Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 21 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the USA and Wales. Today we make our way back to London, England.
Craig A.T. Bryson is an Executive Assistant and Office Manager. Here’s a look at his world.
Keeping the commute interesting
I get up at 7:45, have a coffee and start finding something to wear. I always need to iron a shirt, which I hate doing, and then have a quick look at my work emails before setting off at 8:50. I walk to work, from Holborn to Oxford Circus. Unless it is pouring down with rain, this would take 25 minutes. I do like to take different routes to mix it up and explore new avenues.
Who or what’s on your commuting playlist? I enjoy meditating over Enigma, Return to Innocence, Joshua Kadison – Painted Desert and George Ezra, while walking to work. It is almost like music overlay in a movie, watching people rushing around.
At the Office
Routines and Responsibilities: I assist two Directors and take on a variety of responsibilities, including travel. Each day is different from the day before, but I typically begin by checking the boardroom. I take care of meeting setups, open windows, sort out the coffee machine with water and pick up milk if necessary. I ensure that the office is running smoothly – i.e., ensure that the internet is working, that the photocopier has toners and paper – and then check my boss’ in-box for any emails that need urgent attention.
How long is your work day? I work from 9:30 to 6:00.
What might be a typical lunch? I have a fitness trainer, so I attend the gym for a 30 minute session and purchase some Itsu on the way back, to eat at my desk.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I do work on my off time if there is a large event in the works, and also for volunteer purposes.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? That would be when there is a queue outside my office door, with people needing to ask for help with a software issue, booking a taxi … or to let me know that the photocopier is not working, in which case it tends to be that it needs more paper!
Instead of saying no: ask questions, assess the situation and give alternative solutions
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy the fact that every day is not the same, and that I meet interesting actors such as Charles Dance, Victoria Wood, and Dame Judy Dench.
On Saying “No”
I never say no; I ask for more information, such as deadlines and what’s needed. I then assess the situation and give a couple of alternative solutions.
I was born in Buluwayo, Zimbabwe, grew up in South Africa, and now live in Central London. At heart, are you a city or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? I would say I am a little of both. My dad is a wildlife photographer in South Africa. As a child, we always went on safaris. I miss that side of the country, but feed off the city energy. Something is always going on: there are places to be, and people to meet.
How do you like to spend your time outside the office? Doing graphic design work, catching up on TV, visiting museums, or catching Pokémon
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? TOTO’s Rains Down In Africa or (when I am angry at something) Let It Go from Frozen
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I meet with my friends, have a beer and discuss the week, or we go for a lovely Tapas dinner.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Doing a two-week safari in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Nothing beats elephants and giraffes silhouetted on an African sunset.
10 years’ experience as a PA/EA has taught me a lot – things that you can’t learn in a textbook
Education and Professional Development
I have had various training for Microsoft and Graphic Design, but I think that my 10 years’ experience as a PA/EA has taught me a lot – things that you can not learn in a textbook. I am on EPAA’s Board of Directors, and serve as Treasurer of the Red Lion Tenants and Residents Association.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Facebook and LinkedIn Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? IMDB app and Adobe Photoshop Software
Travel planning: Sit down with the passenger and create a travel profile
Awards and Recognition
I was runner up for PA of the Year 2015 at the PA Magazine Awards
Style and Substance
What are your go-to pieces from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? A long sleeved pastel blue shirt and a grey suit with brown shoes and belt
Preferred scent/cologne? Joop! Homme
Your favourite clothing brand? Zara & River Island
What might we find in your desk drawer? A calculator, Tip-ex, eraser, ruler, cables, and highlighters
Travel or travel planning advice? If you are the booker, I would sit down with the passenger and create a travel profile. Where they like to sit – window or aisle? Do they collect air miles? What are the account numbers? Check on passport details, and whether your traveller’s name appears differently in the office and on the passport (very important).
Inspirational reads? Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; this helped and inspired me. When you are searching for something and you can not find it… then realise it was in front of you all the time.
Role models: Victoria Darragh and Debs Eden, for their amazing, positive outlooks on life
Role models or mentors? I think that these would be Victoria Darragh, Chief Executive of EPAA, and Debs Eden. They both have amazing, positive outlooks on life, even if life throws the curve balls. They have “go get it if you want it” attitudes.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I was so proud to receive an award from the PA Magazine in 2015, and to have been asked to serve on the Board of Directors of EPAA, The Executive & Personal Assistants Association.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I would like to study and then help teach other PAs/EAs on a particular subject. I am still working out what that subject is. I used to do Lunch&Learn at PwC, helping colleagues with Excel, Word or PowerPoint.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Discuss diary management and email. Diary management is complicated if you do not discuss how the executive prefers her/his diary to work. Do they like back-to-back meetings, or should you allow 30 minutes between each meeting? Are the meetings to be 60 or 90 minutes, or will allocations vary? When you start putting these meetings in and guests start arriving, it would be too late to adjust accordingly.
When dealing with their emails, do they prefer having them filed into folders relating to that company or do they prefer they are left in the inbox? When you are searching for a particular email, it takes the software longer to search an inbox that has thousands of emails than it does to click and search within a folder where certain emails would logically be filed.
Discuss diary management and email preferences with your executive
If you could offer a new executive advice on how to best capitalise on having an assistant, and working together, what would that be? Trust and have faith in your assistant; s/he would have been chosen out of the best, so communicate clearly on do’s and don’ts. This way, there won’t be any confusion.
Your most effective time management strategy? I use a spreadsheet, divided in four segments – Extremely Urgent, Urgent, Less Urgent, and Not Urgent. Then, the deadline dates to help me stick to my time.
Time management via spreadsheet
Advice for a new parent working to the workplace? Before heading back to work, why not check in and see if you could have any information to read through prior to your start date? Microsoft Office has changed a lot. Maybe re-familiarise your way around Word and Excel.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Discuss your goals with your assistant, and what you would like to achieve within the year. The assistant should be there to help the executive achieve his/her goals.
For those interested in promotion: Record and monitor your work, so that when you have your performance appraisals (360), you can easily confirm what you do from day to day. There are a lot of free online courses that you can take to better yourself, and this will show how you’re productive, enthusiastic and willing to give your all.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Craig referenced may be interested in checking the following.
To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.