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Razors of Wisdom: 20 Razors Every Executive Assistant Needs (plus one for Good Measure)

"Have you ever heard of Occam's Razor? Most of us have, but if challenged, would have to look up what it means.



Razors, such as Occam's, are concise philosophical or logical principles that simplify complex situations. Whilst they are not infallible they are generally more accurate than not.


As an executive assistant, you're often tasked with navigating complex situations, making critical decisions, and providing valuable support to your executives. Having a set of guiding principles or "razors" can help you cut through the noise, clarify your thinking, and streamline your decision-making process.

 

Occam’s Razor

"The simplest explanation is usually the correct one."

When analysing problems or making decisions, favour straightforward solutions over unnecessarily complex ones. As an executive assistant, applying Occam's Razor can help you streamline processes, troubleshoot issues efficiently, and identify the most effective courses of action.

Pareto's Razor

"80% of the results come from 20% of the effort."

Identify the most impactful tasks or activities that yield the greatest outcomes and prioritise them accordingly. For instance, concentrate on the 20% of tasks that contribute the most value to your executive's objectives, rather than spreading yourself too thin across less significant tasks.

Franklin's Razor

"Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."

Procrastination can lead to missed opportunities and increased stress. Instead, adopt a proactive approach by tackling tasks promptly and efficiently. For example, address urgent emails and requests as soon as they come in, rather than letting them accumulate and become overwhelming.

Eisenhower's Razor

"What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important."

Distinguish between tasks that are both important and time-sensitive (urgent) and those that are important but not time-sensitive (important). Prioritise your workload accordingly to maximise productivity and focus on long-term goals.

Sagan’s Standard

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

 When confronted with outlandish requests or proposals, apply this standard to evaluate their validity. For example, if an executive demands a significant budget increase for a project without sufficient justification, you can tactfully request concrete evidence to support the request.

Grice’s Razor

"Simplify your communication as much as possible, but no further."

This razor emphasises clarity and conciseness in communication. As an executive assistant, you often serve as a bridge between your executives and other stakeholders. By adhering to Grice's Razor, you can ensure that messages are conveyed accurately and efficiently, avoiding unnecessary complications or misunderstandings.

Hume’s Guillotine

"You cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'."

This razor reminds us to separate factual observations from value judgments. When faced with ethical dilemmas or conflicting priorities, maintain objectivity by focusing on facts and evidence rather than subjective opinions or biases.

Alder’s Razor

"When faced with two equally probable explanations, choose the simpler one."

 In situations where multiple hypotheses exist to explain a problem or situation, opt for the explanation that requires fewer assumptions or complexities. This approach can save time and resources by avoiding unnecessary investigation into overly convoluted scenarios.

Feynman’s Razor

"What is not worth knowing is not worth knowing well."

Prioritise your tasks and information intake based on their relevance and utility. As an executive assistant, you deal with vast amounts of information daily. Use Feynman's Razor to focus your efforts on acquiring knowledge that directly contributes to your effectiveness in supporting your executives and achieving organisational goals.

Hitchen’s Razor

"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

 Apply critical thinking to evaluate claims and assertions. When presented with unsubstantiated claims or rumours, refrain from giving them undue credibility unless backed by credible evidence. This approach helps maintain clarity and prevents unnecessary distractions.

Turing's Razor

"If a problem can be solved with technology, it probably should be."

 Embrace the potential of technology to streamline tasks and improve efficiency. For instance, implementing task management software can help you organise your workload more effectively and communicate with your team seamlessly.

Lincoln's Razor

"The best way to predict the future is to create it."

Take proactive steps to anticipate and address potential challenges before they arise. For example, if you foresee a scheduling conflict for your executive, proactively reach out to relevant parties to reschedule appointments and avoid last-minute disruptions.

Hanlon’s Razor

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."

When confronted with mistakes or misunderstandings, give others the benefit of the doubt. Assume good intentions unless proven otherwise, fostering a culture of trust and collaboration in your workplace.

Riker’s Razor

"In any given situation, the simplest explanation is: 'You don't have all the facts.'"

When faced with ambiguous information or incomplete data, refrain from drawing premature conclusions and instead seek additional facts to inform your decision-making process.

Jung’s Razor

"The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are."

 Encourage personal growth and self-awareness in both yourself and your executives. Recognise and leverage individual strengths and weaknesses to foster a productive and harmonious working relationship, maximising mutual success.

Chatton’s Anti-Razor

"Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily."

Beware of overcomplicating solutions or processes. Challenge the status quo and seek to streamline workflows and procedures wherever possible. By eliminating unnecessary complexity, you can enhance efficiency and focus on what truly matters.

Schwartz's Razor

"Don't major in minor things."

 Focus your energy and attention on high-impact tasks that contribute directly to your executive's goals and priorities. For instance, instead of spending excessive time on trivial administrative tasks, delegate or automate them to free up time for more strategic responsibilities.

Murphy's Razor

"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

Prepare for contingencies and have backup plans in place to mitigate potential risks. For example, always keep alternative travel arrangements on standby in case of unexpected flight cancellations or delays affecting your executive's itinerary.

Dunbar's Razor

"Simplify your social circle to those who matter most."

Prioritise building and nurturing relationships with key stakeholders who have a significant impact on your executive's success. For instance, focus on maintaining strong communication and rapport with your executive's direct reports, clients, and partners.

Churchill's Razor

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

Embrace setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. For example, if a project you've been managing encounters obstacles, analyse what went wrong, draw lessons from the experience, and apply them to future endeavours.

 

Hopefully  that these 20 razors serve as invaluable guiding principles for you as an executive assistant.  By applying these principles in your day-to-day responsibilities, you can streamline decision-making processes, enhance efficiency, and better support your executives in achieving their objectives.


And just for fun, we've even added our own ACEA's razor

                            

ACEA’s Razor

In a competitive job market, certification is the edge

With ACEA certification, executive assistants distinguish themselves from peers, positioning themselves as indispensable assets to their organizations and safeguarding their job prospects in a competitive landscape.

 

because, well, who says Executive Assistants can't have a little razor of their own?




About the Author:


Richard Arnott, BA, FInatAM, FIToL, is the Director of BMTG (UK) Ltd, and the author and lead presenter of the groundbreaking, globally recognised Advanced Certificate for the Executive Assistant: ACEA® program. Richard also sits on the editorial board of Lucy Brazier OBE’s Executive Support Magazine


Please connect with Richard on Linkedin and please also join our LinkedIn group, "The Advanced Certificate for the Executive Assistant: ACEA®," to connect with a community of forward-thinking executive assistants committed to career growth and development

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