Helping The Good Get Better, And The Great Become Superb

Focus is such an important aspect of an increasingly busy modern life but so often overlooked. I firmly believe it’s fundamental to everyone, we all have the same number of hours in the day and why would you not want to maximise what you can potentially get out of them?

Busy and Proud

It seems to have become a badge of honour to be hugely busy with an unmanageable amount of work and to declare it loudly and often. I have to admit to this being my absolute pet hate, there just seems to me to be no need for it.

I work incredibly hard and often have more on my plate than I can hope to deal with in the timescales I’m given. Yet I aim to always be calm and approachable, to always get everything essential done and to always be home at a reasonable hour. It isn’t always easy and I will admit I am not always entirely successful but it is a way to live life in general that is worth the effort for the overall benefits it yields.

The Pareto Principle

Have you heard of the Pareto Principle? There is every chance that you may know it as the 80/20 rule.

It is a very simple yet very important theory that is named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher.  In 1906 he noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population and that in his garden 20% of the pea pods contained 80% of the peas .What was most important about Pareto’s finding was that this 80/20 distribution occurs extremely frequently.

You can apply it to economic conditions today – a small percentage of the population controls the biggest percentage of wealth and resources, a small percentage of employees are responsible for a  disproportionately large amount of a company’s output and a minority of customers are responsible for a majority of the revenues.

These are not hard rules! Not every scenario will be like this and the ratio won’t be exactly 80/20, but chances are if you look at many key metrics in business and society there is definitely a minority creating a majority.

How does this apply to me?

If you really think about it, can’t you apply this principle to many aspects of your life? I know I can.

By looking at your daily habits you can find plenty of examples where the 80/20 principle applies. You likely spend a large amount of your money on few things, you probably only consistently sit in few of the available places in your home, of all the shoes that you have you probably wear a few of them most of the time and there is a good chance that you spend most of your time with only a few of the people that you actually know.

The important thing to understand is that in your life there are certain activities you do that account for the majority of your happiness and outputs.The actual numbers really don’t matter, the important thing is that paying attention to this principle helps you identify what is working for you and what is not.

Pareto’s Funnel

The relationship between effort and results are often unbalanced and whilst it would be easy to rail against how unfair that is, surely it is much more productive to accept and work with it to maximise your chances of success?

Understanding the 80-20 Rule is vital as you analyse your productivity and daily strategies. It is an incredible tool for maximising your time or for growing your business. It allows you to identify and focus on the 20% that proves effective, thereby separating out the less effective.

It is worth the initial effort?

For me, applying this principle to my life and work allows me to maximise not only my time but perhaps more importantly – my IMPACT!

I love the fact that people see me as a go to person who will not only deliver the goods but do it with a quality outturn and reliably ahead of schedule. That is because I use the Pareto Principle as standard, so much so that I don’t even think about it anymore. I don’t just consider deadlines when prioritising my time, I consider the impact and my enjoyability in completing the task too!

There will always be things that you have to spend time on that you don’t enjoy but the point is that you can work smarter TODAY to find greater fulfilment. That is what living an 80/20 lifestyle is all about – consistently tapping in to what you do best and making sure you are focussed on doing it more often.

It is a process of constant reassessment – does it work, could it be quicker, could it be better, do I REALLY need to be spending time on this? It seems like an effort but once you get into the routine it just becomes second nature. In every important sphere of your personal and professional life it is important to work out where 20% effort can lead to 80% returns.


Focus on areas of exceptional productivity, rather than raising across the board efforts.
Strive for excellence in a few things, rather than good performance in many.
Target your most valuable goals rather than pursuing every opportunity
Look for the short cut, rather than run the full course.
Exercise control with the least possible effort.
Be selective, not exhaustive.

It Isn’t About Positional Authority

`Outstanding EA’s are invaluable assets to their employers, in many ways indispensable members of the management team.’

‘A stretch’ I hear some say, usually the ones who insist on some outdated view of an EA as a run of the mill administrator come typist. I am a firm believer in the live and let live philosophy so I am very happy to agree to disagree … but here are some of the reasons that I think we are a step apart from the average bear.

Getting Things Done

I excel in my career because I enjoy self-management, the opportunity for decision-making, ongoing and broad scope learning and recognition for my participation in corporate achievements. I know and understand my boss’s high level goals, have the ability to make effective and knowledge based decisions based on them and proactively follow through to further corporate goals.

As competent, confident and resilient professionals EA’s are able to grasp the big picture as well as track operational detail … all whilst juggling a to-do list that would make most weep.

The working day of any EA is fast-paced, requiring an extraordinary number of skills displayed in quick time. Processing information with a dedication to accuracy, making quick and effective decisions, grouping tasks and exercising intuitive judgments on the fly are hallmarks of the role.

