Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Aimee Browne of Leicester, England.
Aimee Browne is an Executive Assistant at The Works, a British high street retailer, and founder of The Mindful Assistant. Here’s a look at her world.
A typical day for me starts at 5:15 a.m. I try to wake straight up, albeit some days are better than others! I have a snooze button ban, as I find that it sends me into a deeper sleep and makes it near on impossible to get out of bed.
I head downstairs, make a large cup of tea and relax with my sausage dog Rufus. I then meditate, journal, read, write my social content for The Mindful Assistant, go for a walk or do a 25 minute exercise routine in my lounge. I use a great app, @Fiit, that connects to my TV. I always do one or, depending on how I’m feeling, a couple of the above. It depends on if I need to get into the office earlier that day or if it’s hair wash day.
If I am too restrictive with my routines, when I don’t complete something that I think I “should”, I find it’s not good for my mental state. So I keep it fluid. My routine is about sparking joy, starting my day the right way and doing what works for me – not what I think I should be doing.
I typically leave the house at about 7:15 a.m. Rushing around is a real trigger of anxiety for me, so my routine ensures that I feel good and I am prepared for my working day. I commute by car and my journey is, dependent on traffic, about a 50 minute drive. I use the time to listen to audio books and podcasts that inspire me and help me develop as a woman/assistant, which is a great segue into your next question!
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I have the longest list of podcasts, audio books and music. What I listen to depends on my mood and how busy my mind is. But they follow similar themes of mental health, personal development, entrepreneurs and anything that uplifts, inspires and empowers.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: My primary responsibilities are to provide executive support to the CEO and CFO, and secondary support to the Operational Board of Directors and management of our national charity partnership with Cancer Research UK.
Morning Routines: When I get into the office, I make myself a green tea, fill up my water bottle and eat my overnight oats at my desk, whilst checking through emails. I usually start with my execs’ sent items. This is a great insight as to where their minds are; have they sent emails to anyone or themselves late last night/first thing this morning that I need to keep on top of today? – Or is there anything I’ll know is now a priority for them? I then look through their inboxes, to see if there is anything urgent that I need to pick up straight away.
I always then pop in to see my CEO, ask how he is, what he’s got on his mind, his priorities for the day, and learn of anything he needs me to jump on before I get cracking on my list. I always print his diary off for the coming day the evening before, along with any supporting info he needs so he knows the shape of his day the night before and can leave the office secure in what lays ahead for him tomorrow.
Time management: I plan for reality
I look through the diaries for the present day, current week and long term, proactively preparing supporting documents for meetings, re-confirming appointments, ensuring rooms are booked as planned and that everything will run seamlessly.
I like to ensure I walk the office and communicate with people face to face, rather than just sitting behind the keyboard firing out emails. I think it is really important in this role to build up relationships with my colleagues at all levels. I learn more about them as people, and their roles; it’s easier to ask questions and people then know I am approachable. In this role, we have to work so closely with people; influencing and negotiating and building a rapport with colleagues really aids that practice.
It is really important in this role to build up relationships with my colleagues
As I’m sure any assistant will tell you, no day is ever the same and it is quite hard to articulate what any given day looks like. My days range from the typical tasks as set out above to future planning, compiling board reports, event management, attending meetings, capturing minutes, formulating agendas and strategy sessions, planning for updates with my execs, working with my coach on my own development, arranging gifts, arranging travel, planning investor roadshows, or creating presentations. The variety is endless, which is why our profession is just the best!
How long is your work day? I work longer hours three days a week, typical hours on the fourth, and I work from home on Fridays. I tend to work outside of business hours only if something is time critical and requires that extra attention to meet a deadline, which is infrequent. My execs definitely respect my boundaries, but we are comfortable dropping a text to each other if needed. They know that, if anything urgent arose, I would be there to support them.
