Your Roadmap to Effective Office Systems

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Systems are at the heart of every successful assistant and office says Julie Perrine

Many people believe that the terms “procedures” and “systems” are interchangeable, but that’s not exactly true. While they do work together to save you time, effort, and stress, they are not the same.

Procedures show you, step-by-step, how to perform a specific task – for example, completing an expense report or submitting a check request. A system contains all the information you need to handle the accounting functions for your job. Procedures, forms, and checklists combine to create systems for how you get things done efficiently.

Systems have many benefits. They save you time and unnecessary stress. They are a roadmap to your task or project that you follow every time. They allow you to deliver consistent results, which creates trust between you and your executive and helps build your credibility. Systems also allow you the freedom to delegate tasks, or have someone fill in for you while you’re away from the office.

A good system is documentable, sharable, and repeatable. It should be easy for someone else to pick up, follow, and achieve the same results, even if they’ve never touched the project before. Systems are at the heart of every successful admin and office!

Every office needs different systems to run smoothly, but most administrative professionals will require most or all the systems in this core group:

• Time and task management
• Filing
• Travel planning
• Meeting and event planning
• Project management

Other systems you may want to prioritize, depending on your job duties, include:

• Disaster recovery planning
• Finance and accounting
• Human resources
• Customer service
• Sales and marketing

When you identify the systems required for your office, decide which one is the most important and start working on it. I recommend tackling systems individually to reduce overwhelm.

Mapping Out Your Systems

The best way to explain how to document your systems on paper is to show you. Let’s use meeting and event planning as our example, and focus on creating a system for planning monthly staff meetings.

Step 1: Brainstorm

Write down how you currently do it step-by-step.

When you’re planning a staff meeting, what do you do and in what order?

1) Review calendars and compile date and time options.
2) Check with all participants on availability for the options presented.
3) Determine if any guests will be in attendance.
4) Determine preferred meeting date, time, and location based on available options for all participants.
5) Determine the agenda and who is presenting.
6) Determine what types of audio-visual equipment you need.
7) Reserve the conference room.
8) Send out the meeting invitation to all participants.
9) Determine catering needs for the meeting.
10) Order food for the meeting.
11) Create the meeting agenda for the department head’s approval.
12) Gather all materials for the agenda and participant materials.
13) Assemble participant materials (if needed).

Step 2: Think in Terms of Batching

Look for logical breaks in the process.

Date Selection and Participants
1) Review calendars and compile date and time options.
2) Check with all participants on availability for the options presented.
3) Determine if any guests will be in attendance.
4) Determine preferred meeting date, time, and location based on available options for all participants.

Meeting Agenda
5) Determine the agenda and who is presenting.

Conference Room Logistics
6) Determine what types of audio-visual equipment you need.
7) Reserve the conference room.

Meeting Invitations
8) Send out the meeting invitation to all participants.

Meeting Catering
9) Determine catering needs for the meeting.
10) Order food for the meeting.

Meeting Materials
11) Create the meeting agenda for the department head’s approval.
12) Gather all materials for the agenda and participant materials.
13) Assemble participant materials (if needed).

Step 3: Make It Visual

Color code, bold, italicize, highlight, draw lines, and boxes.

This step is especially helpful if you’re mapping out your system on paper first. But you can also color code, highlight, and draw boxes around things in digital documents to draw attention to them in print, too.

Date Selection and Participants
1) Review calendars and compile date and time options.
2) Check with all participants on availability for the options presented.
3) Determine if any guests will be in attendance.
4) Determine preferred meeting date, time, and location based on available options for all participants.

Meeting Agenda
5) Determine the agenda and who is presenting.

Conference Room Logistics
6) Determine what types of audio-visual equipment you need.
7) Reserve the conference room.

Meeting Invitations
8) Send out the meeting invitation to all participants.

Meeting Catering
9) Determine catering needs for the meeting.
10) Order food for the meeting.

Meeting Materials
11) Finalize meeting agenda and attain department head’s approval.
12) Gather all materials for the agenda and participant materials.
13) Assemble participant materials (if needed).

Step 4: Make It Easy to Read/Scan

Use numbers for ordered lists and bullets for information.

So that you could follow along more easily, I numbered the items in step one as I brainstormed my list. But when I write things on paper first, I typically list them in the order I think of them. Then I go back through my brain dump and number things, so I get them in the right order as I proceed through the system development process.

Step 5: Test It Out
Continue to update your system as you use it.

The next time you plan a staff meeting, follow your documented system, or have a colleague review and test it for you. That’s the best way to know what is missing and figure out if it works the way it should.

Did something not go as planned? Go back to that step in your system and revise it. One of the best things about systems is that they’re easy to diagnose and repair when an aspect of the system doesn’t work.

Update your system as you use it and document any other steps or tips you need to include to make it work even better.

Breaking Down a System into Segments or Phases

In the second step of creating a system, I encouraged you to think of the system in terms of batches. These batches create the segments or phases of the system where you can supplement even further with forms, templates, checklists, and more detailed procedures, if needed.

Using the staff meeting planning example, here are the batches or segments:
• Date Selection and Participants
• Meeting Agenda
• Conference Room Logistics
• Meeting Invitations
• Meeting Catering
• Meeting Materials

Identifying the Procedures for Each Phase

Now, let’s identify where to use forms, templates, checklists, and more detailed procedures for each batch or segment on the list.

Date Selection and Participants
o Procedure explaining the nuances of staff meeting scheduling and working with other assistants or guests to pick the date
o Email template for circulating date/time options

Meeting Agenda
o Meeting agenda template
o Procedure explaining how to determine the agenda items and who presents

Conference Room Logistics
o Procedure for making conference room reservations
o Procedures for setting up the conference room for the meeting – setting up audio-visual equipment, etc.

Meeting Invitations
o Meeting invite/email template
o Procedure including people who are typically invited, their email addresses, and other relevant information for sending the invite

Meeting Catering
o Catering order form
o Procedure explaining catering preferences, food sensitivities, and typical items requested

Meeting Materials
o PowerPoint template for presenting meeting materials
o Procedure explaining the meeting materials assembly and distribution process for attendees

Some systems, as with the above example, have many parts and procedures. Others may only have one or two. The important thing is that they work for you and for others who many need to use them.

What do you need to remember to execute a successful meeting every time? What would someone else need to know if they were filling in for you? These two questions help you create the procedures and assemble the forms or templates necessary to plan a successful meeting.

Systems help you stay organized, both in and out of the office. They’re documentable, repeatable, proven processes that provide consistency and demonstrate the value you bring to your organization. Taking the time to document your systems now will allow you to perform your tasks with less stress and more efficiency!

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About Author

Julie Perrine

Julie Perrine is an administrative expert, author, speaker, and all-around procedures pro. She is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing innovative products, training, and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Learn more about Julie’s latest book, Become A Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Systems and Procedures and download free templates at ProceduresPro.com and AllThingsAdmin.com.

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