If you work as a personal assistant, you’ll know that some days are much busier than others and that each brings with it a special combination of challenges. Some days, you will be able to get a lot of administrative work done in peace, while other days, you will need to juggle several meetings and coffee-runs with tiny (and sometimes annoying) problems that need your immediate attention.

Here are some things that I’ve learnt in my two and a half years as a personal assistant that would have changed my life had I known them sooner:

1. Oh, the beautiful colours

Being a personal assistant often means that you will have to assist various managers with administrative tasks. It can become quite overwhelming to remember who requested what task and by when it should be done.

So how do you keep track?

Tip one: Colour-code your managers! Use colourful pens, sticky notes and paper cubes to help you link the documents on your desk to the various managers. Also, if you inform each manager of the colour assigned to them, it will increase the efficiency of your communication with them. You will, for example, be able to attach colour-coded sticky notes to the completed stacks of paperwork on your desk, which the managers can then collect in passing.

2. Don’t memorise. Take notes!

Take notes

Personal assistants are often expected to have names, contact details and other information at hand within the blink of an eye. It’s unrealistic to think that you will be able to remember all of this information, especially if you are new in the position and haven’t yet learned everything. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself.

Here’s what you can do instead:

Tip two: Put a note with all the important names, positions and contact details up against your desk, where you can see it immediately. Do this for any information you need often.

3. Mirror? What mirror?

A very annoying, but important, part of the job is to maintain a professional appearance. For a man, it could include fixing your tie or checking your hair. For a woman, this will include checking your make-up regularly and reapplying lip-gloss or lip-stick from time to time before greeting important delegates for a meeting. There isn’t always time to run to the bathroom, and having a mirror on your desk looks vain. And small mirrors don’t give you the overall view you might need.

So what do you do?

Tip three: Use Skype’s video recording function or your phone’s camera as a mirror.

4. I fly like paper

Workplace with tablet pc showing calendar and a cup of coffee on a wooden work table close-up

In this modern age of technological developments, there is an electronic solution to almost every paper need in an office. Electronic diaries, e-mail, internal message boards and other electronic solutions make communication easy and effortless. The days of walking around with notes written on paper squares, or scheduling meetings in a book with pencil just in case they’re rescheduled are over. In addition, papers on your desk will make it look untidy. Since a personal assistant’s desk is most often in a foyer or reception area, it is important to keep the desk tidy at all times.

So what can you do to stay organised?

Tip four: Impress your Director or CEO by setting up a joint e-mail account on a web-based meeting program like Outlook Express. You can both view, add, or remove meetings at the click of a button, and since it is a password-protected page on the internet, you can access it from anywhere.

5. I’ll do my little turn on the catwalk

Corporate clothing

While fashion changes often, the standards of professional office wear rarely do. Even so, the corporate world has started to accept office wear that is both comfortable and professional. Your outfits should match the company’s dress code, but should also be professional enough so that an important meeting delegate will not get an inaccurate first impression of you or your Director. As a personal assistant, you will represent the Director or CEO through your behaviour and your appearance. From time to time, you might need to look more formal than usual.

So how can you achieve this, without dressing up every day?

Tip five: Always have a pair of high heels (or a tie, if you’re a man) and a neat jacket at the ready. Keep these items in your drawer or a nearby cupboard, so that they are easily accessible when a formal occasion arises unexpectedly. Make sure that they aren’t brightly coloured, but rather in a neutral colour so that they will match any outfit you’re wearing.

If you want to know more about what it’s like to work as a personal assistant, you can read the following: