Focus On This Podcast

81B. 4 Ways an Executive Assistant Can Simplify Your Life

Overview

You spend your days managing details, scheduling meetings, and replying to emails—by the time you start on the “real work,” the workday is half over. Work bleeds into your personal life as you try to make up for lost time. You can’t go on this way, but it does all need to get done. How can you keep the business running without sacrificing your family and your well-being?

In this episode, Verbs and Blake talk with Tricia,  Michael’s first virtual assistant and current CEO of Belay Solutions, and Melissa, her executive assistant. They show you how to shift from trying to do it all to focusing your energy where it does the most good by hiring and leveraging an executive assistant. What you invest in an assistant you will get back tenfold as you find your way to the Double Win.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • 4 responsibilities executive assistants take on to empower your Double Win
  • How your assistant can become a fierce protector of your priorities
  • A life-changing system for managing your inbox
  • The time-saving value of delegating prep work

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Blake Stratton and special guests Tricia Sciortino and Melissa Lawrence. Welcome to the show, guys. How are you?

Tricia: Hey.

Melissa: It’s an honor to be with you today.

Blake: I am so excited you’re here. Verbs, are you excited I’m here?

Verbs: I actually just wanted to check and make sure you were here briefly, but you are, so now we can continue to move on. But thanks for being here.

Blake: Yeah. That was a little push and pull. See, I get quiet just to see, “Would Verbs even notice?” So I’m glad you’ve met that emotional need. Now that my needs are met… I’m excited, because Tricia and Melissa are from BELAY, which is the MVP of Michael Hyatt & Company. If we think about how many clients, and we as a company, have utilized your company’s services, it’s hard to count up all of the achievements BELAY has provided the superpowers for.

In this episode, it’s a pleasure to have you, because you are going to get to share from an authority position and an experience level Verbs and I don’t have about productivity, and that’s ultimately what people want: to get the right stuff done, to focus on what they do best, on where they bring the most value. But that’s a hard bridge to cross. Tricia and Melissa are experts in this field of bridging that gap so many of us struggle to bridge for ourselves. So, thank you for taking time to be with us.

Tricia: Thank you for that amazing picture you just painted of BELAY…in the MVPs. We appreciate that. Michael is the OG of the BELAY story. We’ve worked with Mike and your team for so many years, so it’s always great to be here and be able to share what that journey has been like and everything we’ve learned along the way.

Verbs: We do talk about BELAY often, whether you’ve caught some of our trainings or have been a part of any of our intensives. Tricia, if you can break it down for the people who don’t know… Can you briefly explain what BELAY does, who you are, and how you help businesses and professionals?

Tricia: Yeah. BELAY is a remote work staffing organization focused on placing virtual assistants with our clients. We are your premier source for finding you the talent you need to source a virtual assistant fractionally, starting at 45 hours a month and up, so you can have scalable executive support.

Verbs: You explained Michael is the OG, but what is that connection between Michael Hyatt & Company and BELAY?

Tricia: I was actually Michael’s first virtual assistant a really long time ago, taking it way back to 2011. Ten years now. Wow. Ten years ago, Michael reached out to BELAY looking for a virtual assistant. It was right when he left Thomas Nelson Publishing and was starting his own thing. He was looking for somebody to help him get started and support him as an executive going out on his own for the first time.

I’m the lucky girl who raised my hand and got paired with Michael. I worked with Mike for about three years myself as his virtual assistant, and then we’ve had other assistants support Michael and your team over the years as well. It was an honor to be Michael’s first virtual assistant.

Verbs: Sure. Melissa, what is your role within BELAY?

Melissa: I am Tricia’s executive assistant for just a little over two years now, and as her EA, my job is to help keep her out of the weeds and enable her to focus on the things that only she can do for BELAY as our CEO.

Tricia: And then some. I would add on, like, magic maker, unicorn…

Melissa: It’s a joke all the time. “Let me find my magic wand.”

Tricia: You know, we have to fit one more meeting in the week, and she has to go hunting for her magic wand to make it happen.

Blake: I think people may listen to us and go, “Well, if I was more disciplined and did everything better…” In a recent episode, we actually just talked about… It’s not always an internal problem. Sometimes…in fact, I would say, depending on how much you want to achieve, it’s almost all the time…you need other people’s help. We’re designed for that. And BELAY… Tricia and Melissa will get to speak on this throughout this episode. One thing that’s beautiful about what you do is you can step in and go, “We can help you do the stuff that just needs to get done so you can focus on…” How did you say it, Melissa? Focus on…

Melissa: The things only you can do for the business.

