In our industry, conversations about combating feelings of isolation are not uncommon. While I’m certain there are people who experience and are more prone to feelings of isolation, I’ve never really felt isolated in my work or business so it’s hard for me to relate.
I’d wonder, don’t they have friends? Family? Other interests? Don’t they do anything else, go anywhere? I’m sure they do… I know they do!
What I suspect is really going on in a lot of these cases isn’t so much isolation, but that they have structured their businesses and are working with clients in ways that lead to burnout, overwhelm, and turn the work into a grind. This is when people feel the need to escape. Hence, the feelings of isolation.
So, I thought I would share with you what my typical work day looks like. Maybe it will help you rethink how you view your relationship with clients and give you some ideas on how you might restructure things in your own administrative support business so that it can become or remain a joy rather than a daily drudge.
First, here’s what my work week looks like:
Monday: Closed/Admin Day. This is the day I reserve each week to take care of administration and bookkeeping in my own business, work on my own business projects, perhaps attend or review online classes… those kind of things.
Tuesday: Closed/Meeting Day. This is the day I use each week for weekly client meetings (although, my clients have been with me so long at this point, we only meet on the phone about once a month. I always recommend you meet with new retainer clients once a week for at least the first three months of your ongoing relationship. It really helps nurture and cement the relationship and get to know each other. At the three-month point, you can evaluate together how often to continue meeting on the phone each month).
Wednesday: Work Day
Thursday: Work Day
Friday: Work Day
As you can see, I effectively have a three-day work week, four if you want to count the Tuesday meeting days. That doesn’t mean I might not work here and there on any of the other days (and only by my choice), but this is the formal infrastructure and systemization I have put in place in my business to help it flow smoothly.
A system is really a routine. And systematic routines are what allow you to provide consistency and reliability to clients, which not only improves your quality and service, but also, ironically, gives you greater freedom and flexibility.
A quick note about my Client Meeting Day… Long ago, in a business galaxy far way, lol, I would hold client meetings whenever it was convenient for the client which could be any day, any time of the week. That was all well and good for the client (on the surface, at least), but it wreaked havoc on my concentration and ability to settle back into the work and get things done. My work and service suffered as a result. (Numerous studies since have shown how much interruptions negatively impact our concentration and productivity.)
Establishing a standard by setting a regular routine for meeting clients on the phone one day of the week (same day/time each week per client) is what saved my sanity and ultimately my business and the level and quality of work I provide to clients. It is perhaps the single-most important policy that I instituted in my practice that is responsible for allowing me to triple or quadruple my productivity.
Typical Work Day
- I wake up according to my internal alarm clock, which most of the time is around 5ish or 6ish in the morning but sometimes can vary between 6 to 9 a.m. depending on my sleep cycle or how late I went to bed.
- Make breakfast, drink my first bottle of water for the day and dink around on the computer doing my first sweep of emails. Anything I can respond to quickly, I do.
- I open that day’s folder in Outlook and begin working on client work. I like to get the quick and easy stuff out of the way first because it pares down the to-do list for that day and stops those little things from niggling at the back of my mind when I’m trying to work on the bigger stuff.
- It’s important to mention here that all communication with clients is by email. This is a requirement for working together in my business. I do not take phone calls from them or anything else. For me, email is the very best tool for managing the workload. It provides a “paper” trail and documentation and with my folder system, I can easily prioritize and move things around as necessary. So, whatever they need taken care of, the request gets sent to me by email. Period.
- At some point in the morning, generally before 11am, I go on my daily hike/run. I like to get this in first thing in the morning because I come back really energized and invigorated, it beats the heat in the summertime, and I can save my shower for afterward.
- Lunch around noonish.
- I tend to work on bigger work and projects that require more time and concentration in the afternoons.
- Officially, I have a policy of checking emails 3 times a day (morning, afternoon and evening). Unofficially, depending on how busy I am with work, I do monitor emails. Any client emails that come in throughout the day are put into the next work day’s folder (I have a folder for each working day of my week). This is another key policy I instituted in my business years ago. I do not do any on-demand or same-day work for clients. They are informed of my work policies and procedures when we consult and begin working together so they are fully informed of how things work ahead of time. I don’t take on any work or roles that require me to check-in on any kind of daily basis with them (like managing their calendar or emails, for example). And I only provide business-related support, not personal support (i.e., “No, I’m not going to shop for your wife’s gift or schedule your hair-cut. You can get a concierge service for that.”) This is another way I save myself from getting bogged down in work I have no interest in doing and that I’m not in business to do because I’m not an assistant, I’m an Administrative Consultant. Anything that needs to be done immediately, they need to do themselves. It’s really as simple as that. Because they aren’t hiring an assistant and I don’t let them think of me like that. If that’s what they need, then they need to hire an employee. This is one of the great keys to my success and how I’m able to live a very flexible, freedom-filled life where I still love my work and clients after 15 years of doing this.
