Favorite Tools #1 – Macros

March 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Tips and Tricks, Tools | Leave a comment
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Nothing helps an Admin like streamlining regular repetitive or tedious tasks.  Macros in Word and Excel are necessary tools to cut your time in half using automation.
The most effective macros are well planned,  You may want to start by writing down the sequence of steps and commands you want the macro to perform.  You may even want to ‘practice’ before actually recording it to be sure your keystrokes, clicks, and commands produce the desired results.
Recording macros is easier than coding VBA from scratch and it works just as well and has the added benefit of saving time. I look at it as a way to create my own tools.  Here are some that I’ve used that worked for me.
I am assuming here that you are familiar with the Macro menu interface for recording and using them.  If not, check out the resources at the end of the article.

1. It seems inevitable that when you’re entering data into a spreadsheet that the rows and columns don’t fir the data correctly.  This macro quickly corrects that problem and gives the spreadsheet a cleaner look.
Start out with a spreadsheet that has rows and columns are too narrow or too wide.  If you don’t have one already, just purposely make one.  Here’s an example of what I used

  •   Select the cornerstone on the worksheet to select all cells (or Ctrl+A twice). Be sure that all cells remain selected.
  •   Double-click between two column headers. Be sure your cursor is positioned between the two letters and appears as a horizontal double arrow.
  •  Finally, double-click between two row headers. Be sure your cursor is positioned between the two numbers and appears as a vertical double arrow.
  • I like to finish up my Excel macros with Ctrl+Home this places your cursor in cell A1. This step is optional, but it’s always good to know where your cursor is going to end up when your macro completes. Then stop recording.

2. Another common task/problem I have in Excel is getting the spreadsheet to print out just the way I want it, usually to have it fit on one page and centered.  So I used the following macro to help me out.

  • Click on File in the Menu Bar, click on Page Setup.
  • Click on the Page tab at the top of the Page Setup window and select the orientation (portrait or landscape)
  • Click on the Margins tab at the top of the Page Setup window and set the margins (I have mine set to horizontal and center page)
  • Optional: Click on the Header/Footer tab at the top of the Page Setup window and select a header and a footer from the drop down lists
  • Click on the Sheet tab at the top of the Page Setup window. If you would like the top row of the spreadsheet to repeat on every printed page, click once in the “Rows to repeat at top” box and type $1:$1 If you prefer to have the grid lines showing, click once to place a check in the grid lines box
  • Click on OK.

Again, if you choose, click Ctrl+Home to move the cursor to A1, then stop recording.

3.  As the person who writes the most business correspondence, the name and address of the company was something written often. This macro inserts that information at the cursor position. It’s the best example of the simplest macro, typing and formatting four or five lines of text with a keystroke or a punch of a button.

  • Open a blank document using the normal template.
  • Set any formatting options you want such as font color or highlighting.
  • Type out the address as you want to appear in all documents
  • Now stop recording

Those are just a couple of examples of what I use.  I’m sure that every reader has a task that needs automation, just write down the steps, record a macro, and save time!

Now for the definitions of the day

tool
[tool]
noun
1. device for doing work
2. means to an end

sim·pli·fy
[ símpla fi ]
transitive verb
1. make something easier
2. reduce expressions to simpler terms

ef·fi·cient
[ i físh’nt ]
adjective
1. well-organized
2. able to function without waste

Other Resources

  1. Basics of recording  macros in Excel or Word
  2. Video from the ‘For Dummies” series
  3. Microsoft’s Macro Info Page

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Let’s Be SMART About This

February 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Posted in Business Ops, Tips and Tricks | Leave a comment
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I’m sure that many assistants know about the mnemonics to help them improve their productivity and set up projects.  Here is one of my favorites.  These tips can fit many different types of objectives.  It’s a step-by-process to successfully complete any goal by detailed planning.

S.M.A.R.T.

Specific: This is where the definition of the goal/problem solving process begins.  Specific goals are more easily accomplished.  This step uses the five W’s as the best way to focus and keep the goal action oriented, basically what would you like to see happen.  I think my favorite ‘W’ is How because when the benefits of the solution are considered I can focus even more on the other ‘W’s and the next steps.

  1.    Who is involved?
  2.    What could some obstacles be?
  3.    When should it be completed?
  4.    Why is this an important goal?
  5.    How will I get it done/benefit from the solution?