Blake: Exactly. That is where you start to see really large gains toward the life you want. So, you should think about bringing somebody in to help you do what only you can do. Tricia, you even said BELAY… You said starting with 45 hours per month. I want to emphasize that you didn’t misspeak. Is that how it works?

Tricia: Yeah. So, 10 hours a week or 45 a month, rolling. Some weeks might be 8 and others might be 12. It gives you enough room to get started. There are those (which I know you guys talk about all the time) low-hanging fruit items that don’t deserve your time. As an executive or a manager of your department, you should probably be focusing on strategy and planning and budgeting and things like that, not email and calendar and details. So, those 10 hours a week or 45 a month… There’s a lot of ROI that goes into that. That’s 10 hours a week or 45 a month I’m spending on growing the business. The return on that is worth way more than anything you’re going to pay for a virtual assistant.

Verbs: We’re talking today about four responsibilities your executive assistant can take on to empower your double win. I’ll say this. Just working with our BusinessAccelerator clients, I get to see them on a quarterly basis. I see them come in. They know about the double win. They’re ready to embrace it. A lot of the coaching is how you can practically embrace it.

But there’s one point in our curriculum we get to that becomes that light bulb, “aha” moment where business leaders realize, “You know what? This has to happen. I have to figure out how I can get an EA and start to implement and leverage what they do to make the rest of this possible.” Or they have an EA already, but they’re learning how to actually maximize on what their EA brings to the table in a more practical way. So, can you explain or walk us through how having an executive assistant can empower leaders to achieve the double win?

Tricia: Like you said, Verbs, we kind of break it down into four big buckets or priorities or responsibilities your executive assistant can help you with. We see it all the time, where we have clients join BELAY, and they know they need an assistant, and then they kind of go, “Now what? When the rubber meets the road, what does this look like now? Where do I begin? How are they helping me?”

For me, the first priority is protecting my priorities. I think a lot of us can just drift throughout our days and our weeks, overcommit ourselves because we don’t want to say no to people, and wind up in a place where we’re overworked, we’re stretched too thin. Theoretically, I leverage Melissa to help me keep my priorities so that any given week is landing and strategically ends in a place where I’ve been able to accomplish all of the things I want to accomplish. She’s really holding me responsible for keeping my priorities in check.

Verbs: When we talk about protecting your priorities, what does that really look like? We know there’s an element of getting someone’s email in order and, like you said, making sure they’re not saying yes to things they don’t have the time or the bandwidth to tackle. What are some other practical ways that protecting your priorities comes into play?

Melissa: I know you guys are big on the ideal workweek here at Michael Hyatt. It really all ends and begins with the ideal workweek. Having those guardrails in place is really helpful. If the priorities Tricia and I have outlined together don’t fit into her ideal workweek, then we know we need to look at re-prioritizing as opposed to trying to cram it all in.

Then also taking into consideration what’s going on with her personally. I have access to Tricia’s personal schedule as well as her professional schedule, so that helps me to know where she’s at with her family, her kids, her mental health and well-being, to know how we can work her priorities into her schedule with all of that.

Tricia: Melissa does a good job at making sure I have room in my week to fit in walks, workouts, mental breaks, lunch dates. It’s not just making sure all of the meetings are happening. That’s great, plugging them all in where they need to, but I’m a whole person. I’m not just a CEO. She does a great job at making sure all of Tricia is taken care of, which has been one of the biggest gifts to me of having a virtual assistant.

Verbs: Sure. I’m making an assumption here, but I assume once you start getting into navigating through the business and the personal things there’s an element of trust that needs to be built with your executive assistant. I think this is probably where a lot of business leaders are hesitant about putting the full load of trust as far as the responsibilities given to their EA. Can you talk to that at all, as far as what is the best way to build a rapport of trust, especially when they’re talking about personal matters and personal points of your schedule?

Tricia: Trust, for me, is given until proven otherwise. When Melissa first started working with me, I went into the relationship with “I’m going to give her the keys to the kingdom.” I really did learn that from Mike, to be honest. When I started as Mike’s virtual assistant 10 years ago, on my first day I had everything… I could have stolen his identity if I wanted to. I had bank accounts and family names and social security number. I had all of the things I needed at my fingertips to be successful.

Even though that sounds really uncomfortable for a lot of people, I choose to enter into the relationship giving trust until proven otherwise. Now, for some people who are maybe a little more trepidatious, I would say, relinquish it on a schedule. Start with what feels comfortable. Give yourself 30 days. Let go of a few more things. Give yourself 30 more days. As long as you’re making progressive movement .throughout the relationship, you will find yourself in a place within a certain time frame…three to six months, or whatever that looks like…where you’re kind of all in, if you’re not comfortable just diving in day one.

