News, Productivity, Products

Track #Olympics Time with Calendar #Hashtags

At Esper, we’re planning to watch the Rio Olympics – everything from Michael Phelps swimming to Mallory Pugh playing soccer to Usain Bolt running (and subsequently gloating). How much of our time these next two weeks will be spent watching Olympians and what sports?


We found a calendar online that has all the Rio events on one calendar and we could use Esper to tag each of these events. In the past, you would log into Esper to tag events on your calendar. Now, simply put a hashtag anywhere in your calendar event using Google, Outlook, Office365, or whatever calendar app you normally use.

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Log into Esper, and you’ll see that these hashtags create graphs to see what exactly you’re spending time on.

These hashtags also populate Esper’s weekly and daily email reports.Your weekly report shows you how your week went and how your week will turn out. Your daily agenda shows today’s agenda and the high-level tags that dominate your day.Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 5.43.00 PM.png

So, now you can #Sales all those sales calls, #1on1 all your one-on-one meetings, and track all the #Olympics events to your heart’s content. We’re excited to see how you use Esper, and enjoy the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio!


Make Time Great Again

A couple months ago, CEO Andrew Lee met up with a successful entrepreneur friend for dinner. The friend had just wrapped up a successful PR tour and was trying to make sure that he was doing everything he could to guard his most precious resource, his time.

He pulled out his phone at the dinner table and showed Andrew a “calendar audit.” This calendar audit showed all of his calendar events matched against his company’s strategic goals. The friend had exported all the data from his calendar, created a spreadsheet to assign categories to all his events, and calculated the total time he spent on each category. His friend remarked how useful it was, but that he was told this secret by another entrepreneur. His friend remarked, “Turns out the top CEOs, politicians, and leaders all do this in some form – heck, even Steve Ballmer does this.” However, he also observed how difficult it was because there was no readily available tool.

Weekly Percent Table

Andrew soon found others with this same problem. Sam Shank, CEO of Hotel Tonight, spent four weeks conducting his own labor intensive calendar audit. Keith Rabois, partner at Khosla Ventures, conducts periodic “calendar audits” for CEOs of companies he has invested in to make sure that their schedule allocation matches their goals. No one had a dedicated tool to help them solve this problem.

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Since then, the Esper team has been working tirelessly to bring this concept to life, following its mission of solving the problem of time mismanagement. With that in mind, we are excited to announce Esper – a quick and easy way to track how you are spending your time. Just as you track your expenses and maintain a budget, you can now do the same with your time. Let’s “make time great again.”  😉


The Global Plague of Time Mismanagement

Whether you’re a C-level executive, executive assistant, or busy professional you are in a constant battle against the clock to make sure you’re using your time efficiently. If you feel that you’re on the losing end of this battle, you can take solace that you’re not alone. Of the 1500 executives in a McKinsey & Company global survey, 30% responded that they were “actively dissatisfied” with their time allocation and 48% were only “somewhat satisfied.”

Time mismanagement is caused by two main factors:

1) people fail to recognize that time, like money, is a limited resource that needs to be apportioned according to the payoff of the prospective investment, and

2) people fail to use the tools at their disposal to a) track their time allocation and b) delegate low-level tasks so they can focus on high-value strategic priorities.

On the first factor, decades of research shows how organizations fail to grasp the importance of managing time as you would any other resource. In 2004 Michael Mankis, a partner at Bain & Company, stated that “as much as 80% of top management’s time is devoted to issues that account for less than 20% of a company’s long-term value.” Even today, McKinsey reports that only 52% percent of executives allocate time in a way that “largely matched their organizations’ strategic priorities.”

Poor time management isn’t just limited to executives. As we all know from experience, Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 8.47.54 AMmanagement loves to inflict unnecessary meetings, reports, and projects on lowly subordinates as well. For example, Mankis quantified how much time one company’s employees wasted supporting weekly executive committee meetings. The results were astonishing. Each year the meetings cost the company a total of 300,000 man-hours. And we’re not just talking about one isolated incident. Data cited by Bain suggests that on average companies waste 20% of total employee man-hours because of poor time management.

svgz_TimeAllocation_Ex2_WebWhile most managers can recite the breakdown of their budget allocation by heart, they seem to develop amnesia when it comes to giving a breakdown of their time allocation. Luckily, McKinsey was able to restore their memory by asking executives to record their daily activities in a diary. This information helped clarify the schedule breakdown for “highly satisfied” executives as well as categorize “actively dissatisfied” executives into four distinct groups: cheerleader, schmoozer, online junkie, and firefighter.

