignments. The program itself, especially using the four D’s to process email was wonderful and it felt for the first time in a long time that I was in control.

There were still some struggles with time management and in setting expectations with my boss. I really needed someone to understand the perspective of an Executive Assistant and help me address my unique challenges. Although my interactions with my boss were better and more productive, I was still struggling with getting home early and finishing my day “on time.”

I had become acquainted with Nevenka Campodonico, who was also a member of the MPS team. She had supported my initial facilitator as his administrator but had begun training to become a coach herself. Talking to her over the phone, while trying to find time on the agenda for a meeting between her boss and mine, I started to share with her my frustrations and she mentioned she actually had to complete an assessment as part of her training. I assured her I was actually a challenging case and if she helped me then she would deserve the grade of “A”. She took me on—and she was wonderful!

When you talk to someone about the needs you have in any job, it always feels like you’re being judged. I never had this feeling working with Nevenka. She put herself in my shoes and having been an EA herself, she understood clearly why I felt frustrated. I did not feel defensive and I appreciated her patience as I discarded all my frustration and feelings of inadequacy in the first minutes of our conversation. She totally got it and was actually a step ahead of me simply because she had been there.

For example, she understood right away the necessity of having the folders line up and she clearly explained the importance of something as simple as having the same type of folder naming conventions for reference. She also took the time to assist me in customizing the categories to fit my needs with the way I work and store items. This was a life saver! She was tough but she was understanding. More importantly, she also made it clear that the system could only work if I make it happen.

Finally, she helped me to understand why I needed to lead with my calendar view each day and not get caught up in emails. She assisted in configuring my Outlook to default to the calendar view upon starting so when I come into work and start my system, the first thing I see is my calendar.

Nevenka also was kind enough to share with me her own agenda and how she included time for herself. I took a leap of faith and by her example I made the decision to set a time for me to be out of the office and do an activity for me. With no kids and no husband to come home to, I never “had” to get home early. I signed up for swimming classes and now I live a stress-free life, I’m actually more fit and feel like I have control over my day.

She has been a life saver! We speak the same language and I feel comfortable sharing my personal experiences with her. I learned from her that there never has to be a definite yes or a definite no—it just has to work for me. I have the ability and knowledge to make it work. This process can really be a life changing and I would welcome additional coaching since I tend to get side tracked very easily and I can certainly learn more about how I can utilize the system to be more focused on priority tasks.

I hope to work with Nevenka again as she is passionate about what she does, and truly believes in it so it makes it easy for me to see that it is possible to juggle things and have control, and still love what I do. Better yet, how good it feels to just pack a snack and a lunch for a normal work day and also have an activity or two just for me in the middle of the week.

Now my rides to work in the morning are for me to listen to music or just relax before the day begins. I know that as soon as I get to work I will see what the day has in store for me since it is right there in front of me on my very own calendar.

Samantha Preciado
Professional Executive Assistant

Take Back Your Life!® Champion

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