Verbs: Right. And I think it’s worth saying that BELAY does a fantastic job of vetting all of your executive assistants to make sure they have no prior criminal records or anything like that.

Tricia: Correct.

Blake: Melissa, you said a couple of things in there that I want to expand on for our listening audience. Protecting someone’s ideal workweek… Tricia mentioned protecting my own personal world, my health, and making sure I’m taking care of this. I love the lens of thinking about this through protection, if you’re listening and you feel like, “Man, a lot of what I say or my values are actually being violated just by the chaos of my everyday life.”

But there are some people listening where maybe you don’t look at it through that lens. You look at it through “How am I ever going to create the leverage I need to do more with this limited schedule I have?” I’m kind of reading between the lines of what you shared, Melissa, and, Tricia, you can weigh in on this too. What I see here is by protecting an ideal week, by protecting the calendar, by protecting that personal health, you’re actually creating more.

You’re creating a buffer of time, you’re creating buffer financially, and you’re creating buffer of energy. When we talk about goals, we need buffer, because it’s going to exist… This podcast is really about achieving those goals you have. In order to do that, you need to have extra resources. That’s maybe a mental shift if you’re listening to this. An assistant can help you get the leverage you need to create the extra you need to finally move forward toward a big goal.

Let’s move forward. You mentioned there were four responsibilities an executive assistant can be responsible for. What would you say is the second one? If that first one was protecting your priorities, what’s the second?

Tricia: Filtering my commitments. Being my “no” girl.

Melissa: This is my favorite part.

Tricia: Go ahead, girl. She is my gatekeeper, “It’s not happening” girl.

Melissa: Yeah. I say no on Tricia’s behalf at least 8 to 10 times a week on average. That probably comes as a surprise to Tricia, because most of those requests don’t even make it to her. She doesn’t even know they ever came across, because I’m already filtering them out based on what I know about her priorities and her schedule.

A lot of networking invites where I just know it’s not going to be mutually beneficial. A lot of requests to speak at events or podcasts that are just not a good fit for Tricia or BELAY. Then another thing that takes a lot of her plate is the information gathering-type meetings. I can pull in other people to attend or, a lot of times, I will attend a preliminary meeting on her behalf, and then from there we can determine if it really is worth her time to attend a meeting personally with them.

Tricia: That’s some game-changer stuff right there for me.

Blake: Melissa and Tricia, I’m curious how this trust was built. We talked about trust with that first responsibility, but when it comes to saying no… No is a small word, but it’s a big word too. Melissa, how did you get up to speed? I assume you’re not having to run everything up the chain to Tricia to make a decision on. How did you get to a place of “I can filter this; I can not filter this”? How did you get there, and how could a listener get there for themselves?

Melissa: I think a lot of it is an evolution over time of just understanding what’s important to Tricia, what would be a good fit for her. Sometimes I work with our marketing team to vet some of these opportunities to help me determine if it would be a good fit, so that way I don’t have to run it up the chain to Tricia. I have other resources I can use to decipher that.

Tricia: In the beginning, if this is something new you’re starting out with… When we first started on this empowerment for Melissa… The first few, we talked about them. We went over them together and said, “Okay. Would you pass on this and why?” or “Would you do this and why?” Really kind of an education where we pared through a few of them in the beginning a couple of times, and then once we felt like we were in sync, I knew I could just let it go and she was going to make the right decisions on my behalf.

So, I think you can have a season of time where you’re jointly helping each other figure out why and why not, and then once you get into your rhythm, then as the leader, empower and let it go. It’s good to know she’s saying no to 10 things a week for me that I didn’t know she was saying no to.

Melissa: Sometimes we’ve learned from not saying no, and we go, “Okay. We’re not doing that again.”

Tricia: Yes. We’ve been burned a few times, where we committed to things and went, “Ugh! Why did we do this? Let’s not do that again.”

Melissa: Yeah. So my job is to take the mental note and go, “Okay. Next time, that’s not even coming her way. I’m just going to cut that off.”

Tricia: And she’s really good. There have been things I’ve committed to, maybe on LinkedIn, or somebody Instagrams me something, and I said, “Sure. That’s a great idea.” Then I get an email, and she’s like, “What are you doing? This is a ‘no.’” I was like, “Okay.”

Verbs: So, that was the second responsibility: filter your commitments. We’re going to move on to the third responsibility, which is manage your inbox. Walk us through what that looks like. What’s the dance and the choreography that goes on there?