Now that we understand the symptoms of poor Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.29.17 AMtime management, the million dollar question (literally) is “how can we better manage our time and boost productivity?” I prescribe two remedies which will improve your time management capabilities: use software to track time allocation against organizational priorities and hire an assistant to handle your low-level work.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.29.43 AMThe first remedy helps executives understand how their current time allocation compares to organizational priorities so they can maintain the optimal schedule balance. Take the executive schmoozer for example. Without data showing how slanted his schedule is toward customer calls, the schmoozer lacks a critical check needed to maintain adequate time for implementing corporate strategy. Fortunately for professionals like the schmoozer, Esper cures time mismanagement by offering powerful tools for categorizing calendar events and visualizing time allocation. Esper helps people identify time sinks, spot trends, and focus on what matters most.


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The second remedy helps executives focus on high-value work by delegating low-level tasks to low-cost assistants. Of the executives who deemed themselves effective time managers in McKinsey’s study, 85% stated that they “received strong support in scheduling and allocating time” while only 7% of dissatisfied executives said the same. To help assistants provide even better support, Esper has developed a Google Apps extension which combines email and calendaring tools to streamline scheduling workflow. These essential features include emails with pre-populated time and location preferences, daily agendas, and automatic event reminders.


Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.28.40 AMMelba Duncan, who heads an assistant recruiting service, explains why assistants make solid financial sense as well. For an executive earning $1 million per year, hiring an assistant at $80 thousand per year implies they must make the executive 8% more productive in order to break even. In other words, the assistant must save the executive five hours per 60 hour work week. Executives with high-quality assistants know that they save far more than that. In fact, they often confess that they can’t live without them.

Renowned management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it can be managed nothing else can be managed.” While many companies fail to follow Drucker’s sage wisdom, these strategies will help you successfully manage your time so you can better manage everything else.


   Works Cited

  1. Bevins, Frankki. De Smet, Aaron. “Making time management the organization’s priority.” McKinsey Quarterly. Jan 2013.
  2. Drucker, Peter. The Effective Executive, first edition, New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1967.
  3. Mankis, Michael. “Stop Wasting Valuable Time.” Harvard Business Review. Sept 2004
  4. Mankis, Michael. “This Weekly Meeting Took Up 300,000 Hours a Year.” Harvard Business Review. Apr 29, 2014.
  5. Brahm, Chris. Caimi, Gregory. Mankis Michael. “Your Scarcest Resource.” Harvard Business Review. May 2014.
  6. Melba, Duncan. “The Case For Executive Assistants.” Harvard Business Review. May 2011.





Having an Assistant is Awkward, But Necessary

Having an executive assistant can be a very awkward experience. Most executives have NO IDEA how to work with an assistant the first time. It’s similar to having a competent sibling who tags along and wants to help you, but you insist on “doing everything yourself.” It makes things harder for you, harder for people you’re interacting with, and makes the assistant feel awkward as well. Despite the enormous productivity gained from having an assistant, new executives become sheepish when they bring someone else in because they feel like it’s disrespectful to other parties.

Why do people feel this way? It varies city by city; Washington D.C. has a strong assistant culture (heck, the whole cabinet is filled with Secretaries). In Los Angeles, “I’ll get my people to talk to your people. Hold on, New York is calling” is a running joke.

Ari and Lloyd

In other cities though, like Silicon Valley, people are afraid to use an assistant. The do-it-yourself attitude of Silicon Valley just doesn’t seem to fit well with assistants.

Michael Cera 2.jpegAssistants are still perceived as a luxury item reserved for the most powerful executives in a company. If you aren’t the CEO then why do you have an assistant? This attitude can breed awkwardness so bad even Michael Cera would run away. Let’s look at how this arises in different situations.

1. Peer to Peer – let’s say you’re both equals.


If neither of you have an assistant then you both take a lot of time scheduling etc. It’s not awkward, but also not the most effective use of your time. However, if only one person has an assistant, they might feel incensed or think it’s a “power move,” making them hesitant to bring in their assistant. If both of you have assistants, great! Hello productivity, goodbye awkward power moves.

2. Junior and Senior – let’s say one person is higher up on the pecking order (SENIOR) and one person is much more interested in the meeting (JUNIOR).


If neither has an assistant, the junior person should try to arrange everything and work to accommodate the senior person’s schedule. While not awkward, the increased back and forth, and lack of timely replies causes problems all around. When you throw one assistant into the mix the time spent on scheduling will decrease for both parties, however if the junior person has the assistant, he/she doesn’t always feel comfortable using their assistant with someone more senior. Again, the most productive use of time is when both parties have an assistant, however this can still create some uncomfortable interpretations if the senior person believes the junior is TOO junior to have an assistant .

If bringing an assistant into the conversation has the potential to create strain on the relationship, why do it?

