I must confess that my title this month is a bit misleading. I should have said ‘Best productivity aid’ because the aid I am referring to is not a piece of software, not a piece of hardware, nor is it the newest “Day-Timer” or other paper based organization system. The aid I am talking about is a person – an Administrative Assistant.

It is fitting that this blog posting come the week after Administrative Assistant’s week because it may serve as a reminder to those of you who did not do enough last week to say Thank You to the person that is possibly your most valuable employee.

For those of you who are aiming for “C” level management, with the satisfaction of being able to set the technology direction of your organization comes the drudgery of massive amounts of communication. This communication comes in many forms: (a) paper- such as mail, letters, memoranda, forms, notes, and publications, (b) electronic-such as email, electronic documents, your calendar, and voice messages, (c) person to person- such as meetings, webinars, conferences and telephone calls. The amount of communication is such that it can be your full time job attending to it. This of course leaves little time for all the rest of the things you are supposed to be doing rather than staring at your screen and Blackberry all day when you are not on the phone or in a meeting.

A good administrative assistant is worth their weight in gold -which is ironic, since they are often the lowest paid person in your chain of command. For they are the ones who can help you manage that mass of communication and make it possible to concentrate on the most important things in your job.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of having a good administrative assistant, let me elaborate a little bit on what a difference they can make in your workday/week. I’ll do this by telling you about the gaping hole left in my work life since I have been without a good assistant for several weeks now. Let’s begin in the morning when I get to work and sit down and log in to my PC. Time to check the inbox and calendar. I had several events suck up my time last week so my inbox has several hundred messages I need to attend to. Some of these are important, some are just informational, and some are trash. With a good administrative assistant my mail could have been screened for me. Vendor trash could have been set aside in a folder pending my review or deleted. Meeting requests (in the form of a call or email) could be placed on my calendar as “tentative” with a reminder for me to confirm it or ask my assistant to reschedule it for me. Important email messages could be flagged as red to deal with now, yellow to deal with soon, or green to deal with when I have time.

While I sit and work at my PC I can see the stack of mail that is piling up in my inbox on the shelf as well as the stack of documents I have marked for filing. I traveled last week, which means I have to complete the necessary forms, attach my expenses and get them entered into the system and routed appropriately. I also have to travel again in the next couple of weeks so I have to fill out the necessary travel authorizations, book hotel and airline reservations, a rental car, and reserve any equipment I am going to carry with me. There is purchasing to be done as well, which means more forms and authorizations to be done and this is also the time for annual evaluations. In addition, the press has caught wind that my organization may be coordinating a major technology purchase so my phone has been ringing nonstop as potential vendors want to get their product/s in front of me.

The point to all this is not to whine, but to focus your attention on how much of your work in management is administrative in nature. While I can and will do this work (it’s not like it is beneath me) it is not what I was hired to do or the best use of my time if you look at it on a dollar per hour basis. I could stand in front of the copier and make the packets for my next meeting or I could work on the plan for a major upcoming project – which do you think is more cost effective? Unfortunately for me at this time, I will be doing both until I can get my vacant position filled.

I bring this topic up not only to point out the importance of this support position but to also point out that it is not a crime to ask for one at budget time if you do not have one. You don’t have to be in a C level position to need one, and if you stop and analyze your day it shouldn’t be too hard to justify the salary and benefits of the position – even if it has to be shared with others. I find that tech managers are often too shy to ask for help for themselves and upper management too quick to say no (except for themselves) when it comes to clerical support.

If you have been around in the workplace long enough, you will see that managers often take their administrative assistants with them when they change position or their assistant will follow them to a new organization. This is usually not because of some steamy relationship, but because an assistant who has worked with someone over time comes to learn them, knows their likes and dislikes and probably can predict them as well. That kind of help my friend is hard to come by. So the next time you are planning your budget, add in something that technology cannot provide – the helping hand of an administrative assistant.