Back to school: How you can use the start of the school year as the (new) start to your career or business
I’ve always regarded September as a month of new beginnings. When I was a teacher, this was the time to welcome a new class of students, bright young faces eager to learn new routines and renew old friendships. And then in my longer career as an Executive Assistant, September was the month my workload ramped up after the quiet of the summer break. Busy execs returned from their holiday with a renewed vigour to nail down those client meetings and project sales, all too aware that Christmas was a mere 3 months away.
But it wasn’t until I started my own business that I realized that September also presented a unique opportunity for me to review my own progress. I began to use the month to reflect on what I had achieved during the year so far as a Virtual Assistant, and if I was on track to achieve my goals. On reflection I should have gone through the same process when I was an Executive Assistant, but I was too rushed off my feet to think much about it! Hindsight is a fine thing, isn’t it?
But whether you’re an Executive Assistant in a full-time role or a Virtual Assistant running your own business, September is the perfect time to find your own back-to-school vibe. Here are my top pointers for making the most of the next few weeks of the month:
Review your goals
We’re coming up to the final quarter of the year and it’s the perfect time to look at whether you’re on track to actually hit that yearly goal or if you’re wildly off. It’s definitely not too late, so take an hour to review what you wanted to achieve this year. Perhaps it’s a target agreed in your yearly review which could have a positive impact on your pay review, or perhaps it’s finally clearing a backlog of expenses. If you’re a VA your target might be revenue-based, or it might be securing a new client. Take a look at what you can do to hit that goal by the end of the year. Whatever your goal looks like, there are still three months left of the year to achieve it.
Try something new
This is the first year I’ve really begun to focus on my own professional development in a purposeful way. I’ve signed up to attend conferences and networking events, plus I’m booked to speak on a panel at a PA event in November (more to come on that!) Although some of this is daunting to me (erm, the panel in particular), I knew I wanted to try something new before the year is out.
I’ve been meticulous about the events I choose to attend, partly because I have a two year old and any London event means playing the childcare juggle, but also because I don’t want to waste my time. If you’re going to attend an event or join a group, do your research first and make sure it’s relevant and high in quality. If you’re a VA and you’re aiming to secure another client, find out which platform they spend their time on and establish your own presence there.
Reflect on your work-life balance
Are you actually taking a lunchbreak every day? The lunchbreak that you’re entitled to? The lunchbreak that will give your eyes a much needed break from your computer screen and your back a much needed break from your chair?
And how about leaving the office on time. How’s that working out?
Believe it or not, but unless you’re a doctor you’re not actually saving lives. There will always be time to finish a piece of work. There will always be more meetings to arrange. There will always be more projects to manage. If getting all your work done in a day is a real struggle, take a step back and work out it it’s your workload or your productivity that’s the problem (there are solutions to both).
And for all the VAs out there – I urge you to not only close your laptop by a certain time each day, but to also put the laptop away too. Even if it’s in the kitchen cupboard. Keep it out of sight - it’ll help you strengthen the blurred boundaries between work and home.
Forge new relationships
If you’re contemplating a change in role, taking on new responsibilities or a pay rise in the new year, now is the time to forge new relationships. If you’re a PA or EA, see if your firm has an internal networking group (and if not, consider creating one). Ask a colleague from another department for coffee, or see if someone is able to mentor you. If you’re a VA, make new connections online with someone in the same field or with someone you admire, and see if they would like to connect over Zoom or perhaps feature you on their podcast.
I've created an infographic to highlight the main pointers in case you're a visual learner:
Amy Gould is a virtual assistant, coach and trainer. Creator of the programmes ‘From PA to VA’ and ‘PA Skills: The Insider’s Guide’, she delivers professional development training for the PA, EA and VA industries. She has over ten years experience as an assistant and is also a qualified teacher. Most importantly though, she’s also mum to Isobel.