Tricia: This is like a push and a pull for Melissa and me. This is the one where she has to slap my hands, because getting out of my inbox is really hard. I think a lot of people have a really hard time not getting in their inbox. It’s like, “But that’s where I live…in my inbox.” But there’s so much of it. I have to constantly remind myself there’s so much of it that is so unnecessary for me. So, it is a priority for us that she be able to go through and manage my inbox for me, at least at some percent.

What I would say to people, practically, is some people are able to literally give the entire inbox over if it’s a public-facing inbox, but legitimately, if that’s not the case, give over a percent of it. For Melissa and me right now, it’s 20 percent of my email she’s handling. I’m like, “Okay.” One out of every five emails she’s replying, responding, filtering, deleting, whatever she’s doing with those emails, and the other 80 percent I’m actively working.

The goal would be maybe next quarter or second half of the year we’re at 30 percent of my inbox she’s managing. I think you can practically have goals in place on inbox management if that’s something new or you have a hard time relinquishing the inbox management. I know Melissa has some thoughts about it.

Melissa: Yeah. In the beginning, we laid out some really simple ground rules to kind of get the ball rolling on it, just stuff like whether to keep all of the emails in a thread or we can just keep the most recent one. And which newsletters do you want to stay subscribed to? Which can I unsubscribe you from? These seem like small, silly things, but they add up to hundreds of emails I’m able to clear out of her inbox for her. So, that was how we started, with just some basic ground rules, and then built up from there.

We use now a simple starring system, where she’ll star an email she wants me to respond to or I’ll star an email I have or will respond to. Sometimes I’m not exactly sure how she wants me to respond, so I’ll just create a draft of it and then let her review it, make any edits she needs, and then she can send it on from there. That gives her a level of comfort that if I am not exactly sure how I’m supposed to respond, she’s going to get the final review of that response.

Verbs: Sure. That’s good.

Tricia: That’s a big one. That’s a good one if you’re new to that. Have your EA draft the email, and then you can look and send until, again, you get comfortable with how they’re representing you, how they’re speaking for you, or how they’re answering. It’s very similar to building that trust and letting them speak on your behalf. I feel like you can go through a process where that’s the way you get to the place. Now I know and I have full confidence that anything she replies on my behalf is going to say what I would have wanted it to say, it represents me well, because we’ve been through it enough.

Verbs: That’s good. On that first 20 percent you’re allowing her to sift through and filter out, how do you determine what that 20 percent is? Like, what types of communication is that you’re trusting her with at that point?

Tricia: It varies. It’s a lot of the outside vendors or asks for things, marketing-type things, newsletters, LinkedIn messages, stuff like that. Now she’s to the point where she’s able to respond on my behalf even to our internal team where somebody might be asking, “Hey, could we get your thoughts?” or “Could you join this meeting on our behalf?” She’s able to intersect those for me and either get it scheduled or decline for me in advance. So, those are the first big ones I can think of. Anything else in there, Melissa?

Melissa: Sometimes helping to manage her inbox is not just about responding to the emails. It’s about getting stuff out of her inbox. So, an action item that comes in through an email. We don’t leave it in her inbox. We don’t use her inbox as a to-do list. We use the Gmail suite, so we use Google Tasks to help us manage our action items between us.

So I’ll pull it into her Google Tasks list or I’ll just pull it into a calendar block so she actually has dedicated time to work on that action item, and all of the pertinent information is within the calendar invite, so we can clear it out of her inbox. She knows she has time blocked to work on it, and it’s off her mind until that time comes.

Verbs: Fourth responsibility: simplify your preparation. This is one I really didn’t consider, but this is, again, the added benefit of having a superhero EA to support the superhero business leaders. What does that look like as far as simplifying the preparation for your executive?

Tricia: This one is a game changer.

Melissa: I spend a lot of time doing prep for meetings, speaking events, doing podcasts like this. Whenever I schedule any of those things, I do two things right off the bat. I block time on her calendar for her to prep for it, and then I start a draft of a presentation or talking points, agenda, whatever it may be.

Even if I have really limited information, just having that framework to start with is really helpful to Tricia when she gets in there to start her prep on it. Then sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes it’s actually paring down something our marketing team sent to us, where I know it’s just too much information for Tricia and is actually going to complicate her prep more than it is simplify it. So it kind of goes both ways.

Tricia: It is a pleasure to have a block of time on my calendar where I’m working on a presentation, or something, and in my calendar block is already the information about what it is, the link to the draft copy, and any pertinent notes netted out, like, quick little bullets about what it is I’m working on, so I can literally just dive into that time and have everything I need in one…

I don’t have to go fishing for old emails and “What am I doing?” She consolidates all that information and puts it all together for me, so I’m very productive in that time with what I’m doing, because I have every resource I need at that moment right in front of me and the time is already put on the calendar. It’s awesome.

