Feeling overwhelmed with meetings and calls? If you’re using an executive assistant to schedule everything, that may be the source of the problem. Execs heavily dependent on EA’s for scheduling can easily become over-scheduled with low priority appointments. For two possible reasons as I see it…
First, exec wants to say “No” but can’t. Busy people often know, deep down, that they don’t have time to do a random meeting or phone call. But they can’t say no because saying no to somebody will disappoint them and cause that person, at a subtle level, to dislike you in that moment. Most of us strongly desire to be liked. So replying “Sure” and handing the interaction off to an EA allows you to win social approval in the moment, and the interaction disappears into a magical scheduling queue. And then you get back to work. No social disappointment, no studying your calendar in the moment, no immediate cost.
Alternatively, exec wants to say “Yes” but it’s a momentary emotion. The exec genuinely believes the meeting request is worth doing in that moment. “Hey great to hear from you, it’s been a long time, yeah let’s definitely hang out soon!” The EA is immediately CC’d. But. If exec had only spent 2-3 minutes encountering logistical friction when trying to schedule it herself, she would realize that, upon reflection, the benefits do not outweigh the costs. If your desire to do something cannot withstand even the slightest amount of friction, it’s probably not something you actually want to do. I analogize this to seeing books for sale on Amazon. When I encounter a book on Amazon that looks interesting, I often want to buy it right away. Instead I add the book to my wish list. When I visit the book’s listing a day or two later, I oftentimes find myself less interested in buying it. The enthusiasm turned out to be temporary. Adding a little bit of friction to the buying process causes me to be more honest about my true interest level. Adding scheduling friction to your meeting requests has a similar effect.
To be clear, there are opportunities to get scheduling leverage out of an EA. For one, EA’s are great at helping you schedule internal meetings — regular calls or meetings with colleagues. EA’s also are great to introduce at Round 2 of the logistics ping pong game. What I tend to do when I say yes to an external meeting request is to personally offer a few times that work for me and see if I can just schedule it myself in one email. This helps me internalize the “cost” of the meeting as I’m saying yes — I’m having to spend a few minutes looking at my calendar, hunting for convenient open spaces, and offering those times in a message. If none of my times works and the thread turns into a ping pong game of dates and times, and I’m still motivated to do the meeting, and the status dynamics make sense (i.e. I won’t offend a higher status person who’s scheduling with me directly), I’ll hand it off to an EA to finalize the scheduling process on my behalf.
Bottom Line: EA’s can give execs leverage, especially around scheduling. But if not managed thoughtfully, an EA-only scheduling process can cause you to become quickly over-scheduled with appointments you would not, with full perspective, actually prioritize.