Numerous studies show that an assistant provides measurable productivity gains for everyone involved; especially in the area of scheduling. In one example a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Jeremy Choi, tracked his time and discovered that using an assistant freed up at least 15% of his time.Productivity Chart

Since we all ultimately want to save time, knowing when to delegate to an assistant is an important skill. If we also want to maintain important relationships, it’s critical to have a great assistant who can minimize any awkwardness. The more an assistant messes up correspondence, the more social capital the executive loses. The biggest problem with a new assistant AND a new executive is that they need to know the best practices. With the proper training and tools both executives and assistants can overcome the awkwardness gap and reach productivity nirvana.


Four Misconceptions about EAs

How can you stop wasting energy on everyday decisions, improve your work-life balance, and still stay on top of your professional life? Get an executive assistant! When asked what an assistant does most people can only name a few things and can’t see the real benefit. Given all the time we spend talking with and thinking about assistants, we thought we should share some of the biggest misconceptions we hear about this profession.


1)  You only need an assistant if you are scheduling a lot of meetings

Busy Calendar ImageAssistants perform lots of useful tasks – their job is to help you stay organized, find ways to save you time, and perform tasks you wish you had time to do but never would have done. Spending time on contact management, fact checking and proofreading, expense reports, or car/home repairs means you have less time to focus on the high-level, high-impact decisions that shape your business. An assistant might help send cards for friends’ birthdays, set up exercise sessions, or keep track of your communications to make sure you’re checking in with key teammates and contacts.


Those of us who travel and take meetings might use an assistant more, but there are hundreds of possible uses for a great assistant!

2)  An assistant can only help you with your professional life

This is one of the most common misconceptions, and it seems to come out of previous generations’ boundaries between work and home. In reality, most busy professionals have blurry lines between their personal and professional lives.  And regardless, we’re all strapped for time.  


A great assistant is on top of everything in your life that you’re comfortable sharing. This does not mean you should forget important birthdays or anniversaries, but it does mean that there is another person there who can help make sure you’re on top of and dedicating enough time to your family and personal life. Whether they are saving you from having to coordinate with the person who picks up your dry-cleaning, ordering the right baseball bat for your child, researching a fun event for your house guest, or booking your back-up babysitter, a great assistant is on top of whatever it is that you need to make your life function more smoothly.


3)  An assistant isn’t supposed to deal with your stress or problems

That’s not very helpful!  A great assistant understands when you have a tough day. They want to know what’s stressing you stress v productivityout and what they can do to make things better. If you’re in a bad mood, it’ll likely have negative effect on your organization. Your assistant wants to make sure you are performing at your best so you can lead your organization to success. If you’re worried you’re going to be late, they can send you a reminder. If you aren’t sure what’s going on with your team, they can check in on key projects and report back. Some of the best assistants will even make sure you have a snack bar, so that you won’t get cranky in your afternoon meeting (which benefits both you and the rest of the team). Whatever you have on your plate, there are ways a top assistant can help.


4)    Only a top executive can afford a great assistant

Gone are the days when the CEO in the corner office was the only one with an assistant. Since most people in the knowledge economy are primarily paid for their thoughts, energy, and time, it’s become even more important to make sure everyone has a great assistant. Silicon Valley will give perks ranging from shuttles to and from work, free food, and massages, all in the name of making people more effective. Esper believes that everyone needs a high quality assistant. An assistant will give you more productivity gains anything else. In a freelance, sharing economy finding a well priced EA is easier than ever.

We at Esper are focused on creating the most productive and highest quality assistant workforce for your company. We have top-tier technology and training that can empower everyone at your company to reach their true potential. So why not get an assistant?!


The Future Assistant

Artificial intelligence is the new bogeyman of the 21st century. AI used to be the old spectres of chess champion Deep Blue or Jeopardy whiz Watson. Nowadays, the media seems to randomly choose an industry and finds every way it could be replaced by robots. Even Hollywood, in the latest Avengers movie, found a way to replace both antagonist and protagonist with robots. This noise has been most apparent in the world of assistants.

Whether arising from Siri, Google Now, or any number of touted assistant phone apps, the next day, the AI from Her will collate all our scintillating e-mails, publish them on the Kindle, and make us all best-selling authors! Evidence seems to suggest this future. Executive secretary and administrative assistant jobs have been whittled away from 1.4 million jobs in 2002 to a little over 713 thousand jobs in 2014. The spectres of AI are coming!

Where did those jobs go?

Contrary to popular belief, those jobs were disappearing for different reasons. First, executive assistant jobs were lost in the Great Recession, but many were replaced by a corresponding increase in the general assistant role. That loss can be attributed to firms cutting staff, not replacing executive support staff, and in many cases, increasing the burden on the remaining assistants. Despite that, the total number of general admins grew from 1.8 million in 2002 to 2.2 million in 2014. To be fair, there is still an overall job loss since the recession, but the assistant will not be a bygone profession.