Then even things like, similarly, PR requests, like, “Hey, can we get Tricia to give us a quote on military spouses and remote work?” A lot of that stuff, she can pull the data for me on my behalf and get me prepared for any conversations I need to have. We’ve had the luxury that we’ve worked together long enough that she’s like my second brain, and she knows exactly what I’m going to say anyway.

Melissa: I’ll comb through her past webinars. I’ll comb through her social media. I’ll comb through past outlines we’ve created, and I can usually pull together just about everything she needs for some type of speaking event just based on knowing her and past documentation I have. I can usually get it to her probably about 90 percent at least most of the time.

Blake: When we think about simplifying your preparation, Verbs and I are like, “Oh yeah. We hadn’t even thought about that.” But now Melissa is speaking to this, and to me it kind of cues my brain to go, “Wait a second.” I feel like this is the type of thing that the longer someone is with you, the more and more value they’re getting. Can you speak to that, how you’ve seen that play out?

Tricia: Yes. I started with an assistant at 45 hours a month, 10 hours a week also, and then it was 15 hours a week and 65 hours a month, and now I have a full-time assistant. Yeah, it’s absolutely the more she’s able to do for me, the further we’re able to go, really. The longer you’ve spent working with an assistant, the larger the payoff constantly. You really get into a rhythm where… Just like any new employer, new role, there is going to be an onboarding time. There is going to be a season in which you’re getting to know each other.

Your assistant needs to learn your voice. They need to learn your preferences. There’s going to be some trial and error. It will feel like work in the beginning, and it will be. I want people to be really honest with themselves, as a leader, if you’re going to go forward with an assistant. You’ll feel some relief in the beginning, but it’s not nearly as much relief as you will feel six months from now. You will get more and more out of it the longer you stick with it.

Melissa: Tricia is very intentional about our weekly one-ones. I can count on one hand the number we’ve missed in two-plus years, and they get shorter and shorter. Most of the time, we knock it out in 30 minutes now, just because we are in that rhythm. We don’t have to sit there and cover a lot of things we may have covered a year ago or 18 months ago. She takes that time to make sure I have what I need to support her. That has moved things along at an accelerated rate.

Tricia: Yeah. I’m not going to be the cog in the wheel when it comes to Melissa being able to help me. I’m going to get out of the way. I’m not going to be the roadblock that she can’t accomplish something she’s trying to do for me because I’m not responsive or I’m too slow or I’m bogged down. I’m committed to the relationship. I’m all in. I’m going to give her the paths, do all the things. She’s going to have the cleanest, quickest access to me, actually more than anybody in our entire organization, to be honest. She has the most access to me, because the more I’m able to give her, the more I’m getting in return.

Verbs: Tricia and Melissa, we’ve taken a closer look at what makes executive assistants such an asset, but what would you say to leaders who think they don’t have the time or maybe don’t have the finances to bring someone on board?

Tricia: I would say you don’t have the time to not bring an assistant on board. I think what we talked about today is that you will get more time by actually hiring an assistant.

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. What you invest in your assistant you will get back tenfold.

Tricia: Boom!

Verbs: That was awesome.

Blake: So, if you hate tenfold returns, stay away from the assistant.

Tricia: If you’d rather be unproductive and not grow…

Blake: Some people hate those high ROIs. “No, thank you. I’d rather gut it out.” Tricia and Melissa, sometimes we’ll do a final thought at the end of these episodes. I’m curious. If you could give our listeners a resource where they can get started today on their own journey to process through how they could leverage their own virtual assistant, do you have anything for them to get started?

Tricia: Yes. We have an awesome guide. It’s called the Ultimate Guide to Working With a Virtual Assistant. It takes a lot of what we talked about today and puts it in one spot for you. You can get to it at belaysolutions.com/focus.

Blake: Just curious. Is that free?

Tricia: Free. Free, free, free.

Blake: It’s free! Talk about ROI, ladies and gentlemen. Get on that. What’s that URL again? Give it to them one more time. They had to pull over. They had to get off the treadmill.

Tricia: Yes. Write it down, kids: belaysolutions.com/focus. Free.

Verbs: Tricia, Melissa, thank you so much for joining us on Focus on This, and thank you, the listener, for joining us today as well. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please make sure you share it with your friends, and remember #focusonthispodcast. We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…

Blake & Verbs: Stay focused!