- Throughout the day, whenever I need a little mental break and want to interact with others, or if I have thoughts or ideas I want to share that occur to me, I’ll pop into our Facebook group or post on my blog or check out forums I belong to. For me, these have always been great ways to reach out when you need a little company. I think interaction and participation is key, though. You can lurk, but you just aren’t going to get any real feeling of connection unless you actually talk to people by posting your thoughts and comments, contributing ideas or asking questions. A lot of times people will wonder how I have time to post on these forums and I have to chuckle because they don’t know what I know. First, it only takes a few seconds to post your thoughts. I’m not spending hours and hours in these places (like I’m sure many folks are doing). And second, and perhaps more importantly, I don’t operate my business or work with clients anywhere close to how they are doing it. They’re trying to be assistants instead of strategic administrative support partners. They have turned their business into a job and that’s not how I do it. Which is why I do have a bit more time to blog or check in with people on Facebook here and there: I’m not working as a slave or indentured servant to clients. I’m an expert they partner with for administrative support, not a personal assistant. I run my business on my own terms and that’s to their benefit.
- My official work day ends at 5 pm. But you know what? Yeah, I sometimes do work in the evenings. Every once in a great while, it’s because I need to. Other times, it’s just because I’m on a roll or otherwise having fun and enjoying my work and don’t want to stop. That’s okay, people!!! You just want it to be on your terms, your choice, and NOT because you have set poor policies and standards and are working with clients in ways that are forcing you to work long into the evening and ignore your family, friends and other life needs. That’s a sure-fire way to kill your business.
- Another thing I should mention is that I get out when I need to. I listen to my body, my heart, my spirit, and if they tell me I need a change of pace that day, then that’s what I do. Sometimes that means taking the laptop somewhere I love, settling into a comfy booth and ordering something yummy and healthy to eat while I get work done. Sometimes it means not working during the day, but saving what can be done for the evening. Sometimes it means not working at all (as long as there are no pressing, important needs or commitments).
- Which brings me to another key to my success that I touched on earlier. I don’t do any same day work requests. When a new request comes in, it automatically goes into the next day’s work folder. I never get overwhelmed because I’m only handling the current day’s folder of requests. Everything else is put out of my mind because it’s already handled by being put in the next day’s folder. In my practice, I use what I call a 3/7 guideline. That means, only work that can be done within a 3-business/work day window from the time of request is work I will handle for clients. If they need it sooner, they need to do it themselves. That’s the 3-day part of my work management system. And let me tell you, people, you NEED to give yourself space like this around the work. You folks who are scrambling to get things done the minute they come in are putting out TERRIBLE work product a lot of times because you’re too rushed, too stressed and making mistakes, and you’re creating expectations in clients that set you up for failure. I guarantee you! The “7” part of my 3/7 system is where the client and I touch base on larger, key or ongoing projects during our weekly meeting (i.e., every 7 days). For some things, this is also managed through our online collaborative office suite where they can log in and see for themselves where things are at on those larger/key/ongoing projects.
- Another little tool I use to manage expectations and keep our relationship resentment-free is the feature in Outlook that allows me to schedule when my reply email is sent to the client. For example, there are occasions when I will attend to client work on a day when I don’t normally/officially work or if I’m ahead of things, I will start work on the next day’s workload. But that doesn’t mean I want the client thinking, “Oh, she’s working on that day now” or that I’m now doing same-day work requests. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I have absolutely no patience for having to constantly remind clients of my standards or policies or protocols. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them how something works, as soon as you make an exception, they start thinking that’s the rule. Even the most ideal clients do this (there is no such thing as the perfect client because we are all flawed human beings). But it still drives me insane because I like grown-ups to be grown-ups and not little children constantly trying to test or needing to be corrected. So rather than try to change them (which doesn’t work), I just don’t ever email them back the same day. I schedule my reply email to be sent the next business/work day. So, I’m getting it done and out of the way and they’re getting the confirmation email that something has been handled or completed, but they never get the impression that I’m working on weekends or evenings or doing same-day requests. From their perspective, everything is flowing normally and consistently just as my workload policies and schedules have been presented to them.
I hope this is useful to you. Structuring your business like this does require you to get out of assistant-mindset. When you do, you start to view and understand your business, your role, your expertise, from an entirely new and different perspective. It’s an incredibly freeing way to live and work. If you have any questions, please do ask in the comments. I’m happy to help. 🙂
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