Staying Proactive As An Executive Assistant Part 1: Fight Fires Efficiently

We all know that most executive assistants are proactive, not reactive—but with so many incoming tasks, emails, and obstacles, it can be challenging to get out of the ‘fire-fighting stage.” As an EA, putting out fires is often just another day on the job. That’s why it’s important to learn efficient ways to handle these scenarios while also leaving space for proactivity. 

Obviously, staying proactive as an executive assistant requires some practice. The good thing is that EAs are already practicing this foresight on the job every day. You’re constantly anticipating your executives’ needs and planning ahead—you can easily apply these skills to stay actively proactive rather than having to be urgently reactive. 

Keep reading for a few tips to help you manage the problems and emergencies that pop up in your day-to-day life as an EA.

Preventing Fires

As you get more familiar with your role, your executive, and your organization, you’ll be surprised at how quickly and accurately you’re able to predict what might cause a “fire.” Despite the value of this intuition, it can be incredibly frustrating to have to deal with the heat of the fire all the time.

There are so many things that happen in an average workweek that require an EA’s prompt attention. Whether it’s a client having log-in issues, your executive needing a whole day of meetings rescheduled, or malfunctioning technology, it’s our responsibility to deal with it on some level—and often at a moment’s notice. 

The assistant’s role is not for the faint of heart! But the truth is, many times, these fires need to be put out because people are not planning ahead or taking the time to ponder the consequences of their actions/inactions. While we don’t want anyone living in anxiety over the next fire to erupt, we do think there are things within our control that can help lessen the chance of unexpected flare-ups.

For example, when managing projects, you can always look ahead and determine where weak points might be so you can plan how to address them ahead of time. It may seem like an extra step in the moment, but spending that little extra time on the front end could help prevent any chaos that could ensue. 

This might be as simple as preparing a backup vendor in case your favorite printer can’t meet your timeline, or securing an indoor venue for the big event you’re planning in case the weather ruins your outdoor banquet. Having an eye on the lookout for what could go wrong is a great way to stay one step ahead and prevent issues ahead of time. 

In addition, it’s your duty to assess accountability. While dealing with things that come up is always going to be in your job description, you can examine past fires in an attempt to avoid constantly having to put them out. Think back to the last few reactive scenarios you were tasked to fix and ask: 

  • Was something overlooked? 
  • How did that happen?
  • Was someone underprepared?
  • Was anyone held accountable? 
  • How can it be prevented from happening again?
  • Was it an oversight on your part? 
  • Was there enough time?

Preparing for Fires

Even with careful preparation, emergencies and complications can and will still arise. Luckily, quality organizational skills can help you fight fires quickly, so they don’t have a chance to consume your day and overall productivity. For starters, you’ll need to:

  • Make sure all project details are easily accessible
  • Record everything
  • Have contact information for as many parties as possible on hand (in tools like Base’s Dossier)
  • Store communication chains that contain necessary details (or even better, put them into your own searchable note system, like Base Decision Stream.

We don’t want to fool you—preparing for fires isn’t always so straightforward. Instances like travel can represent a whole category of potential catastrophes for an EA. 

If your executive is traveling to an important meeting and has a last-minute flight cancellation, you could easily spend hours chasing down all the information you need to rebook the flight (confirmation number, trip itinerary, personal details, etc.) 

Suddenly, your productivity crashes because you end up having to push everything else aside to tend to the matter at hand. You can instead plan ahead by storing personal details, travel specifics, and anything else you may need to reference in one, easy-to-access place (using our executive assistant software). This simple task will help save valuable time for both you and your executive. Being prepared to react efficiently will enable you to fight fires quickly and get back to your proactive work. 

Pro-tip: Having this level of detail already organized and ready to go will allow you to easily delegate these reactionary tasks. Don’t fight fire alone if you don’t have to! Our Digest feature is our top-rated tool in our platform, serving as a source of truth for the leaders you support. This is a crucial way to ensure you’re staying on top of what’s most important and to know what to prioritize.

Proactivity is a skill, and one that requires preparation and foresight. If you can reduce the number of fires you need to fight and improve how you fight them, you will create the space you need to take proactive action in your workweek.

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About the Author

Chelsey Lewis

Chelsey Lewis

An executive assistant and writer, Chelsey Lewis has extensive experience in business operations, customer success, leadership, and training, primarily in the SaaS industry. She has her BA in Strategic Communications from the University of Minnesota and now resides in Northern Montana. If she isn't coordinating chaos, she can be found on her family farm or hiking in Glacier National Park.