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Need an executive assistant? Here's how automation can help.

Automation inspiration

5 min read

Need an executive assistant? Here's how automation can help.

Automation advice from a Zapier executive assistant.

By Cortney Hickey · March 4, 2021
A woman works with a laptop, calculator, and holds papers.

My name is Cortney and I'm an executive assistant at Zapier. This wasn't always my career path. I spent 10 years studying or working in marketing before I realized quitting is good and there was a path that aligned to a tee with my skills and interests.

What does an executive assistant (EA) do, exactly? Elizabeth Sloane, an EA at ConvertKit, sums it up: "I function as an extension of the leader I work with. I try to make his job easier and more efficient, and take smaller tasks off his plate entirely."

While that likely sounds like something you'd benefit from, hiring an executive assistant requires a leap of faith. You may be unsure about:

  1. If you have enough long-term work for them

  2. If there's an alternative to growing your headcount

  3. What the concrete objectives are for the role

  4. How to find the best culture and competency fit 

If you're grappling with the decision, you can lean into automation and other technology to search for efficiencies before making the financial investment in an EA.

You may think it's counterintuitive to share ways to get around hiring an executive assistant when I make my living as one! One of our values at Zapier is "don't be a robot, build the robot." This example summarizes it well: 

"I'm eager to find a better way to do my role, even if it works myself out of that role." vs. "I avoid exploring new ways to do something out of fear that it'll impact my role."

The former is the clear winner. There will always be ways to contribute and add value as an EA that technology can't replicate. It's often mentioned that a good executive assistant is a human database and can read minds. While we don't have superpowers (yet), every day we get better at seeing around the corner to anticipate what executives will need next.

Whether you're an executive assistant or in need of one, here's how Zapier and other online tools can help.

Zapier lets you automatically send information from one app to another, helping you reduce manual tasks. Learn more about how Zapier works.

Preview tomorrow's schedule

EAs help you see what's next. You can automate this by setting up a Zap—the word for Zapier's automated workflows— that will send you a digest of tomorrow's meetings before you leave for the day. Not only will this automation help you see what's upcoming, it also serves as a reminder to do any prep work needed for your meetings.

Read more: Learn exactly how to use Zapier to automatically send yourself a list of the next day's meetings.

Stay on task

EAs keep executives from being distracted, so they can work to complete their most important to-dos. I do this through regularly scheduled Zoom check-ins, sending Slack reminders for things that need attention, and acting as a gatekeeper for my executive's time. 

While those are things that require human intervention and can't be replicated exactly by automation, there are many to-do list apps you can use to keep yourself on track. You can also use a Zap to integrate your to-do list with your calendar to make sure you're blocking time to get your work done.

Looking for a task management app? Check out the 9 best to do list apps of 2021.

Schedule meetings and send reminders

EAs are experts at arranging meetings and managing complex calendars. Without an executive assistant, it's tempting to email back and forth with contacts about availability. Instead, you can use a scheduling app like Calendly to invite attendees to pick a convenient meeting time.

When you set your calendar options in Calendly, don't make your whole day available. You should leave off a few blocks a week for focus time where you'll do your most important work. Then, you can also connect your scheduling app to Zapier to automatically create calendar events or video meetings from new bookings. 

Now that you've automated all the work for setting up a meeting, you can also use automation to make sure you show up on time. These workflows will automatically send you a text or Slack message before a calendar event begins. 

Automate frequent email responses

Great EAs are able to match your writing tone and style, triage email, and answer the majority of emails for you. The good news is that emails often follow a pattern. You likely have common types of emails that come in on a frequent basis, such as requests for meetings, job inquiries, or frequently asked questions.

Use a text expander app like Alfred to save these frequent email responses as "snippets." With each snippet you'll choose an abbreviation which, when typed, auto-expands into the full text and saves lots of typing time. 

A GIF of an email composer window. Two characters are typed, which automatically expands into a templated message about scheduling a call.

Create snippets for messages you're typing on a frequent basis, such as: 

  • Your mailing address

  • Your LinkedIn profile link

  • An email response with Calendly link that you can send to anyone who requests a meeting with you

Compile and distribute meeting notes

Great EAs support the larger team by handling meeting logistics like scheduling, agenda-setting, and following up on any action items. Without an assistant, this can seem overwhelming, but you can use Zapier to automatically create and distribute meeting notes ahead of time. 

Here's a Zap I use to create and send weekly meeting notes two days before a meeting occurs. 

Organize virtual files

EAs often save time for their executive counterpart by organizing and managing their files. As a workaround for this, you can instead use an automated workflow to save email attachments as files in a cloud storage app. 

Once you set up this Zap, file management is as simple as labeling an email in Gmail. When labeled, email attachments will automatically save into a specific Google Drive folder. This makes it easier to keep up with your most important files.

Keep track of important dates

Executive assistants often track upcoming personnel celebrations like birthdays and anniversary milestones for their executive counterparts. Depending on the size of the business, they might track this for their direct reports or for the whole organization. Receiving a celebratory message or gift from an executive can lift morale and show employees those in leadership care about them. So while it can be tempting to pass on gift-giving to save time and money, you will be rewarded if you put in the extra effort.

One of my favorite tools for sending celebratory cards is Postable. It works best if you download your employee addresses and birthday dates from your human resources tool. Then all you need to do is pick a card design (yes, a real card!) and write your message. Postable will mail the notes throughout the year. 

For a digitally-inclined team, BirthdayBot is a popular Slack tool for sending celebratory messages. It automatically collects and stores the birthday of each employee and posts a message in Slack when the big day comes. You'll also receive alerts for upcoming birthdays. This is a helpful reminder if you have the budget for buying gifts.

Proofread as you go

Editing your own work is hard. That's why it's a core competency for many EAs, as they are often asked to review emails, briefs, internal communications, and reports before they are released. But there are some great tools that can stand in.

Dictater is a free Mac app that can read any text back to you, which is often the best way to catch a mistake.

Hemingway is another helpful tool to bookmark in your web browser for editing your writing. It points out wordiness, complex phrases, and passive voice. Your writing will be more concise and powerful.

A written paragraph, describing how the Hemingway app works. Various colored highlights indicate different mistakes Hemingway catches in writing.

Automation can be your assistant

Automation can help you see some quick benefits of having an assistant if you're not quite ready to hire one. 

Or if you are an executive assistant yourself or have one at your company, adding automation can help focus on the tasks that really require personal attention.

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Cortney Hickey picture

Cortney Hickey

Cortney Hickey is an executive assistant at Zapier and works in Austin, Texas. She loves productivity and startups and spends her free time fermenting or getting outside.

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