Measureable:  Establish the criteria for measuring the progress of your goal.  This is needed to set a schedule for due dates and to stay on track.  Being a list maker, this step keeps me motivated.  If there is a list of tasks or meetings associated with my project, deleting it from Outlook or crossing it off a hardcopy list gives me that feeling accomplishment and the feeling that I’m on the right track because objectives have been met.

Attainable:  This step is the decisive test for me.  The skills, tools, resources, and even financing are considered here.  Even if you have a good problem solving idea or a goal that you feel is important, it may not be doable now.  Here you can set yourself either up for success, or failure, so be honest about your needs.

Results-Oriented [some people use Relevant or Realistic here]:  This step keeps things moving towards success.  Each ‘sub-goal’ has to have the same importance when it comes to results. For example, if the third part of your solutions isn’t completed or doesn’t have the results you expected the goal would break down from there on.  There won’t be any substantial progress without it.

Timeframe:  Of course you’re going to have to set up a start and end date.  Don’t forget to track key milestone dates as you keep working.  This is a great way to remind you of the urgency of your desired accomplishment.

pro·duc·tive
[pro-duck-tiv]

adjective

1.    producing something abundantly and efficiently
2.    producing satisfactory or useful results

smart
[smaart]

adjective
1.    showing intelligence and mental alertness
2.    shrewd and calculating in business and other dealings

plan
[plan]
1.    a method of doing something that is worked out in advance
2.    something that somebody intends or has arranged to do

The Add Value Assistant

January 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Posted in Business Ops, Opinions, Position Description, Work Scenerios | 3 Comments
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Ever since my first-long term job I’ve considered ‘add-value’ an important skill.  So decide what you can do to use all your talents and enhance the company productivity.  I’ll give two examples here.

The first company I worked with was in market research.  I was there for 18 years.  As a clerk I decided my add value would be as an aid to my manager.  It was a building block of my work ethic as an assistant.  I believe it was the primary reason I was promoted to Lead Clerk.  The responsibilities of this position were close to being an Assistant Manager.  Because our department was small that title was not available, but it isn’t a title that makes you a worthwhile employee is it?

My last job was very different from the first because I was working for a non-profit in an office that was just starting a ramp-up process.  This increased a comfort level and gave me a chance to get to know my Program Manager well.  There was only one other employee for a while.  My add values included rules that kept the Manager well-informed.  I started out with keeping track of the staff schedules via our web app.  Then moved to document creation that tracked and presented a variety of information, including: client’s current status, credit card and petty cash spending, monthly reports of staff hours in the field, sick days, off days, and training days to name a few.  These became increasingly useful and necessary as the staff and client load grew.

I don’t believe that add value exists without going above and beyond the call of duty.  Talking on other tasks and responsibilities is a must.  Although this can be tricky, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, in the long run it’s a win-win situation.  Go ahead feel confident and present an idea for consideration.  Don’t insist or demand a change, but treat it as a dialogue.  When you see that a team member or a supervisor has a burden that is keeping them from performing their primary duties effectively, this is the time to step in.  The word ‘assistant’ is one that I take very seriously.  I know if I can offer to share the responsibility or give a suggestion to make the task more efficient, or to take on the task effectively, I jump at it! That’s add-value, you don’t take the place of the people you support, you enhance them.  This is where I came up with my motto, ‘I’m the little guy that makes the big guy look good.’

Here’s my most recent example of support to enhance a team member’s ability to get things done:

By the end of the month all electronic notes had to be complete and have the correct visit length entered.  With the majority of the staff spending most of their time out in the field  it was becoming increasingly difficult for staff to keep up.  Starting around the 7th workday of the month I checked this information, made entries into a custom spreadsheet, then created hard copy lists that were tailored to the needs of each staff member. In the simplest form possible it laid out the problem(s) with the electronic note, the type of correction needed and a deadline for completion.  This way people could budget their time to complete the task.  You’re a valuable member of a team and once you start smoothing the road for your teammates they’ll know it!

So now for definitions of the day

as·sis·tant
[uh-sis-tuhnt]
noun
1. a person who assists  or gives aid and support; helper.
2. something that aids and supplements another.

win-win
[win-win]
adjective
1. advantageous to both sides, as in a negotiation.

val·ue
[val-yoo]
noun
1. relative worth, merit, or importance.
verb (used with object)
2. to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance.
3. to regard or esteem highly

Work Scenario #7 – Developing SOPs

September 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Posted in Business Ops, Work Scenerios | Leave a comment
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Disclaimer: So that some work scenarios make more sense, I’d like to describe the organization I worked with. A mobile mental health team served severe and persistent mentally ill people in a county in Maryland. Some descriptions may seem vague or cryptic; it is to preserve the identity of clients, organization, and co-workers. Some documents are redacted via pixilation. My specific duties will always remain intact.

