The taboo of having spare time

bored secretaryAs a PA, we’re always expected to be super busy with arranging meetings, travel, making sure there are enough pens in the cupboard, and everything in between.

But what happens if things quiet down for a period of time? Be that a couple of hours, or a couple of weeks. It seems that it’s the ultra taboo to admit that you don’t have loads to do.

Boss Travelling?

If you’re a 1-1 PA, what happens if your boss is out travelling? This happened to me a few times when my boss went to India. He was relatively self-sufficient and didn’t contact me outside of UK working hours. So whilst I was able to catch up on things like expenses, and make the arrangements to have the windows in his office repainted, there was little else going on.

Add to the mix the fact that he was in an empty hotel room most evenings, trawling through his own emails so his inbox was clear when I got into the office the next morning.

Holiday season?

What do you do if you’re the one covering over the holidays? Most of your office are out, and so are all the people you would ordinarily be talking to on a daily basis. Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to never have to work over the holidays, but I will be this year. Do you find that late starts, early finishes and long lunches are acceptable? Are you busy covering for everyone else? Or do you end up going out to shop the sales for a couple of hours?

what to do

I think the first thing that you need to do in this scenario is to highlight it yourself, before other people do. I find this quite important, mainly because it eliminates people thinking that you’re being lazy or shirking. I offered help to other secretaries, and I also spoke to a few more senior people around the office to see if there was any project work that I could do for them.

9 times out of 10 this offer of help is turned down. This surprised me, mainly because of the reputation that secretaries have for being constantly snowed under. Were some of them covering up the fact that they were in the same boat as me? Or was it a case of having things to do that would take longer to explain than do them themselves?

Before he went away, I also put off a few things that I would ordinarily have stayed late to finish. Things that weren’t time sensitive, but needed doing all the same. Why would I stay late to do something that I could do the following week without any repercussions? This freed up a little time to scrutinise his schedule and reconfirm all his meetings and transportation. It also gave me that sacred few minutes to double check his diary for any meetings that may not have been moved or cancelled while he was going to be out of the office.

short lived

Of course, this quiet period was short lived, and as soon as my boss was back in the office I was inundated with all the usual requests for coffee, meeting presentations, etc, etc.

I understand that there are secretaries out there who really are working at capacity 99% of the time, and juggling 300 things on any given day. But would you ever admit to being quiet and not having much to do?