Are you Ladybird’s Leanne?

This is the time of the year when I reflect on the last twelve months and make plans for the next twelve months – and it’s a process I really enjoy. It helps me remember that I have achieved a lot, even if at times it felt like I was going backwards. It helps me reflect on the things that have gone well in the year, as well as considering the things that haven’t gone quite to plan, as I focus on making this coming year even better.

As an Assistant – ensconced in the day to day craziness of the business – it is essential that you take a step back, and breathe. One of my favourite quotes from Steve Jobs says “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards” and how right he was. How can we develop and learn if we don’t reflect and review?

At the same time so much has been written lately about mindfulness, and the importance of living the ‘now’. A favourite Christmas present of mine was a fun Ladybird book on Mindfulness. One of the tongue in cheek pages reads: “Leanne had been staring at this beautiful tree for 5 hours. She was meant to be in the office. Tomorrow she will be fired. In this way mindfulness has solved her work related stress.”

So much flies around the corporate world about mindfulness in business – how it can help make us more focused, more productive, more streamlined. I totally buy into the Buddhist origins behind it and the idea that by taking time to be more focused in the moment rather than letting our brain flit about we can achieve more. However, simply doing nothing is not the same as consciously focusing on nothing – and there’s a fear that we could breed a nation of Leanne’s with some of the more abstract approaches!

To be able to learn, we need to be ready and open to learn, and we need to have focused our minds on the task in hand. Here are some questions that a mindfulness expert asked me to determine how distracted I was. I dare say they might hit home for you too.

  • Do you get to work without realising how you got there?
  • Do you struggle to remember what others have said during a conversation?
  • Do you check your phone a hundred times a day but have no idea what you just read?
  • Do you eat without really tasting your food?
  • Do you think a lot about past events or worry about the future?

If you have answered yes to a number of these questions, mindfulness may do you good. When you stop, breathe and reflect, you’ll not only perform better on the task in hand, but you will also make plans for moving forward. We’re all being asked to do more with less, working long hours with increasingly heavy workloads as the political climate remains uncertain. Building up the essential skills required to be an indispensable Assistant, delivering information to enable decision making at the highest level, quickly and accurately should not be underestimated.

To ensure you’re continually evolving and adding more value to the business for the coming year, consider the following areas of development:-

Planning – the Holy Grail

Effective planning allows us to reduce stress, as by default the process reduces the number of things the mind has to juggle. When it’s documented and scheduled we stop worrying about it, so if we are to schedule and plan our long list of activities, we remain focused, and strategic and less distracted. Running from one task to the next is a part of the job, but remaining in control of the bigger picture is essential. Formally learning the principles of organising and starting up a project, assessing risk, monitoring progress, managing change right through to closing a project does not only shave hours off tasks but reduces stress thanks to more streamlined productivity. Understanding the new features of Microsoft packages also puts you in a position of power, so you’re not a slave to technology that won’t behave, but you’re the boss of it, making it work for you. Assistants’ brains are tuned in ready to organise things – so a few tricks of the trade can send you flying high in no time – and you’ll develop skills you can use in work and home life alike.

A Head for Numbers

Having a skill set which includes financial knowledge is essential if you want to fully support senior Board members and management. It could enhance your pay scale if you are taking on extra responsibilities, or remove the need for an additional person to carry out payroll or P&L tasks. It’s likely that the financial side of the role wasn’t part of your original remit, but has become an added responsibility or opportunity for growth. Grab this with both hands as getting closer to numbers gets you closer the workings of the business.

Get Social

Social media responsibilities are increasingly becoming delegated to Assistants, adding a new string to your bow. Whether or not you’re a frequent user in your personal life, using social media for business is a whole different ball game. Keeping up with the changes in how platforms work can be a fulltime job. Maintaining a strong knowledge of how to capitalise on these platforms not only benefits your personal development, but places you in a valuable position within the business. You can provide cost savings as external experts can cost thousands, and you can help capitalise on marketing opportunities using social platforms as communication channels, as more often than not you will be the one in the know of key content worth sharing.

Social media competency is also an advantage from the other side of the fence. Consider it as a route to an alternative way to learn – knowledge sharing is extremely valuable, especially when you exist within a tight knit sector with supportive networks. Social media is a great way of building up knowledge from peers, of discovering resources, of tapping into content that could be really useful in your role. Interact with others.

Comment, answer or ask questions to build up relationships, sharing your knowledge as well as learning from your peers and you’ll build a network you will treasure. Self-development should not be something we only start to think about when we feel like we’re drowning, or when the annual review meeting is coming up. Taking stock regularly of what we’d like to build on is a very empowering thing. I am a big believer that we all need to live in the ’now’ in terms of identifying our current needs and being conscious of our current opportunities, rather than unconsciously going through the motions and always focusing further into the future.

One thing I’ve learned in business over the years is that to be in the here and now is important to get the best results, and to be a positive influencer for those around you. Although strategic planning and careful business management are important in business (and being a Chartered Accountant I should know!) it’s also crucial to focus on the things you can change one thing at a time. Being focused on the current issues, the team you’re working with today, and making the most of your current opportunities, means you make the most of each and every opportunity. I’m not saying completely ignore the challenges of tomorrow, but don’t spoil today by giving everybody a downer because you are worrying or focusing on the wrong things.

What I like about mindfulness is that as a practice it encourages you to stop. Stop rushing, stop firefighting, just stop and appreciate the now. And in this state, this is when you often reach real clarity and can craft a proper plan of attack. So, I think as we move forward this year there’s a place for a ‘Leanne’ moment in all of our lives – thank you Ladybird for introducing us to her – but I have to caveat this with: Do approach with caution, and try not to get fired as you stare at that tree!