My team was ramped up at a new office when I was hired.  Sometimes when this happens it takes workers some time to be assimilated into the organization’s rules, needs, and even the culture.  I found a way to take advantage of the situation.  I created and developed standard operating procedures for many of my responsibilities and documents needed to keep all aspects of our office organized from office supplies to recording received checks.

Here I like to briefly present the process I used to create an SOP, especially for the handling of Social Security checks.  The entire process is described in Work Scenario #5 – Entitlement Checks.  I’m not going to go over the process here, that can be reviewed in my earlier scenario, but rather how I used my background as a programmer to write a clear, concise, specific document.

As a programmer, I already knew the benefits of creating a flowchart for projects. [see figure below] As an administrative assistant, I used those benefits in creating standard operating procedures and documents.  SOP’s helped to increase productivity.  It’s best to remember before you write your flow chart and document that the people you are writing for need to understand priorities and the impact of a deadline, that they are part of a bigger picture, and it should explain the necessity of a certain step.
Once I got through the all the steps of the entitlement check process, from request to distribution and tracking I created a document in the form of an outline.  Steps on the flowchart are extremely general and short.  On the outlines in the SOP documents they were much more detailed, yet still short.  Notes can be added at the end to clarify certain more complex points.

The last step was a short training for my team to be sure everything was clear and team members had their own copy.  I assured them that I would be available for any questions.  Usually there weren’t any questions because the drafted versions included advice from the team.  I think it cuts down on interruptions if I include all users of a document or SOP in the beginning of the process.

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Websites for the Week of September 4th

September 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Weekly Readings | Leave a comment
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Previous weekly website lists can be found here.

I’m doing a theme again this week.  I like the idea and will probably do this from now on.  If you have an idea for a theme, or any suggestion for a website you can send them along here.
This week, I’m focusing on my fellow administrative assistants.  Below are some of the better sites, other than mine of course, that help unemployed admins.
I am assuming that most you have done what you need to do on Linked In, Indeed, CareerBuilder, other job boards, and temp agencies.  This may help you go one step further.

  • If you need to make a change.  As an administrative assistant, you may have skills you’ve never thought of.  You may have many more career choices than you realize.
  • If you want more admin resources.  A simple site full of links to resources, professional organizations, and career links.
  • If you want to replace all those tools in your toolbox with just one.  This site helps whether you’re employed or not. Skills, resources, trainings, and creativity are all covered here. Plus there’s an iPhone app that includes all the information on the site.
  • Just when you think you’ve looked at all the job sites.  This is not only an employment sight, but a great community. It’s called the administrative arts, it makes me feel better whenever I visit it.

That’s it for this week. See what you like here. I’d love to hear from you about it. This week’s list is on a subject that I really think people can contribute to. Remember you can submit a website for the Sunday Readings on my How-To/Forum page.

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Websites for the Week of August 21st

August 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Economy, Weekly Readings | Leave a comment
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Previous weekly website lists can be found here.

This week is another theme week.  I’ve learned after almost six months of being unemployed that one of the largest budget areas is food.  I don’t know whether a lot of website have popped up because of the need or I just never had the need. This week’s list is became longer than earlier ones so I will probably be doing a Part Two next week. All these websites are now in my bookmarks.

Last week I mentioned a site for planning inexpensive meals.  This week I’d like to add to that list and expand to frugality in general.  Remember once you do get a job, these ideas will continue to help you save.

  • To improve your frugality skills .  Tips and tricks for living the good life on a budget.
  • To have a one-stop website for saving .  This site describes itself as, ‘cheap is good, but free is better’. Tips, tricks, ways to get free samples and printable coupons.
  • To get and share ideas about saving money .  There are two sections to the site that are helpful, the forum for sharing ideas and the blog for learning .
  • To  make saving money as painless as possible.  This site provides help on everything from saving during the holidays to baby care to swapping.
  • To focus on  finance, family,and career.  The site claims to make frugal cool and covers things like 0% credit card transfer to frugal ways to teach your kids to love school.

That’s it for this week. See what you like here.  I’d love to hear from you about it.  This week’s list is on a subject that I really think people can contribute to.  Remember you can submit a website for the Sunday Readings on my How-To/Forum page.

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