What might be a typical lunch? A typical lunch is a homemade salad, I try to eat food that makes me feel good and doesn’t leave me feeling sluggish by 3:00 p.m. As the Mindful Assistant, I promote self-care and wellbeing and I am quite open when I say I am not very good at taking a break – as you can see, I use the start of my day to take care of me, but I am trying to practice what I preach and take some time away from my desk where possible. I have some great colleagues who try to drag me away each day, too! I’m a work in progress.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? As the only assistant in the business, the challenge is ensuring that I don’t spread myself too thinly across the board of Directors and fulfilling administrative tasks. I need to ensure I am being strategic and adding value to the C-suite execs and our organisation as a true EA.
I need to ensure I am being strategic and adding value
What do you most enjoy about your career? I don’t even know where to start! I am very passionate about our profession. We have an abundance of transferable skills, we have touchpoints with people at all levels, we can work in almost any industry, we get to work with, learn from and influence execs at the highest level and no day is ever the same! And because of this, the opportunities that are open to us are endless! We also have an amazing support network of assistants all over the world that we can learn from. What is not to love?
On Saying “No”
I have to say “no” quite often. I like to help people, which can be my downfall, so I tend to point them towards someone else that may help or I usually refer them back to an email or place that usually answers their question. You have to be careful in this role, as quite often you can get used an information portal!
If it is in your remit but you are stretched for time, ask when they need it; see where it fits in your current priority list and manage expectations.
At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I live in the suburbs, a village on the outskirts of Leicestershire – but it’s quite bustling and about 20 minutes from the centre of Leicester, so still accessible. I work on the outskirts of Birmingham.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I love to spend time on The Mindful Assistant. This can vary from speaking at events, networking, writing blog posts, researching and learning about mental health, self-care and personal development. I am a real book worm and read A LOT. I also write a lot as I find it helps to clear my mind. Working on The Mindful Assistant is like therapy for me.
I also like to spend time with my family and friends, cooking, being outdoors and I am partial to a nice glass of red wine with cheese.
How long have you been in this career? My career spans almost 18 years. What was your first such role? My first role was an Office Junior in a small web startup business. I was able to be hands on across all aspects of the business, ranging from basic accounting, writing minutes to SEO. A great first stepping stone. I worked my way up from Assistant to PA, Personal Assistant and now C-Suite Executive Assistant. How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? I had been working with a recruitment agency but happened to see an ad on another agency’s app.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I use the same toolkit I have in the morning, but focus on reflection and gratitude. We move through the days and weeks so fast, I like to look back on what I have achieved (big or small), what I am grateful for and breathe life into the good. Quite often we focus on the smallest negative thing that has happened and, whilst it is good to acknowledge these, I try to take the learning, accept and let it pass. A journal with your achievements and gratitude in is also a great tool to pick you up when you are having a bad day.
We also have an amazing support network of assistants all over the world
Tell us about the Mindful Assistant. I recently founded this community for assistants/business support professionals. After some periods of mental health struggles myself, I wanted to highlight how important it is to start taking care of yourself. I talk from my experiences and provide hints and tips on how self-care can be crafted into your everyday, whilst working a full time job, running a home and looking after a family. This means teaching people to make themselves a priority and to normalise the conversation surrounding mental health – showing them that despite suffering from these issues, it does not mean you are a failure or weak. It does not stop you from being ambitious and pushing yourself forward in your career/life.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? Croatia
Professional development and networking
I am a new member of EPAA, the UK’s Executive & Personal Assistants Assocation. I have joined to network, learn from my fellow assistants and intend to start their Continued Professional Development (CPD) programme.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I am currently working with a coach to look at how I can continue to grow as an Executive Assistant. I have just re-written my job description to align with these goals and am enrolling in training courses to support this development.
Inspirational reads? A book gifted to me by my HR Director in my time of need, Remarkably Easy by Danielle Mcleod. This was definitely the first book I read that really inspired me to make a change in my mindset, and has given me the strength to push past my fears, step outside my comfort zone and get out of my own way.
You can do anything, not everything
Role models or mentors? My HR Director, Debbie Jamieson. I have known Debbie only a little over 18 months but she has always been my number one cheerleader, offering me unwavering support through good times and bad. Her ambition, drive and passion for her own career is inspiring. She cares about our business and employees and her excitement for driving positive change is a joy to be around.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I work on my goals every day, both personally and professionally, when I journal. When it sparks fear inside and I have to ask myself, “Could I?”, I step into it, because I know that when you accomplish something that sparked that inside, the feeling it gives you and the growth it gives you, is incredible. I actually look for things that scare me now. If you told me six months ago that I would be holding speaking events, I would never have believed you. But here I am, doing the thing I most admired in others. As the quote says, “The comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there”.