They are often the “go-to” person in the office and are called upon to fill several different roles on a daily basis. It is a comprehensive and complex responsibility.

A Partnership Like No Other

Relationship is the key word here and a two way one at that. I share my boss’s goals, we work together on setting/ achieving agenda’s and leverage our joint time. None of that can be done effectively and (most importantly?) enjoyably without mutual trust and respect. I have been lucky enough to have some truly great bosses along the way and have learned that an interview absolutely has to be about picking each other.

In many instances, I work without specific direction on a blank page on which I script the intent, design the structure, manage the team  and accept responsibility for the outcome. The last thing my boss wants is for me to keep asking for permission and endless questions, where would the time saving be?

The ideal situation is to get to is to read each other’s minds and be able to shorthand everything. It doesn’t happen immediately but is well worth the effort to get to the stage when you are asking each other the same  question at the exact same moment or saying ‘Already done’ to every query about tasks.

The Brain Trust

Aside from all of the specific competencies, assistants are often the most trusted confidant to the executive they serve.

Through my attendance at board meetings and being privy to highly confidential email correspondence I know and understand more about the day to day happenings, long term strategy and goals in the company than most of the employees.

And that is not to mention the personal, the things that need to be vented but never, ever disseminated. The ability to be a great listener is just the beginning, being trustworthy beyond reproach is the whole enchilada!

I spend the majority of my time in the company of and supporting the brain trust and it is gratifying that it never crosses anyone’s mind to question my loyalty when being entrusted with their most unguarded moments. Most importantly, it never crosses my mind to break that trust.

CPD … Every Single Day

My role adjusts with every new innovation in technology, shift in business strategy or change in the global economy. And on top of that I have to have more than a passing knowledge of how every department of the company works and a moving knowledge/ understanding of the roles and personalities of the main players.

In many roles you can focus on your area of chosen interest and expertise. Not so here, an EA has to have the remarkable capability to repeatedly reinvent themselves, to hit the ground running, bounce back, and renew themselves again and again.

On a daily basis I bounce between project manager, confidante, team member, upward manager, on the run problem solver, motivational coach, guru on all questions Powerpoint, bookkeeper, friend, Excel whizz, volunteer giver of time to the receptionist to eat, solver of Word formatting glitches, a shoulder, an ambassador, a gatekeeper, shining light of all the company values  … and all this in addition to my actual day to day job description.

My one greatest attribute that my boss mentions  above all else as my most valued skill ? My hard won immunity to all things drama/ flapping. Perhaps paddling like crazy under water,  but on the surface a vision of serenity, positivity, cheer and approachability.

Could you bend to meet every curve, yet stand straight and firm to push through obstacles?

Interpersonal Skills, And Then Some

Executive Assistants develop proficiencies in building and maintaining strong relationships, understanding the importance and impact of human interactions.

EA’s are often the local experts who have built strong interpersonal and business relationships, and not just with executives but across every department in the company. It is important to develop an ability to motivate others and manage differences through their skills of persuasion, consolidation, and innovation.


The role of the Executive Assistant is inextricably interwoven with management and leadership tasks. Planning, coordination, project management, time management, establishing priorities, multi-cultural relationship management, financial intelligence, strategic decision-making capability, and proactive skills are now the new norm.

The requirements for effective senior management leadership are mirrored in the support role of the Executive Assistant.


It Isn’t About Positional Authority, It Is About Attitude

The emerging leadership profile is hard to deny. Do you, like me, define authority as the ability to make decisions? Like me, define influence as the ability to crystallize, frame and present issues in a manner that encourages others to support and achieve a goal?

Do the following strike you as qualities of a leader?

Courage, tenacity, coping with change, tolerate chaos, interpersonal ability, inspiring others with great passion, commitment, ethical standards, goal pursuit, the ability and discretion to work behind the scenes for daily quiet victories without fanfare

They are the very basis of my working day.

The best leaders desire to support and inspire others, not promote themselves. .

In Conclusion

The effective Executive Assistant has grown in recent years with the changing world of corporate business and updated the traditional role profile with an instinct that has proved “on point”.

EA’s have always responded to the needs of executives, whose priority is to have the best and the brightest. Through cultural awareness, analysis, communication, and decision-making we continue to transform the traditional role to one with clear strategic responsibility and leadership accountability.

These major shifts have taken place as Executives realize that their assistants should be capable of challenging assignments requiring management and leadership skills. Executive Assistants possess the confidence and capability to skilfully provide leadership support for the senior management team of which they now are an integral part

The job description has changed and the Executive Assistant has stepped up and adapted accordingly. A new Executive/ Assistant relationship has emerged and I, for one, love it!

J 🙂