How EAs can master the role’s ‘many hats’

Behavioural expert, Mark Carter lays out his shortlist of tools EAs can use to master the role's growing expectations and responsibilities.

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The role of modern-day EA’s has evolved enormously in the last decade. There’s a whole new gamut of responsibilities falling on your doorsteps and laptops.

The need to be strategists, cultural influencers, problem solvers, event organisers and communications officers are now included.

So how do EA’s keep not only their own heads above water but also their businesses and stakeholders afloat?

Productivity and personal efficiency are key tools to focus on in your abundant armoury of skills.

A part of the reason diverse demands are increasingly dropped upon you is intrinsically linked to the era we find ourselves living in: the digital age.

With a race towards technology adoption and automation, it’s hardly surprising that behests, requirements or outputs have swelled so much.

Herein also lies one of the secrets to personal efficiency. Recognise the tech stacks you use as preferred weapons of choice, whilst potentially great enablers, perhaps also double as one of your Achilles heels.

Options and updates evolve thick and fast that to put our focus purely on tech is to hinder our efforts or increase some risks.

I’ll share a brief perspective from my days as a training manager of tour leaders traversing Europe.

The role of a tour leader, much like yours as an EA, was equally demanding in this mastery of many hats: organiser, problem solver, entertainer, event planner, historian, presenter, communications manager or financial planner to name a handful.

Few had the power to turn the moods of a group of paying stakeholders, passengers, from cheerful to chastising more swiftly than allowing one of those critical hats to slip: navigator.

Should one get lost, especially on a regular basis, mutinies might brew! So, for this reason, we would train routes, directions and planning via rudimentary note-taking and old school paper maps.

Whilst this may well have been in the days before smartphones were abundant or had the capabilities they now do, the principle has remained a steadfast truth. 

Having tech to help perform important aspects of our roles is handy. Yet to fully let go, outsourcing o an app, switching off, becoming loose or a little lapse with that fundamental competence is to put our reputations, outputs and results at risk.

With maps, it’s all well and good blindly following smartphone directions until that low lying tunnel you’re not meant to drive in strips your vehicle of its rooftop air conditioning unit!

The same is true in your world. By all means, surround yourselves with a preferred tech stack (applications and tools included) that accelerate your achievements. 

Make sure you do so a little like a drummer curating the perfect kit. You don’t need 600 drums, or even the latest and greatest, to bang out, time after time, a near-perfect rhythm. You just need the right ones.

A second aspect of productivity and personal efficiency also relates to this over-reliance on tech. 

A very good EA will build a beautifully curated kit of tech around them to hammer out those rhythms. An outstandingly, excellent one knows that, ultimately, they could play equally perfectly, the way some street vendors do, on nothing more than empty paint pot buckets and tins.

The most important aspect of personal efficiency is one that has become diluted and lost, in part due to the excitement or approach of having tech as a default go to!

You are your most refined tool of productivity and personal efficiency. Well, your mind and brain is at least.

The idea of multi-tasking, the way many people think about or act on it, is nothing more than a myth. Why? 

Let’s stick with our reference to technology for a moment. If you were to consider yourself a computer, you are a single-core processor: because you only have one brain.

The way we ultimately multi-task effectively is achieved only one of three ways.

We can perform ‘bundled’ tasks simultaneously, provided those tasks can be bundled and acted on singularly.

For example, you can read a book and listen to music. Yet you can’t read two books simultaneously. To attempt to do so only costs quality of attention to both. The stories may even merge, or you lose track, as your brain toggles between the two.

Therefore be more mindful of the tasks you consciously ‘bundle’ together.

The second manner you might find to multi-task more efficiently is a little like the days you learned to drive a manual car.

Most people kangaroo, bouncing down the road, on occasions on the journey to mastering smooth, swift control of the clutch and gear change.

With practice comes speed and efficiency. That said, there’s an important consideration to ensure we build such base skills on best practice.

As much as people believe ‘practice makes perfect’, a truer statement is ‘practise makes permanent’. If you learn something badly, efficiently, you just become better at doing it badly.

I’m sure you can relate to processes you’ve perhaps inherited or stumbled upon that, upon closer inspection; makes you question why elements have remained unchanged or inefficient for so long.

Which leads us to the third method of our minds ability to multi-task. What’s more, it’s the one to truly focus on.

Like many great things in life, it too is a little counterintuitive. In order to achieve more, it’s far better to focus on less.

You’ll likely have massive task lists of what may need to be done daily. Yet if our mind is always thinking about or toggling dozens, hundreds or thousands of bundled tasks then, like that computer, RAM and memory slow down.

Shorter task or priority lists, at any given moment in time, are far better. Establish a laser focus on top priorities at any given time.

Perhaps think about one of the oldest inventions in that regard, yet it has endured since 1840 virtually unchanged in its primary function.

The penny black postage stamp was the worlds first adhesive stamp used in a postal service in the UK.  Josh Billings, a humourist and lecturer back in those days in the US observed a curious thing about postage stamps.

No matter how battered, torn or put under stress it remains stuck, steadfast, to the singular task at hand until delivery is made and the job is done. 

Curate your drum kit of tech, yes, don’t overload it. Then become so laser-focused and stuck on priorities that you are the penultimate symbol of personal efficiency, like a human postage stamp.

THE EXPERT
Mark Carter is a director, author, international speaker and regular media contributor. He’s also custom-built a unique academy from experience as a learning and development leader with over 20 years experience in more than 40 countries, www.markcarter.com.au. For speaking inquiries contact ICMI Speakers and Entertainers.