You have to be careful in this role, as quite often you can get used an information portal
The Digital Age
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media or a website as part of your professional responsibilities? No, it is not required as part of my day job. Linkedin is a great tool, though, to network with suppliers, my colleagues (field team), fellow assistants and others. I love the articles that are published and am beginning to use the Linkedinlearning tool. I also host a Mindful Assistant group where I share blog posts and relevant articles.
I use Instagram for my Mindful Assistant community, where I give more insight into my day to day life, books and podcasts I’m reading, self-care tips and blog posts. I host Instagram live events to answer questions and more.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes. Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones may have had on your quality of life. I am quite disciplined and keep my phone in my handbag in the evenings; my execs know to text my personal number if they need me urgently. This stops me checking my emails, getting drawn into responses and activating my brain into work mode again.
If you do start to respond to emails outside the working day, it can send out the wrong message to colleagues/external parties. It tells them that it is acceptable to contact you after hours and that you are working late into the evening. It is really important to set boundaries for yourself both from that perspective and for your mental health.
I am a real book worm and read A LOT
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Update your CV, but ensure you then tailor it to suit any position you apply for. Network! – both on Linkedin and in person. Sign up with a reputable recruitment agency that specialises in your profession. Really think long and hard about what you are after in your next position – culture, commute, benefits, etc. – and keep that at the forefront of your mind. Write questions to ask in interviews that will help you tick this list of what you are after.
Know your weaknesses and look to see if there is anyone in your network that can help you, give you advice or recommend a training course. Accomplishment gives you confidence. Be proactive. Don’t let rejection stop you.
It is really important to set boundaries for yourself
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Prepare well. Read answers to questions you think they might ask out loud, so you can practice answering confidently. Read the questions you prepared out loud, too. Be yourself. Be honest. Smile. Show them your passion! Buy an outfit that you feel amazing in. Recite positive affirmations beforehand and believe in your abilities.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Strive for excellence, not perfection. If you make a mistake, be honest, accept that you are human and take the learning.
Your opinion is valued. Take your lunch break! You can do anything, not everything. Learn to say no. Make self-care a priority outside of the office.
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? Don’t sit behind the keyboard. Make the effort to get to know everyone, from the cleaner to the CEO. Listen intently, and be inquisitive. People love to share things about themselves and their area of expertise. Be assertive when needed.
Your most effective time management strategy? I plan for reality. Arranging a meeting for a time slot that you know isn’t going to work is a false economy and will only have a negative knock on effect to the working day.
Don’t be afraid to knock on the door to keep your exec running on time – agree on this with them ahead of the meeting. You get to know which meetings (internal vs. external) you can or can’t interrupt. Always leave buffers in the diary. Factor in preparation time and headspace for your exec.
Plan the big rocks first and smaller tasks can fit in and around them. Always re-evaluate the time in any given day, though; priorities change.
We also have an amazing support network of assistants all over the world
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? Be kind to yourself. I have learnt that a lot of parenting is dealing with your own emotions and guilt you may feel about leaving your child, missing out on milestones, not being there, etc. … Look at how you are inspiring them by working and providing for them. I felt lots of negative feelings about working when my children were younger; now they’re almost 11 and 15, and my 15 year old tells me how proud he is of me! I have always worked full time and I don’t regret a minute of it. You can be a great parent and a great assistant.
Never stop learning
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Always talk through preferred ways of working – both yours and theirs. Discuss likes/dislikes and find mutual agreement. What time of day are they at their best? What are their non-negotiables? Who are their key contacts? How do they like messages passed to them?
For those interested in promotion: Always go the extra mile. Get a coach. If you see an opportunity to get involved in a project that you think might be outside your remit, ask to get involved anyway. Never stop learning. Soak up industry knowledge. Share your aspirations with your exec.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Aimee mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
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