Second, executives for a long time started making the move toward virtual assistants. I’m not talking about off-shoring, but rather, finding staff in more inexpensive locations (e.g. McKinsey has support staff in Florida) and providing greater time flexibility for their staff. Many administrative assistants can make a decent wage in areas where the EA role is in demand – Nevada, Colorado, and Florida to name a few.

Scheduling Requires Agency – Full AI Takes Away Agency

What’s more? Most of an assistant’s work consists of email and calendar scheduling. There hasn’t been a revolution in scheduling and time management since Microsoft Outlook. That revolution has not and probably will not be completely automated away.

I’m sure Larry Page would love to get artificial intelligence to manage your calendar, but from what we’ve seen at Esper, you still want a human being to be partially in control. We’ve all been in situations where a printer prints uncontrollably or been helpless when the doors to public transportation slam in your face. Much the same way, we get angry at technology when rules (even though we may have set those rules) take away our agency. No one gets angry at technology because of its function, except for when we don’t have any control over it.

“Trust, But Verify” Technology

One egg, please.

When human beings lose control, they choose not to use the technology. A good example of this was when they came out with bake mixes for housewives in the early 1950s. Just add water and heat, but those bake mixes NEVER sold. One enterprising designer changed it so that all you needed was to crack an egg, add water, and heat. Now the world of quick bake mixes have been ingrained in memory ever since. Human beings want control (or semblance of it) in order to truly trust technology.

We’ve had assistants for awhile and any executive/EA pair will tell you that the foundation is trust. Like the old adage – “trust but verify,” the key to future technology is to give AI trust, but to always have a human verifying the technology. In much the same way, the future of assistant technology will not be capital-letter AI, but what I’d say is lower-case AI. What the technology Linus Torvalds refers to as “targeted AI, rather than anything human-like at all. Language recognition, pattern recognition…” Combined with human verification/control, it’s unlikely going to ever truly replace the human touch of an assistant, just enhance it.

The Future Assistant is a Cyborg

The future assistant will be a combination of a human assistant and technology – think a cyborg suit, a piece of technology that automates the future of administrative tasks. Instead of talking head, think suggestion machine – giving you choices for your next calendar event, the next course of action based on an e-mail, or the next step it figures out based on your data. Luckily, you’ll have a trusty assistant (who may be supporting more people or providing deeper support) keeping a watchful eye.

Far from the doom and gloom of job loss, the role of the assistant will evolve becoming a time manager or a project manager that supervises AI and other human beings. We may even see a reversal of the current trend and see growth in human beings working in administrative services, creating more jobs than we’ve ever seen.
But hey, what do I know? Lots of smart people see Rosie the Robot to be the end of mankind. I just hope I become an AI-enabled best-selling author before that time rolls around.

1 – “Executive Secretaries and Administrative Assistants,” Occupational Employment and Wages, 2002;

2 – “Executive Secretaries and Administrative Assistants,” Occupational Employment and Wages, 2014,

3 – “43-6014 Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive,” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014

4 –

5 –

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EA Tips

Communicate Like an Executive Assistant

Forget about communicating “like a boss.” Here are some successful communication tips from the best Executive Assistants:

  1. Create a Successful Handoff

A good Executive should call out the Executive Assistant by saying something like “Blake will help us schedule a time/place (thanks Blake!)” Clearly calling out who is in charge of next steps prevents items from falling through the cracks.

  1. Establish Autonomy

An Executive Assistant immediately takes control of the conversation and establishes their autonomy. “Certainly! I’d be happy to help…”

  1. Maintain Inside Knowledge

An assistant always displays specialized knowledge related to not only their bosses preferences, but also knowledge for the other parties involved. “Dinner at The House restaurant would be great. If you’re a fan of distinctly Asian American flavor, I think you’ll be in for a treat.”

  1. Positive Personality

We all know Assistants are never negative. More important though, Assistants are also not overly formal or formulaic. Templates are fine, as long as they have personality. “Congrats on the promotion Amy. Did you hear that sound? Leslie Knope said – ‘it’s the sound of the glass ceiling cracking!’ 

  1. Keep it short

Whether it’s e-mails back and forth or extraneous conversation, a great assistant will decrease interactions to maximize time. Providing relevant information and making clear what you need from the other party minimizes the need for extraneous emails.

  1. Give Passive Updates

To give an Executive peace of mind, a great Executive Assistant should give passive updates to the executive. Whether it’s the completion of a project or key milestones along the way, knowing when and how to update the relevant individuals is critical to effective communication.

Executive Assistants are masters of communication! Use these six skills to up your game or use Esper to help your communication- personalized templates, task updates, and much more to help you achieve these skills!