In this extract from his book, The Leader Assistant: Four Pillars of a Confident, Game-Changing Assistant Jeremy Burrows details different approaches to managing your executive’s calendar
When it comes to your Executive’s calendar, no structure equals chaos.
The Ideal Week
To prevent RSVPs based on emotions, I like to set up an “Ideal Week” calendar.
I first heard of this concept from Michael Hyatt’s blog and podcast. Hyatt credits Todd Duncan’s Time Traps and Stephanie Winston’s The Organized Executive for introducing him to the idea. With the Ideal Week tactic, you block out times on your executive’s calendar for meetings, projects, checking email, working out, reading, taking breaks, and whatever else they want to spend time doing. It’s a great way to set aside specific times each day for doing what they need to do, when they need to do it.
You can download the Ideal Week calendar template at leaderassistant.com/idealweek.
For example, your executive might like to use their mornings to focus on projects, so adding an event called “Focus Time” on their calendar every morning from 8am-10am could be a good start. Unless there’s an emergency, you and your executive can agree to not schedule meetings during those blocks of time. (Quick Tip: Make sure you clearly define what a true emergency is to take out the guesswork.)
On the other hand, your executive might get their best work done in the afternoons, so you might schedule a 9am-11am block on their calendar for “Meetings and Phone Calls.” If this is the case, when you receive a meeting request, schedule it in the 9am-11am slot and leave your executive’s afternoons open for focus blocks.
I’ve set up an Ideal Week calendar for my former executive, my current executive, and myself. It’s an extremely helpful way for you – and your executive – to protect your time. Instead of allowing your calendar to be a blank slate that fills up as invites come in, your new schedule serves as a guide to direct invites into predetermined time slots.
With the Ideal Week, you’re in control of your executive’s schedule.
What Would Your Executive’s Ideal Week Look Like?
If you have no clue how your executive’s Ideal Week would look, take some time to audit their current calendar. Look at the big picture, as well as one meeting at a time, then help your executive consider the following questions:
- Is this meeting necessary?
- Does this type of meeting drain me?
- Does this type of meeting bring me joy?
- What time of day am I generally more productive?
- Am I dreading this meeting? Can someone else attend on my behalf?
- Does this meeting really need an hour, or could it be done in 20 or 30 minutes?
- What times and days of the week am I more pleasant to be around? (Hint: Schedule meetings at these times.)
As you work through your executive’s calendar, you and your executive might determine a more extensive audit of their life is needed: their workload, their job description, and their goals – personal and professional. If so, I’d encourage you to walk them through my five-step process outlined here to help them do what they love and eliminate the rest.
Once your executive has a handle on how their current schedule is laid out, meet with them to discuss their preferences, then put together a first draft of their Ideal Week. You can create a new Google or Outlook calendar strictly for the purpose of crafting their Ideal Week, or you can use a whiteboard, a spreadsheet, or a Google Sheet to work it out first. Personally, I like to start with a Google Sheet. It’s easy to quickly move things around, color-coordinate based on type of event, and share with my executive so he can make changes to it.
As soon as you get the Ideal Week close to a final version, overlay it with your executive’s current calendar to see how far off it is. From this point, you can determine how long it might take to implement their new weekly rhythms. It might take a couple of months to completely switch over, but starting small is better than not starting.
Even after the Ideal Week is implemented, you’ll tweak it here and there. As long as your changes are intentional steps toward more productivity and focus, that’s OK.
One Calendar vs. Multiple Calendars
Does your executive have more than one calendar? I know it might seem wise to split different types of events in your executive’s life into separate calendars. Like maybe a personal calendar, a vacation calendar, and a work calendar, for example.
Generally speaking, especially in smaller companies or startups, I’m a big proponent of your executive having only one calendar. There’s no reason to waste brainpower and endure decision fatigue by having to determine which calendar to use every time you create a new event. You can always use different colors or naming conventions to delineate types of events, but do it all on one calendar.
There’s no work/life balance. There’s only life balance. Your executive can’t live two or three different lives – as much as they might like to.
Track Your Executive’s Time
Another game-changing tactic to add to your arsenal is time tracking – or auditing your executive’s time.
In the business world, data is king. It’s one thing to tell the board your executive spends too much time meeting with internal team members. It’s another to show them a graph or chart with the exact number of internal meetings versus external meetings your executive had in Q1 versus Q2.
The data from the audit helps your executive stay honest about where they’re spending their time, and allows them to reorder their priorities, if needed. Let’s say your company hit its sales mark in Q1 when your executive spent 78% of their time in sales meetings. But your company missed its goal in Q2 when your executive spent only 24% of their time in sales meetings. Based on the data you gathered, the board might want to ensure your executive clears their calendar for sales meetings in Q3.
Tracking your executive’s time is one of the more tangible ways you can impact your company’s bottom line. Employ this tactic, and you’ll cement yourself as a revenue generator or cost saver in your organization, which will be music to the executive team’s ears.
This tactic also helps you stay honest as you zoom out to look at how you’ve been managing your executive’s time. It’s easy to get stuck in the weeds as you schedule meeting after meeting, but when you look at data covering a six- or nine-month period, it can be eye-opening.
Did you give up on the Ideal Week tactic? Did you say yes to low-priority meetings that should not have made it on your executive’s calendar? Sit down with your executive to review the data, talk about what’s encouraging and what’s not, and make an action plan for any changes to their schedule you need to make going forward.
I used to audit my executive’s time manually. At the end of a quarter, I’d go week by week and count how many sales, internal, capital raise, networking, or other types of meetings took place. I would then report the numbers to my executive. Thankfully, there are now tools to automate much of this process, so I can audit my executive’s calendar in a fraction of the time.
You can use a time-tracking tool, but many of these require your executive to trigger the tool every time they switch between tasks. I don’t know about you, but my executives don’t have the brainpower available to worry about something like this. You can also use a tool like Base’s software for assistants, which has an “Analyze” feature to track average meeting duration, who your executive met with the most, and more.
I’ve found the best system for my situation is a workflow using Google Calendar + Zapier + Google Sheets + Conditional Formatting + Manual Clean Up. When an event ends on my executive’s calendar, Zapier creates a row in a Google Sheet and logs details from that event. The title, description, length, location, type, attendees, and date of the event are all added (Zapier allows you to customize which fields to include).
This system adds data from every single event my executive has to one spreadsheet. All I have to do is go back through and edit what’s already there, set up a few formulas, and create some tables and charts to report an overview to my executive. This new workflow literally saves me days of manual work. If you’d like to see step-by-step instructions on how to set up this workflow, visit track.assistantsguide.com.
If you’re not already gathering calendar data for your executive, now is the perfect time to start. Make it one of your goals during your annual review. Set aside time to research what tools will work best for you and your executive, and ask them what data they’d specifically like to track.
Employ these calendar tactics to better manage your executive’s time – their most valuable asset.